A roar, as if on the eve of trouble, and then a lull … From this gentle and lyrical seventh symphony Valentina Silvestrov the concert started Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra (Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra) at the Berlin Concert Hall on 4 August. On stage – 75 musicians from Ukraine. It is hard to even imagine that a month ago this orchestra did not exist, and the musicians had never played together before.

Some of them have been performing in Europe for a long time, some fled the country after the Russian invasion, but most still live and play in various orchestras in Ukraine. To take part in this tour, they had to obtain special permission from the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. And in the welcoming speech in the concert program, the President of the country Vladimir Zelensky called music “a powerful weapon against invaders”.

For musicians, this is an opportunity to perform again with full houses.

Among those who left Ukraine just a couple of weeks ago is cellist Evgeny Dovbysh. When Russia attacked his homeland, Evgeny put down his bow and began to carry sandbags to fortify roadblocks in his city of Odessa. In the first month of the war, there was no question of any music – Eugene, like many other musicians, became a volunteer: he carried medicines, water, equipment.

Berlin Konzertprobe |  Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra

Cellist Evgeny Dovbysh from Odessa at the rehearsal of the concert of the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra in Berlin

He sent his wife and 8-year-old daughter abroad. Five months later, at a rehearsal in Warsaw, he saw her for the first time again. Hanna Vikhrova also plays the violin in the orchestra.

“This project is important for our country,” says Eugene before the concert in Berlin. “I see how the halls are filled, how people stand up and applaud after each concert, in fact, this is real support.”

“This is an opportunity to convey to the people here that the war is not over, it continues, we have a very difficult situation,” says his colleague in the orchestra, Dmitry Mitchenko. He plays the horn at the National Philharmonic of Ukraine in Kyiv. Concerts in the Ukrainian capital resumed in May, but with half-empty halls – only as many spectators are allowed in as can fit in a bomb shelter.

In Berlin, there were almost no empty seats in the hall. The musicians were met and seen off standing and with a standing ovation. Dmitry hopes that this attention and this standing ovation will turn into real help to his country.

Conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson: “My wand is my weapon”

The idea of ​​creating an orchestra belongs to the Canadian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson. Her great-grandparents immigrated to Canada from Ukraine. She grew up in the Ukrainian community in Winnipeg. “I have relatives in Chernivtsi. One of them is fighting in the Donbass,” Keri-Lynn Wilson says without hiding his emotions. “And I also wanted to fight. But as a musician. And my weapon is a conductor’s baton.”

Berlin Konzertprobe |  Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra

Conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson grew up in the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada

When the war began, Keri-Lynn performed in Europe. It hit her to the core that musicians in Ukraine had to hide and run while she could safely conduct just a few hundred kilometers away.

She told her husband, director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Peter Gelb, about her crazy idea. He could not refuse her support and agreed with the world’s leading platforms. After ten European concerts, the musicians will travel to the US, where they will perform in New York and Washington.

“In any other circumstances, a tour of this magnitude would have been absolutely impossible,” he says. “But since it was about protecting Ukraine and Ukrainian culture, the impossible became possible.”

The head of the Metropolitan Opera: “Putin’s plan to destroy Ukrainian culture”

The leadership of the Metropolitan Opera from the very beginning supported Ukraine and even terminated the contract with opera singer Anna Netrebko, who refused to sever personal ties with Vladimir Putin. The Ukrainian singer Lyudmila Monastyrskaya was invited to replace her. She also performs with the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, performing the very symbolic aria of Leonora from Beethoven’s Fidelio: “Oh no, tyrant, the coming day is not yours.”

“We all know that Putin’s plan is to destroy not only Ukraine, but also its culture. And this is a vivid example of the greatness of Ukrainian art and a direct response to Putin,” Gelb said at a concert rehearsal in Berlin.

Berlin Konzertprobe |  Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra

The Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra rehearses the seventh symphony of Valentin Silvestrov

In addition to Monastyrskaya, one of the leading Ukrainian pianists, Anna Fedorova, solos with the orchestra. She admits that she can hardly restrain her emotions when she sees so many wonderful musicians from Ukraine on one stage. She studied and worked with many of them. Through the power of art and classical music, she wants to remind Europe of the suffering of Ukrainians.

It is with this thought that the musicians play Silvestrov’s seventh symphony. The greatest living Ukrainian composer was forced to flee Kyiv at the start of the war. Now he lives in Berlin. Silvestrov dedicated this symphony to his wife, Larisa, who died early.

It ends with a solo on the harp, to the accompaniment of wind instruments. This symbolizes the last breath of the composer’s wife. But for Keri-Lynn Wilson, it’s the breath of life. “These are the souls of our brothers and sisters who died, but continue to live in our hearts,” says the conductor. “This symphony ends in silence. And this is the most bewitching part of it.”

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