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Sunday, December 3, 2023

An Orchestra’s ‘Ode to Pleasure’ Requires Ukrainian Freedom


Not lengthy after the Berlin Wall fell, in 1989, Leonard Bernstein traveled to the once-divided German metropolis and led a efficiency of Beethoven’s “Ode to Pleasure,” changing the phrase “Freude,” or pleasure, with “Freiheit” — freedom.

In an echo of that historic live performance, the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, a touring ensemble fashioned within the early months of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, introduced Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony within the suburbs of Berlin on Thursday. And, for the well-known “Ode to Pleasure” choral finale, the textual content was translated to Ukrainian, with the important thing phrase being “slava,” or glory, as in “Slava Ukrainii”: Glory to Ukraine.

“I’m pushed by my ardour for Ukraine,” the orchestra’s conductor, Keri-Lynn Wilson, stated on Thursday afternoon earlier than the live performance, on the backyard of Schönhausen Palace. “And my need to eliminate Putin and his regime via tradition.”

Round her was a bustle of exercise: ushers laying pillows on chairs, sound technicians consulting in a sales space, pink umbrellas being positioned to protect an orchestra from the solar. The orchestra, made up of 74 Ukrainian musicians — a few of whom stay in that nation nonetheless, a few of whom have fled — was about to carry out as a part of its second summer time tour of Europe.

“Russia says there’s no Ukrainian tradition, or music, or language,” stated Anna Bura, a violinist within the orchestra. “They need to erase Ukrainian tradition. We need to present folks we’re right here.”

This system included the second violin concerto by the up to date Ukrainian composer Yevhen Stankovych, and ended with the Beethoven. Whereas on trip three weeks in the past, Wilson arrived at the concept that the “Ode to Pleasure” needs to be sung in Ukrainian, and labored with Mykola Lukas and the vocal coach Ivgeniia Iermachkova to create a brand new singing translation of the Friedrich Schiller textual content.

The orchestra’s cease in Berlin coincided with Ukrainian Independence Day. Kyrylo Markiv, a violinist within the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, helped rehearse the choir, the Ukrainian Freedom Refrain, which was assembled for the event from the Diplomatic Choir of Berlin and different singers. He serves as a first-desk violinist within the Odesa Philharmonic and is choirmaster on the Transfiguration Cathedral in Odesa, which was constructed within the early nineteenth century, reconstructed between 1999 and 2003 after which broken final month by Russian airstrikes.

The night time the cathedral was bombed, Markiv had left his violin there in preparation for a live performance the subsequent day. “My colleagues wrote in a piece chat that the constructing was on hearth,” he stated. “I bought dressed and went with my brother, who’s a deacon there, and noticed destroyed vehicles, hearth. Within the constructing, I regarded for my violin. Every thing was destroyed, however my violin was about 80 p.c OK.”

Now, his violin is being repaired by a luthier in Lviv. The assault, he stated, strengthened his resolve for the tour. “I’m proud that we got here to indicate our artwork,” he stated. “These instances are onerous for us. We’re sturdy, and the European folks make us stronger.”

Peter Gelb, the overall supervisor of the Metropolitan Opera in New York and Wilson’s husband, helped to rearrange and lift cash for this tour and the one final summer time. “The depth of the struggle has raised the stakes this 12 months,” he stated. “These musicians all stay there or have households there. The struggle makes every little thing extra intense: their enjoying, their relationships with one another. Every thing is magnified.”

At a rehearsal on Thursday, as Wilson led the orchestra right into a breakneck run-through of the Beethoven’s second motion, the 2 first-desk bass gamers, Nazarii Stets and Ivan Zavgorodniy, bounced alongside to the rhythm with broad smiles on their faces. Stets, who lives in Kyiv, stated in an interview that this summer time’s tour was much less celebratory than he had hoped: “I anticipated it could be the victory tour, and it’s nonetheless a tour with steady preventing.”

A member of the Kyiv Camerata, a chamber orchestra that performs up to date Ukrainian music, he had a solo recital scheduled on the day after the invasion started.

