"Beethoven's Ninth is the most difficult of all symphonies", says Roman Kofman, conductor of the Symphony Orchestra of the National Music Academy of Ukraine in Kiev.
Only as an experienced maestro did he dare approach the work. For this concert coming your way from the Beethoven Hall in Bonn, Roman Kofman has enlisted the services of a group of young Ukranian musicians who have no such trepidation, but who, in fact, in an ideal way bring out the message of joy through music and universal brotherhood. And we'll hear the world premiere of an orchestral piece, Cantus supra librum by the young Ukranian composer Sergei Pilyutikov, winner of the Deutsche Welle composition prize 2001.
The Beethoven Festival presents not just the music of Beethoven in interesting programs that give room for thought. And none more than this one, a benefit concert for the Children of Chernobyl, specifically for the Children's Cancer Clinic in the Regional Hospital in Kiev. Before the concert, Roman Kofman, whose lined visage, crowned by a mane of silver hair, is reminiscent of Beethoven's, took a moment to reflect for us on Schiller's "Ode to Joy", the poem Beethoven set to music in the finale of his Ninth Symphony – and in particular on the words "All men shall be brothers":
Diese Worte ‚alle Menschen werden Brüder’ sagen wir jedes Jahr, jeden Tag, jedes Jahrhundert. Aber jeden Tag, jedes Jahr, jedes Jahrhundert sind die Menschen (eben) keine Brüder. Das ist die Tragödie. Da bedeutet, dass wir diese Werke wiederholen müssen in verschieden Sprachen, auf verschiedene Weise, in der Musik, im Sport, in der Beziehung zwischen Menschen. In der 9. Sinfonie klingen diese Worte wie ein Konzentrat dieser Idee.
We repeat those words every year, every day, every century. But every day, every year, ever century, people don't join together in a spirit of brotherhood. That's the tragedy. That means that we have to repeat these works in various languages, in various manners, in music, in sports, in human relationships. In the Ninth Symphony these words sound like a distillation of this ideal.
Roman Kofman. Back in 1824, one critical listener penned these words to express his experience of the first-ever performance, in Vienna, of Beethoven's Ninth: "All musical elements of the work, in their overall economy, carry the stamp of giganticism and of tremendous might. That is how its powerful tempos, as in a storm, sweep the listener from one emotion to another and hardly give him a chance to find himself in it."
Obviously overpowered by the experience, that observer of what must have been a veritably earthshaking event goes on to say, "It was a day of celebration for all true friends of music." Rising to the challenge at the Beethoven Festival Bonn, the Symphony Orchestra of the National Music Academy of Ukraine – instrumentalists 17 to 24 years young – joined by the Bonn Phiharmonic Chorus, the Bonn Opera Chorus and soloists Janet Fairlie (soprano), Zoryana Kushpler (alto), Hans Jörg Mammel (tenor) and Friedemann Röhlig (baritone). Conductor: Roman Kofman.
The cast of hundreds rendering that heroic work begins with four vocal soloists: soprano Janet Fairlie, alto Zoryana Kushpler, tenor Hans Jörg Mammel and baritone Friedemann Röhlig. We also heard the combined choral forces of Bonn's Philharmonic and Opera Choruses. And last but certainly not least, the Symphony Orchestra of the National Music Academy of Ukraine, Kiev, all those forces marshaled by conductor Roman Kofman, who repeatedly bids the young musicians to stand up in gratitude for ovations in the Beethoven Hall that are simply boiling over. Not a single seat occupied at the moment either, instead, standing ovations for a moving performance and in response to the three-part harmony of Beethoven's immortal music, Schiller's utopia of universal brotherhood and the youthful fire of the orchestral musicians.
Equally moving the event itself, this Beethoven Festival concert not being one of those for which the tickets were cheap – but the proceeds from the one-size-fits-all ticket price of roughly a hundred Deutschmarks do go a good cause, to the Children's Cancer Clinic in Kiev, sixteen years after the disaster at the nuclear plant in Chernobyl, still treating the young and innocent victims of that very unnatural calamity. To quote the critic who heard the very first performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, this too has turned out to be a celebration for "all true friends of music". To which maestro Roman Kofman contributed his experience, his expertise and a strong input that has less to do with a didactic approach than it does with pure energy.
All in the audience agree – this rendition by the young Ukranian orchestra was in effect, complete. It's a concert with a pronounced sense of community, underlined by the Beethoven Hall itself, which dates from 1959. As you enter the interior, you're struck by the feeling of intimacy in the nearly round space, warmly enclosed in a latticework of blond wood. Audience and performers seem to share a common circle, and that feeling is reinforced by the main floor of seats being virtually level. Those comfortably upholstered chairs extend in gentle arches, and the audience occupying them almost seems to embrace the musicians on the stage. Closing the circle, ranks of organ pipes fill a gap in the curved back wall.
The virtually level main floor is only gently raked, so a rather low balcony along the curved rear wall gives audience members there just about an eye-level view of the musicians. Adding to the feeling of warmth is a wealth of flowers along the apron of the stage as well as two gorgeous gigantic arrangements suspended like huge floral chandeliers. By the way, if you’re coming to the Beethoven Hall by way of bus, streetcar or train, hold on to the oversized ticket with which the smiling red-coated usher leads you to your seat – it’s also your ticket to and from the concert on all of public transportation in the entire joint network of the Cologne and Bonn region.
