A joint project by the Beethovenfest Bonn and Deutsche Welle aims to create close cultural ties between Germany and Ukraine. Judging from the rehearsals, it seems to be quite successful at doing so.
"My dreams are coming true faster than I would have ever hoped," said Ukrainian conductor Oksana Lyniv, sipping her third espresso. On stage, 42 musicians from the National Youth Orchestra of Germany and 37 members of the Youth Orchestra of Ukraine had just started rehearsing.
Lyniv came up with the idea of bringing the two youth orchestras together after being named the conductor of the Beethovenfest Campus project, co-organized by DW.
"The Youth Orchestra of Ukraine was created with the aim of bringing young people together from all parts of the country, which is still in a state of war. With the campus project, we've taken the next step, building a bridge to Western Europe."
Tight schedule and happy faces
"This is not a marathon, it's an ongoing sprint," said young Ukrainian musician Taras Guzuljak, looking tired but happy. "Eight flutists auditioned for a seat in the orchestra last year, but I was the only one who was admitted," he added.
The price for the opportunity: two extremely intensive rehearsal weeks in Lviv, Ukraine and Bonn - and up to eight hours of rehearsals every day plus four concerts.
The concerts in Lviv and the Ukrainian capital of Kiev in late August were a success, but "playing in Germany and in Beethoven's birthplace is an entirely different challenge," admits 12-year-old Olga Tytarenko, a gifted violinist and the orchestra's youngest member.
Olga comes from Makiivka, a city just a few kilometers off Donetsk. The war forced her and her parents to move to Kiev. "There used to be a great music school in Makiivka, but it's not a very pleasant place now."
"Quiet now!" exclaims Lyniv. She's a strict maestra, and for good reason: apart from Beethoven's "Triple Concerto" and a charming overture by Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart, the program includes a major piece by Ukrainian classical composer Boris Lyatoshinsky and the world premiere of "Fantasia Galiciana" for seven accordions and orchestra by Bohdan Sehin.
The last piece was commissioned by Deutsche Welle and is a tribute to the music of the Galician region in western Ukraine, of which Lviv is the cultural center.
To perform the premiere is a big responsibility and a challenge, especially with the German-Ukrainian ensemble complemented by seven other participants, soloists of the LandesJugendAkkordeonOrchester (State Youth Accordion Orchestra) of North Rhein-Westphalia.
"Druschba - Freundschaft"
That long name is a tongue-twister for the Ukrainians, but the young people from both countries use the project as an opportunity to learn their newfound friends' language - at least a bit.
"Friendship" means "druschba" in both Ukrainian and Russian. Josef Dragus can pronounce the word quite well already, but otherwise, he talks with his buddy Konstantin Tomnizkij in English.
"Josef is a great guy and a talented musician," said Konstantin. The two met in Ukraine and are now staying with a host family in Bonn.
"If our Ukrainian colleagues return to Germany, they won't be coming to a foreign country," says Sönke Lentz, project manager of the the National Youth Orchestra of Germany. "They will have acquaintances, music partners and friends here."
Lenz is excited about where the project is heading: "It's incredible with how much dedication and musicality the two orchestras have grown together in Bonn. The young people have been given the time they need to work together well. "
A project with political overtones
Director Nike Wagner appreciated the campus concert and even called it "an extraordinary event" of the Beethovenfest program. Not just because the young musicians "help us keep the legacy of classical music," she said, but also "because it has political overtones."
"Ukraine has been tormented during the last two decades of revolutions and wars, and now young musicians are there to show what can be done in music and culture," Wagner added.
Nike Wagner is especially pleased with the concert during which the campus orchestra accompanies a trio of international soloists: Ukrainian pianist Kateryna Titova, German violinist Tobias Feldmann and Russian cellist Konstantin Manaev - an international constellation of the kind rarely encountered these days.
"This is the hope for the future of the great European project," concluded Nike Wagner.