“My bass was already on the live performance corridor,” Stets stated. “I spent the night time in my home, after which the struggle began.” After two months along with his household within the west of the nation, he returned to Kyiv. Since then, he has performed in “a whole lot of charity and profit concert events,” he stated — largely for the Music Unites charity fund, which donates drugs and meals to youngsters, and vehicles and communications gear to troopers.

Many musicians have used their artwork to lift cash. The cellist Denys Karachevtsev now lives in Berlin however spent the primary 12 months of the struggle in his hometown, Kharkiv, the positioning of vicious preventing firstly of the battle. Greater than 600,000 residents fled that metropolis as Russian shells and rockets destroyed properties and public buildings. A video he recorded of Bach’s fifth cello suite among the many ruins garnered consideration and donations.

However music, Karachevtsev stated, was only one a part of his efforts. “I had my automobile,” he added, “so I used to be evacuating folks and taking them to the trains, bringing again drugs and meals. We didn’t know the way the scenario would go on.”

The movies introduced him to the eye of the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, which invited him to take part this 12 months. “I believe it’s a great way to proceed serving to our nation,” he stated. Now, Karachevtsev is learning in Berlin whereas persevering with to show college students in Kharkiv on-line. It’s nonetheless thought-about too harmful to have in-person classes. “The closest Russian metropolis is about 50 kilometers away,” he stated. “It takes 30 seconds for the bombs to come back.”

Because the solar started to set in Berlin, the orchestra ate dinner. Dignitaries, together with Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, Oleksiy Makeev, and the German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, arrived as viewers members started to file in for the free live performance. Some sat within the chairs, and others unfold out picnic blankets. Kids ate ice cream; the environment was heat and pleasant.

Some folks wore Ukrainian flags and a few a vyshyvanka, a standard embroidered shirt. Viktoria Neroda, who arrived in Berlin as a refugee from Rivne in western Ukraine final 12 months, stated she was there primarily to have fun Ukrainian Independence Day. “I like Ukrainian music,” she stated in a German-language interview, “however I’m listening to this orchestra for the primary time tonight.”

This tour’s performances are happening at an uneasy second for Ukrainians. The struggle has dragged on far longer than many anticipated, and hopes for a fast victory, heightened by the success of Ukrainian self-defense early on, have pale. Life is lived between air raid sirens. Each week brings extra unhealthy information: buddies killed preventing on the entrance, members of the family’ properties destroyed by drone strikes or rocket assaults.

European solidarity, too, is shifting. Berlin is 10 hours by prepare from Przemysl, the Polish metropolis close to the Ukrainian border the place, within the struggle’s first weeks, refugees poured in.

Berlin residents swung into motion: working welcome facilities, bringing provides to coach stations, providing rooms of their residences. Governments introduced particular visa guidelines for Ukrainian refugees. German lawmakers spoke of a “Zeitenwende,” an epochal change in German protection coverage, and despatched, if generally reluctantly, weapons and tanks to the Ukrainian military.

On the Berlin State Opera, the Russian soprano Anna Netrebko withdrew beneath strain from a brand new manufacturing of Puccini’s “Turandot” as a result of she had not, the home said, adequately distanced herself from the invasion. She was criticized for performances at marketing campaign occasions for Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, and in Russian-occupied Crimea.

Solidarity remains to be seen, however additionally it is starting to splinter. Many Germans, fighting inflation, gas payments and the nation’s financial stagnation, are questioning the worth of help. The far-right Various for Germany celebration, which has been sympathetic to Putin, has surged within the polls. And classical music phases, the place Russia was lengthy a moneymaking vacation spot, have additionally wavered. Because the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra rehearsed final week, Netrebko was set to begin rehearsals for a revival of Verdi’s “Macbeth” on the State Opera in September. (The corporate’s chief, Matthias Schulz, instructed Berlin public radio this 12 months that Netrebko had spoken out, in his opinion, so far as she was in a position.)

Thursday’s live performance, then, was each a celebration of Ukraine’s independence and Germany’s solidarity, and a part of an effort to protect these two issues. After speeches from the dignitaries, the orchestra launched into energetic, insistent Verdi, adopted by a searing account of the Stankovych concerto. That piece ends with a sustained, harmonious main third within the strings, which clashes with the solo violin’s plucked minor third. The dissonance holds, softly, then fades out.


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