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Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra kicks off tour

Kevin Tschierse
July 29, 2022

The orchestra's very first concert took place in the Polish capital, followed by a tour of major concert halls in Europe and the US. Its mission is clear.

Several ros of photos of members of the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, top three lines in blue, lower 3 lines in yellow
The Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra was established to promote peace following the Russian invasionImage: Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra

The Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra was founded in solidarity with the victims of the war in Ukraine.

Lead conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson told the world in a Youtube video earlier this year that she decided to turn the horror she felt "at the invasion of Ukraine into action, uniting Ukrainian musicians into an artistic force to help in the fight for their freedom as a nation."

They are joining together in solidarity to make music for the freedom of Ukraine as a nation, Wilson said.

The orchestra is touring Europe and the United States from July 28 to August 20. Guest performances are scheduled in Munich, Berlin and Hamburg in August.

The French-German Arte TV channel broadcast the inaugural concert live online on Thursday from the Grand Theater in Warsaw.

Conductor has Ukrainian roots

Creating an orchestra that would make a statement against war goes back to an initiative by New York's Metropolitan Opera and the Polish National Opera.

This specific idea, however, goes back to Keri-Lynn Wilson, who has Ukrainian ancestors. The Canadian maestro grew up in Winnipeg, a Ukrainian hot spot in Canada.

Her great-grandparents were among the Ukrainian immigrants who settled there in the early 20th century.

Wilson looks back on an international conducting career of more than 20 years, working with some of the world's most renowned orchestras including the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. She has also conducted at major opera houses, including Covent Garden in London, the Bavarian State Opera in Munich and the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow.

The Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra rehearses at the Polish National Opera
Keri-Lynn Wilson conducts the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, here rehearsing at the Polish National OperaImage: Kinga Karpati/Daniel Zarewicz/Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra

'Defend the sovereignty of my country'

The orchestra has 75 Ukrainian musicians, some of which were allowed to leave Ukraine with special government permission.

Others joined from orchestras across Europe to play with their fellow countrymen. Wilson's goal was to bring together Ukraine's best orchestral musicians from home and abroad to demonstrate artistic unity.

Several members of the orchestra commented on the project in an emotional video blog on the Metropolitan Opera website.

Roksolana Kalynets, a native of Lviv who plays the viola, said she joined the Freedom Orchestra to support her country "in this difficult time."

"I want the whole world to hear through music that we want to live in our beautiful and free country," she said.

Oleg Moroz, a clarinet player from Kyiv, said, "Music is a language for everyone. It is a language of peace and good, of friendly communication and support." 

"I'd like to dedicate our concert tour to all the people who defend the sovereignty of my country."

Ostap Popovich, a solo trumpet player at Warsaw's National Theater, said, "Music leads to victory. Despite the terrible events in Ukraine, we must continue to live and create, to be active."

Iryna Solovei, a violin player who fled Kharkiv with her daughter, hopes "that this tour will show the whole world that Ukrainians are a very talented, hard-working and very educated people."

Oksana Lyniv: 'Platform for personal stories'

The Ukrainian conductor Oksana Lyniv, founder, conductor, and art director of the Youth Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, and currently in Bayreuth for the Wagner Festival, welcomes Wilson's initiative.

Youth Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine stands in front of a building
The Youth Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine is spreading the 'language of peace' on the world stageImage: Serhiy Horobets

"There are now very many spontaneously organized projects. One of the most significant of these is Keri-Lynn Wilson's Freedom Orchestra," she told DW.

The members of the Freedom Orchestra are young musicians who have received training, she said.

"However, they are currently unable to perform regularly or work professionally in Ukraine. That's why it's wonderful that Wilson had this idea to play this great symphony program," Lyniv said.

Orchestra members also give many interviews to communicate the reality for everyday Ukrainians. 

"They have this platform to tell their personal stories and experiences," Lyniv said. "It's important for people in Europe and the world to judge the situation in Ukraine not only through major media and through the actions of politicians, but also through personal stories of people and families who are affected."

DW Festival Concert: Music for Ukraine

No Russian music

The orchestra's program includes Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov's Seventh Symphony; and Frederic Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2, with Ukrainian virtuoso Anna Fedorova. The decision was made not to play any Russian works.

Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska, who sang the role of Turandot in Giacomo Puccini's opera of the same name at the Met this spring, will sing the great aria, "Yo monster! Where will you go?," from Beethoven's Fidelio — a hymn to humanity and peace in the face of violence and cruelty.

This article was originally written in German.