Home Music News A Ukrainian Orchestra on a Mission to Promote Its Country’s Culture

A Ukrainian Orchestra on a Mission to Promote Its Country’s Culture

A Ukrainian Orchestra on a Mission to Promote Its Country’s Culture

The Ukrainian violinist Solomia Onyskiv arrived in the United States last month on a mission.

With the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of her country approaching, she worried that the world was quickly forgetting the suffering there. She had come with 65 other musicians from the Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine to lead a 40-concert tour aimed at promoting Ukrainian culture.

“We are almost in a state of panic now,” Onyskiv said. “We worry deeply about the future of our country because this war won’t stop. Russia won’t stop. And if we don’t stand up, if the world doesn’t stand up, there will be more suffering.”

On Wednesday, Onyskiv and her colleagues will get one of their most visible platforms yet: the stage of Carnegie Hall, where they will perform a program that includes Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, as well as the Ukrainian composer Yevhen Stankovych’s Chamber Symphony No. 3.

The concert is a milestone, but also a bittersweet moment for many of the musicians: They have spent much of the past year on tour, away from family and friends, watching the destruction of war from afar. Some have struggled to keep their focus as they embark on their cultural mission, checking constantly for news of Russian attacks and reading stories about Ukrainians who have been killed.

Michailo Sosnovsky, the orchestra’s principal flute, who is featured in the Stankovych piece, said he worried about the safety of his wife and five children, who live in Lviv, and the safety of friends, including some musicians, who serve in the military. He speaks with his family by video every day, but gets anxious if they do not respond quickly to his messages.

“I think about my family every minute of every day,” said Sosnovsky, who has played in the orchestra for two decades. “It’s a very difficult situation. But we must stay and do our part to help our country from here.”

The Lviv orchestra, established in 1902, is among many Ukrainian cultural groups that have gone abroad since the invasion in efforts to highlight the country’s cultural identity. The Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, an ensemble of refugees who fled the war and musicians who stayed behind, toured Europe and the United States last summer. The United Ukrainian Ballet, made up of refugee dancers, has toured widely and made its U.S. debut this month; and the Shchedryk Children’s Choir, which is based in Kyiv, was featured at Carnegie in December.

Over the past year, the Lviv musicians have toured in Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Austria and other countries. Their visit to the United States began last month in Vero Beach, Fla., and will conclude next month at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. Earlier this month, the orchestra performed four concerts at Radio City Music Hall, playing music from “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.” After the Carnegie concert, the tour will continue in New Jersey, as well as at the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts in the Bronx.

The tour was mostly planned before the war, but the continuing devastation has added poignancy and meaning. In some cities, the musicians have been greeted with prolonged applause and shouts of “Glory to Ukraine!”

Theodore Kuchar, the ensemble’s principal conductor, said the orchestra had been encouraged by moments like that. He recalled a recent performance in Miami in which many audience members were wearing Ukrainian flags and shouting “Bravo!” before the orchestra had started playing.

“The orchestra hadn’t even tuned,” he said, “and you would have thought that you were you were there five seconds before the end of the Super Bowl with the score tied.”

Kuchar, who is Ukrainian American, said that while the tour had been eagerly anticipated, many musicians felt guilty for being away from the country during such a difficult time.

“I’ve not met a single person who privately doesn’t say to me, ‘Maestro, we’re so fortunate to be here, but our hearts are back there,’” he said.

Kuchar said the emotional toll of the war was present as the musicians work to build support for Ukraine’s cause.

“There’s nobody in this orchestra that does not know somebody who has either lost a finger, an arm, a leg or their life,” he said. “Everybody has been affected.”

The Carnegie performance was added last spring. The hall’s leaders heard about the tour and thought that hosting the orchestra would help show solidarity with Ukraine. The actor Liev Schreiber, who has Ukrainian roots and has been involved in efforts to raise money for Ukraine over the past year, hosts the program.

“We hope the performance will be a powerful opportunity to showcase the musicians’ artistry, their personal resilience and to remind everyone of the cultural richness that is an integral part of Ukraine,” said Clive Gillinson, Carnegie’s executive and artistic director.

The violinist Vladyslava Luchenko, a soloist on the tour, said audience members’ enthusiasm had given the musicians hope. She described music as the “best way to reach people’s souls and hearts.”

“We have to use music to fight for good, for freedom, for human values,” she said. “We have to think about what we can bring, and not what we have lost.”

Luchenko, who is from Kyiv but lives in Switzerland, recalled losing friends in Ukraine to Russian missile attacks. She said that performing during the war was a “double emotional load.”

“You open your heart and feel all the pain so much more,” she said. “It has been a challenging but beautiful journey.”


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