Richard Groves: A Provocative Song for Peace | Columnists
“This concert is an action for peace.”
— Herman Makarenko, conductor, Kyiv Symphony Orchestra
On March 9, two weeks after Russia launched its brutal invasion of Ukraine, the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra gathered in Maidan Square in the center of the capital and performed a concert.
The square was probably not a random selection. Undoubtedly, it was carefully chosen for the images and memories it evoked for many Ukrainians. In 2013 and 2014, thousands set up a tent city in the square, protesting then-President Viktor Yanukovic’s decision to suspend talks with the European Union and rekindle ties with Russia. . Over 100 protesters were killed in clashes with police. Yanukovych was ousted and forced to leave the country.
Sirens could be heard in the distance warning people to take cover as the orchestra played what is officially known as the state anthem of Ukraine but is also known by its first line “The glory of Ukraine is not yet dead, nor its freedom. Grim-faced passers-by stopped and listened. Some waved the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag that has become known around the world over the past month.
People also read…
Our enemies will die, like dew to the sun,
and we too will live happily in our country.
Is there a more provocative line in a national anthem than the last line of the Ukrainian anthem? “We will spare neither our souls nor our bodies to obtain freedom.”
The Kyiv Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (KSOC) also played Beethoven’s uplifting “Ode to Joy”, on which, not coincidentally, the anthem of the European Union is based.
Vladimir Putin should have listened.
KSOC was founded in 1993, a year after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Under the communist regime, the performance of sacred classical masterpieces, such as Handel’s Messiah, Brahms’ Requiem and Mendelssohn’s Elijah, had been banned. When the iron curtain lifted, this magnificent collection of music became accessible to Ukrainian musicians. They described it as “an explosion of light”.
KSOC specializes in sacred classical music.
The roots of classical music run deep in Ukraine. Vladimir Horowitz was born in kyiv or Berdichev. Kyiv is the site of the International Competition for Young Pianists in Memory of Vladimir Horowitz.
Sergei Prokofiev was born in Sontsivka in eastern Ukraine. It is a measure of the pride Ukraine has in its native son that Donetsk International Airport is named after him. (Think about it for a minute: they named an international airport not after a powerful politician, but after a beloved classical composer.)
After the concert on the Square of the Virgin, conductor Herman Makarenko addressed the journalists. “You saw 20 musicians. Our orchestra is larger — 65 to 70 musicians. But now in kyiv there are only 20 musicians.”
Recently I watched a video of an earlier Kyiv Symphony Chorus concert. (You can find the video on https://youtu.be/98Qt6FJ-kz4?t=1706.) I watched the camera scan the choir, sobered up with the thought that a month ago the young men, dressed in black and sporting bright red bow ties, had put their wives and children, their mothers and their grandmothers on trains or buses bound for safety and stayed to become warriors. When the Kyiv Symphony Chorus sings again in a war-free Ukraine – may that day come soon – there may be gaps in the tenor and bass sections.
“We will spare neither our souls nor our bodies to obtain freedom.”
“This concert is an action for peace,” conductor Herman Makarenko told reporters at the end of the performance in Maidan Square. He echoed “President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s call to all governments in the world: ‘Stop the war in Ukraine'”.
Then Makarenko made an appeal – not to presidents or prime ministers, not to governments or parliaments, but to his fellow musicians around the world. “I ask musicians who would like to do concerts for peace, please! Welcome!”
What will they play? What will they sing?
The country that gave the world Sergei Prokofiev and Vladimir Horowitz offers its music to the nations.
The KSOC website currently contains this announcement: “Due to the need to resist not only the military, but also the information warfare of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, an initiative group . .. created the “Ukrainian Scores” project to present a digital library of scores of Ukrainian composers to the world.
“Ukrainian music will be heard around the world as the voice of freedom, democracy and truth.”
(To access the digital library of Ukrainian composers, see https://ukrainianlive.org/ukrainian-scores.)
Richard Groves ([email protected]) is a writer living in Winston-Salem.