Time has come to get to know Ukrainian composers: Lynn Wilson

The Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra consists of Ukrainian refugee musicians but also male muscians in active military service. Photo: Facebook/Keri-Lynn Wilson

“This is the time to really get to know Ukrainian composers Myroslav Skoryk, Mykola Lysenko and Valentyn Silvestrov whose 7th symphony we will perform during the tour of the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra,” Canadian-born conductor of Ukrainian descent Keri-Lynn Wilson told the Polish Press Agency.

Conducted by Ms Wilson, the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra will inaugurate its European and US tour with a concert at the Grand Theatre – National Opera in Warsaw on July 28 . Consisting of Ukrainian refugees belonging to European orchestras, such as the National Opera of Ukraine in Kyiv, the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, the Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine, the Kharkiv State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, the Vienna Tonkünstler Orchestra, the Belgian National Orchestra and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the show is to promulgate Ukrainian composers and “to help not just Ukrainian musicians but also the Ukrainian nation,” as Ms Wilson put it.

Raised in the Canadian city of Winnipeg, home to the largest Ukrainian diaspora in the whole of North America, the Ukrainian culture surrounded Ms Wilson from the cradle. Having graduated from Juilliard, she took up work as a conductor at the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine and the National Opera of Ukraine in Kyiv.

When the Russian invasion was launched, she felt an urge to act. Having seen innumerable photos of Ukrainians fleeing to Poland, she reasoned that scores of musicians must be among them, which inspired her to assemble them into an orchestra. She confessed her idea to her husband, director-general of the Metropolitan Opera, who found it “fantastic”. The couple contacted the Grand Theatre–National Opera, with which they had collaborated many times before. It turned out that its director Waldemar Dąbrowski had already welcomed Ukrainian refugees into his home and upon hearing the idea, he gave it a thumb up.

The undertaking is also supported by the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, as well as Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Ministry and Ministry of Culture. Ms Wilson’s husband also hired the Askonas Holt concert agency from London.

Assembling the orchestra

In the course of assembling the orchestra, it transpired that the number of Ukrainian refugee musicians was insufficient to form it. The organisers had to resort to those musicians who have remained in Ukraine, many of whom were men and thus unable to leave the country given Ukraine’s general mobilisation being in place. But thanks to the communication between the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture and the Ukrainian Armed Forces, it was agreed that those musicians who are in the army will have remained there until July 18 – the first day of the rehearsals. Also, Ukrainian musicians from Germany will fill the ranks of the orchestra.

Ms Wilson confessed that although she had once deemed the Bolshoi Theatre her “home”, in face of the Russian invasion she decided to discontinue her collaboration with the institution and the Russian National Orchestra alike.

Now she feels the time has come to really get to know Ukrainian composers Myroslav Skoryk, Mykola Lysenko and Valentyn Silvestrov. Ms Wilson admitted that she held Silvestrov’s symphony in particularly high regard as its sorrowful lyricism perfectly conveyed the emotions that Ukrainians were currently experiencing. The emotions evoked by the composer’s music – nostalgia, a kind of dolorous joy.