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Beethovenfest Bonn

September 24, 2022

The Beethovenfest Bonn turns the spotlight on the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine and the brutal repression in Belarus. In the 2022's Campus Concert, musicians from both countries champion freedom and condemn violence.

Beethovenfest Campus-Konzert | Volny Choir masked
Image: Michael Staab/Beethovenfest

These are turbulent times in eastern Europe. In 2020, a popular uprising in Belarus was suppressed and the ensuing crackdown on dissenting artists remains ongoing. Meanwhile, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February continues to threaten the country’s national and cultural identity. Belarusian conductor Vitali Alekseenok and his colleagues in Kyiv and Minsk feel they have no choice but to take a political stand: "There was no time to cry, to reflect - we have to respond, we need to take action," says Alekseenok.

Beethovenfest Campus-Konzert | Conductor Vitali Alekseenov
Image: Michael Staab/Beethovenfest

In June 2021 he became Artistic Director of the Kharkiv Music Fest, which has held concerts in bomb shelters, subways and hospitals in the city during the war. Now he’s brought together the Sophia Chamber Choir from Kyiv, the Free Choir from Minsk and the Gewandhaus Youth Choir from Leipzig for the ‘Campus Project: Eastern Europe’, initiated by the Beethovenfest and Deutsche Welle.

Bonn | Flashmob Vony Choir | 2022
Image: T. Scheider/Beethovenfest

The Free Choir staged flash mobs during the protests in Belarus against dictator Alexander Lukashenko, which received worldwide attention. Members of the choir were subsequently imprisoned and tortured. They now wear masks when they perform in public to protect their safety. Founded in 2007, the Sophia Chamber Choir is now an integral part of Kyiv's cultural landscape. The war has transformed its perception of its role and identity. Today, the choir sees itself as a cultural ambassador for its country, and it hopes that its concerts can help boost morale there. One highlight of the Campus Concert at this year’s festival was the premiere of "The Sky of Mary", a work commissioned by Deutsche Welle. Belarusian composer Olga Podgaiskaya dedicated "The Sky of Mary" to her childhood friend Maria Kolesnikova, a prominent activist in Belarus and a fierce opponent of Lukashenko, who is currently in a penal colony. Arts.21 accompanied Vital Alekseenok and the musicians during rehearsals in Warsaw, and at the concert that took place in early September.

Germany 2021 | Awarding Charlemagne Prize to imprisoned dissident Olga Kalesnikova to her sister Tatsiana Khomich
Image: Bernd Thissen/dpa/picture alliance

We also met Tatsiana Khomich, Kolesnikova’s sister, who told us how much music means to the jailed activist. Arts 21 asks: How does art and culture survive in times of war and oppression? What role can it play?

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DW Arts.21 (Sendungslogo Kultur.21 englisch)

Arts.21 — The Cultural Magazine

Discover culture. Germany is becoming a crossroads for the creative scene of the 21st century. The world is watching to see what's taking shape in Berlin and beyond.

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