With this concert event, Bonn's International Beethoven Festival and its media partner Deutsche Welle combine artistic, cultural-political and humanitarian goals. It's the humanitarian side that Martin Friederichs, a physician from Hanover, stresses. For several years Friederichs has served as an advisor in medicine and humanitarian services in Moscow. At a press conference before this benefit concert he described the financial situation of the Leukemia Clinic in Kiev, which administers therapy according to Western standards:
Also grundsätzlich ist es auch in der Ukraine so dass die Behandlung kostenlos sein sollte. So steht es im Gesetz. Die Wirklichkeit sieht natürlich ganz anders aus, der Staat hat kein Geld, also kriegen auch die einzelnen Krankenhäuser gelegentlich mal ein bisschen, aber nie das gesamte Programm, das notwendig wäre, um eine Zwei-Jahres-Behandlung durchzuführen. Das heißt die Eltern sind gefordert, die Ärzte sind gefordert. Hinzu kommt noch, dass die Ärzte sehr schlecht oder gar nicht bezahlt werden, und dass verschiedene Materialien, Medikamente in erster Linie, aber auch Geräte für Diagnostik und Behandlung nicht zur Verfügung stehen. Das heißt also das "know how" muss dann auch noch geliefert werden.
Basically, all hospital treatment should be free of charge in Ukraine. That's what the law says. But in reality, it's quite different. The state has no money, so the hospitals sometimes get a bit of funding, but never what is needed to carry out a two-year treatment. That means that the parents and the physicians are called upon to make sacrificies. Added to this is the fact that the doctors are paid very poorly or not at all, and that various materials are lacking - pharmaceuticals most of all, but also equipment for diagnosis and treatment. That means that the know-how must also be imported there.
Despite scarce means, Svetlana Donskaya, Director of the Children's Leukemia Clinic in Kiev, has been able to continually improve the success rate in curing her patients in recent years, using Western treatment methods. That success rate in curing this once terminal illness is now more than 70 per cent in Ukraine.The proceeds of this benefit concert go to the Kiev Clinic. So it's hoped that this success rate at least will remain stable in the coming year, a hope that Franz Willnauer, Director of the Beethoven Festival, expressed when he presented a check for 60,000 Deutschmarks to Ms. Donskaya before the concert.
Speeches were given by the Ukranian ambassador to Germany and the German ambassador in Kiev. Pia Heckes, Mayor of Bonn, stressed the importance of Deutsche Welle as media partner of the Beethoven Festival, and Erik Bettermann, Deutsche Welle's Director General, formally awarded the newly-created DW Composition Prize to Sergei Pilyutikov, a young composer from Ukraine. As wonderful as it may be, said Betterman, to hear Beethoven's famous Ninth Symphony performed by young musicians and proving that the music of Bonn's most famous son is as alive as ever, it is also an important misison of German broadcasting corporations to promote contemporary music.
And so, along with Beethoven's Ninth, this concert includes a world premiere: Cantus supra librum, in which Sergei Pilyutikov developed his musical ideas from his impressions of music by Palestrina. That Renaissance composer of sacred music frequently used themes from madrigals of his own or written by others. Pilyutikov writes in the program brochure:
" Cantus supra librum for orchestra was composed in 1998. The original impetus for this work came from free associations with the music of Palaestrina: themes from his First Book of Madrigals published in Rome in 1555 provided the material for continuous variation. Through intuitive reactions as well as through free structures I created a link to the principles of medieval improvisation by giving the same themes to different voices in slightly varied form and with different coloration and emphasis. My approach to this is based on principles of mathematical group theory, which generated different groupings in smaller ensembles within the orchestra."
At the International Beethoven Festival in Bonn, 2001, the world premiere of Cantus supra librum by Sergei Pilyutikov, winner of this year's Deutsche Welle composition prize was performed by the Symphony Orchestra of the National Music Academy of Ukraine, conducted by Roman Kofman.
Composer Sergei Pilyutikov, 36 years old, also comes from Ukraine and is a known quantity in Europe's new music scene. After completing his studies in history at the State University of Charkov, he enrolled as a composition student at the Music Academy there and earned his degree in 1995. Since 1999 Sergei Pilyutikov resides in Kiev, where he founded the Ensemble Ricochet, a group of young musicians specializing in contemporary music which he now leads.
In 2000 he was named director of the International Youth Music Forum Kiev, a festival sponsored by the Composers‘ Guild of Ukraine.
Conductor Roman Kofman was born in Kiev and studied violin and composition before becoming one of the most versatile and successful conductors in the former Soviet Union. After the fall of the Soviet empire he was able to expand his career onto the international stage. Mr. Kofman is also active as an author and composer and is an instructor of conducting at his alma mater, the National Music Academy in Kiev. Since 1980 he has served as principal conductor of that academy's symphony orchestra. This benefit concert for the Children of Chernobyl was recorded live in Bonn's Beethoven Hall by Deutsche Welle Radio on October 6, 2001.