Ukrainian music in times of war

A guest performance by the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra at the Philharmonie Berlin

(Photo: Dmytro Larin)

For 40 years, the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra has been a beacon of Ukrainian musical life. To send a message against the war, the orchestra is touring Germany and giving guest performances in seven German concert halls. On 27 April, it will present a Ukrainian programme at the Philharmonie Berlin.

In January 2022, it gave a concert to celebrate the opening of the Lyatoshynsky Club, an institution which promotes unknown Ukrainian music. In March, the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra wanted to give a Wagner evening together with the bass-baritone Matthias Goerne. But the Russian invasion of Ukraine put an abrupt end to all these plans. “I can’t believe this is really happening ...” wrote principal conductor Luigi Gaggero in a statement for the Neue Musikzeitung. Stunned, he describes how, to protect themselves from the bombs, his musicians “spent the night in a basement, in an underground car park and in one of the underground stations”. 

The Italian has been conducting the orchestra since 2018, and is thrilled by the openness and curiosity that his musicians and the audience show towards the European repertoire and the musical tradition of their own country: “I was lucky enough to conduct many concerts in Kiev, presenting composers such as Sciarrino, Gervasoni, Grisey, Ligeti and young living composers, and the theatres were sold out. Every time I felt like I was at a Verdi premiere at La Scala in Milan!”

Working together has bonded Luigi Gaggero and the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra, which also regularly performs at major national events. What does Luigi Gaggero admire about the orchestra? “The Ukrainians have a distinctive way of playing in which an ethical responsibility resonates in every note.” Moreover, the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra is the only orchestra in Ukraine that has set up its own orchestra academy to foster young talent.

The concert programme of their German tour takes the audience on a journey through Ukrainian music history: Maxim Berezovsky, a contemporary of Haydn and Mozart, wrote his recently rediscovered Symphony in C major in 1773 very much in the style of the First Viennese School. The cheerful, bright work reveals nothing about the tragic fate of Berezovsky, who was shattered by a romance destroyed by a jealous count.

Borys Lyatoshynsky, born in 1895, was one of the country’s most important composers and the eponym of the club for the promotion of Ukrainian music mentioned at the beginning of this article. He repeatedly upset the Soviet regime with his music: for example, he had to completely rewrite the finale of his Third Symphony, which contained the epigraph “Peace will win the war”. The Kyiv Symphony Orchestra presents the work in its original 1951 version.

Miroslaw Skoryk lived from 1938 to 2020 and is the youngest of the three composers. We will hear his Melody, conceived in the Romantic style. In addition to the works by Ukrainian composers, the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra will also perform a French piece: Ernest Chausson’s Poème for violin and orchestra with the Ukrainian violinist Diana Tishchenko as the soloist.



Soloist: Diana Tishchenko

Crimean-born Diana Tishchenko is considered one of the most exciting up-and-coming violinists of recent years. "With a tone of unrelenting, nuanced intensity, she opens our eyes to the inner drama of the pieces. Simply brilliant!", Der Tagesspiegel praised her playing. In 2018, she won the Grand Prix Jacques Thibaud at the famous Long Thibaud Crespin Competition, and her debut album Strangers in PARadISe was released in 2019. As part of the European Concert Hall Organisation's (ECHO) Rising Stars series, Diana Tishchenko will perform in numerous major concert halls across Europe in the coming season. Diana Tishchenko has already performed with many important orchestras and conductors at festivals in Germany and France. In addition to her solo performances, Diana Tishchenko is passionate about playing chamber music, and she also collaborates with early music and contemporary music ensembles.

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