Young musicians from Germany and Ukraine wowed audiences in Lviv and Kyiv, with more intercultural dialogue and musical fireworks still to come.
For the first joint appearance of the German National Youth Orchestra and a newly-founded Ukrainian youth orchestra, the Lviv Opera - one of Europe's most beautiful houses - was sold out down to the last seat. The Kyiv Philharmonic Hall was also bursting at the seams.
The performances by musicians from the two countries may seem like a diplomat's dream come true, but it was more than that. "People here see this kind of event as a gesture of cooperation extended from their friends in western Europe," explained Irina Vakulina, a Ukrainian musician and project coordinator of the Youth Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. "For those of us living in a country beset by war in the East, it's more important than ever before."
The war with Russian separatists may have seemed remote from inside the Kyiv Philharmonic Hall on August 24, but not far away, bystanders were watching a military parade on Ukrainian Independence Day. Soldiers on leave from the service at the front but still wearing their uniforms are a permanent fixture in the city.
Meanwhile, Beethoven's Triple Concerto - with soloists in a spirit of cooperation from Germany, Ukraine and Russia - seemed to transmit a clear message both rich in humanistic values and topical.
Ukraine in focus at the 2017 Campus
The road leading to the concerts in Lviv and Kyiv had been a lengthy one. On the German side, there were three partners: the Beethovenfest Bonn, the National Youth Orchestra and Deutsche Welle.
The Campus Project has brought young musicians from every part of the world to Bonn every year since 2001. "After Mexico last year and China the year before, we were looking for a European country with a rich and varied culture that might not immediately come to mind," said Thomas Scheider, head of the Campus Project at the Beethovenfest. "And we soon arrived at Ukraine."
A central protagonist for the project was found in Oksana Lyniv. The young Ukrainian conductor's biography itself is intercultural: following studies in Lviv and Dresden, she headed the Odessa Opera before embarking on a career in western Europe. After serving as assistant to the feted conductor Kirill Petrenko at the Bavarian State Opera, she moved on to become General Music Director at the Graz Opera. Lyniv has long enjoyed star status in her homeland and is a figure people identify with.
The only thing missing was a partner orchestra. To her, the invitation to the Campus Project was an occasion to initiate a youth orchestra in her country. "This isn't only an opportunity to project Ukrainian culture abroad. It's also a mechanism for consolidating and celebrating our country's unity and overcoming preconceptions that prevail among young people in the western and eastern regions," Lyniv explained to DW.
The project was announced on social media and posted at music schools and academies in the autumn of 2016. Over 200 young musicians from all parts of Ukraine responded, and roughly half of them were invited to audition in Lviv in December 2016. Those the international jury were were most convinced of were inducted into the newly-founded Youth Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, and rehearsals began on August 22 in Lviv.
"I've been looking forward to this day and can hardly believe that the dream has finally come true," said Constantin Tomnizkiy, a 19-year-old cellist from Odessa. Sporting a white shirt, black bow tie and a blue and yellow handkerchief - the Ukrainian national colors - he posed with 30 of his compatriots and 30 musicians of the National Youth Orchestra of Germany for a group photo on the first day of rehearsals in Lviv. Nearly every instrumental group includes players from both countries.
"It was four intense days," said Sönke Lentz, the National Youth Orchestra's project head. "I hope we've shown our young people that Ukraine is a country rich in culture and tradition, a place with much waiting to be discovered by us and others in western Europe."
There were few rough spots in the musicianship, said violinist Claudia Schmitz of the National Youth Orchestra: "I knew that the Ukrainians perform at a high level, but I never thought they were this good."
That does not apply to the orchestra as a whole however. Although the Ukrainian school of violin performance remains one of the world's finest, the winds show room for improvement. "As far as my instrument is concerned, I must say that the Germans are better than we are," concedes 21-year-old Leonid Yaremenko. The trumpeter born in Luhansk currently studies in Sewerodonezk, in eastern Ukraine. "We're learning a lot from our counterparts."
See you at the Beethovenfest
There will be ample opportunity for communication. The next joint rehearsal of the German and Ukrainian musicians begins in September and will culminate in performances at the Beethovenfest in Bonn on September 14 and at a concert hosted by Deutsche Welle in Berlin's St. Elizabeth Church on September 15.
The playbill includes works by German and Ukrainian composers, including Beethoven's Triple Concerto and the world premiere of a piece commissioned by DW from Lviv composer Bohdan Sehin.
Deutsche Welle will report on the Campus Project on television and online.