The Russian invasion has devastated cultural life in Ukraine, forcing renowned music ensembles to disband and leading to an exodus of conductors, composers and players.
With the help of the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the Polish National Opera in Warsaw, some of Ukraine’s leading performers are now uniting to express their resistance to Russia’s ongoing attacks through music. They form a new ensemble, the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, and will tour Europe and the United States in July and August, the orchestra announced on Monday.
“This is something we can do for our country and for our people,” Marko Komonko, a Ukrainian violinist who will serve as the orchestra’s concertmaster, said in an interview. “It’s not much, but this is our job.”
The 75-piece orchestra, which will consist of Ukrainian refugees and musicians still in the country, will perform at several European festivals on July 31, including the BBC Proms in London for a televised appearance. It makes stops in Germany, France, Scotland and the Netherlands, before heading to the United States to perform at the Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center in Washington. The proceeds of the concerts benefit Ukrainian artists.
The orchestra is led by Canadian Ukrainian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson, who came up with the idea for the ensemble and was eager to find a way to help musicians and others in Ukraine.
“We want to show the warring citizens of Ukraine that a free and democratic world supports them,” Wilson said in an interview. “We fight like artistic soldiers, soldiers of music. This gives the musicians a voice and the emotional strength to get through this.”
Wilson presented the idea to her husband, Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Met, who supported the company and persuaded the Polish National Opera to help as well. The orchestra will meet in Warsaw in mid-July for rehearsals and an opening concert at the Wielki Theater, home of the Polish National Opera.
Gelb said it was important for artistic groups to speak out against the Russian invasion. Shortly after the invasion began, the Met announced it would not engage any artists or institutions that supported Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin. Last month, the Met hosted a concert in support of Ukraine; banners forming the Ukrainian flag stretched across the theater’s exterior, bathed in blue and yellow spotlights.
“This is a world situation that goes far beyond politics,” Gelb said in an interview. “It’s about saving humanity. The Met, as the largest performing arts company in the United States and one of the leading companies in the world, clearly has a role to play and we have played it.”
The Freedom Orchestra will perform several works, including the Seventh Symphony by Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov; Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2, with the Ukrainian pianist Anna Fedorova; Brahms’s Fourth Symphony; and Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony.
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Famous Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska, who now sings the title role in Puccini’s “Turandot” at the Met, will perform an aria from Beethoven’s “Fidelio” that touches on themes of hope and peace.
The musicians represent a mix of Ukrainian ensembles, including the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, the Lviv Philharmonic Orchestra, the Kiev National Opera and the Kharkiv Opera. Some are part of European ensembles, including the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, the Tonkunstler Orchestra of Vienna and the Belgian National Orchestra.
Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture will allow male musicians in the orchestra to join the tour, despite rules banning military-aged men from leaving the country, the ensemble said.
Komonko, the violinist, who left Ukraine last month with his family to Sweden, where he plays in an orchestra, said music can be a distraction from the violence.
“When you go through all this, you look at music differently, through different lenses,” he said. “It distracts me from the war. That way people can continue to live.”