In the San Francisco Bay Area — with many residents who are Russian- or Ukrainian-born or with immediate ancestry and relatives in those countries — the deadly Russian assault on the people of Ukraine has been of constant concern and distress.
Musicians are once again rallying to express opposition to the war and raise funds to support the victims. Frederica von Stade, whose renowned career encompassed roles in Russian operas, told SFCV:
“While devastated at what is happening to the people of Ukraine I am overcome with admiration for their courage and dignity. They are suffering so much and also setting a standard for democracy, one which we should thank them for with all our hearts.”
- Baritone Adam Bouyamourn
- Mezzo Tania Inala
- Violinist Michael Long
- French Horn player Janet Popescu
- Soprano Svetlana Nikitenko
- Pianists Alex and Lucas Spangher
- Cellist Pawel Walerowski
Flicka also shared a message from a friend in Ireland, who shared his home with strangers, a mother and her daughter escaping from Ukraine:
“Here are our first Ukrainians at the farm, a sweet mother and her daughter. They do not have even one word of English. It is essential to help them move on from Poland and Moldova, so those heroes have room for more brave people making it to their borders. We are hoping to get more for the gate cottage this coming week.”
On Monday, March 14, beginning at 3 p.m. PDT, there will be a huge benefit event with global reach in New York’s 3,850-seat Metropolitan Opera “to offer solidarity for Ukrainian citizens under attack, with all ticket sales and other proceeds supporting relief efforts in Ukraine.” Tickets, all at $50, sold out within hours as the Met’s website kept crashing.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin is to lead the Met Orchestra and Chorus and star soloists in a 70-minute program that will be broadcast live on radio and streamed throughout the world via multiple outlets.
At the beginning of the Russian invasion, the Metropolitan Opera announced that it will suspend its ties to Russian artists and institutions who are allied with Putin. Met General Manager Peter Gelb expressed solidarity with the people and leadership of Ukraine and said:
“As an international opera company, the Met can help ring the alarm and contribute to the fight against oppression ... we can no longer engage with artists or institutions that support Putin or are supported by him — not until the invasion and killing has been stopped, order has been restored and restitutions have been made.”
Before a performance of Don Carlos, the cast joined chorus and orchestra to perform the Ukrainian national anthem. At a New York Philharmonic concert, SF Symphony Conductor Laureate Herbert Blomstedt, 94, led the orchestra in the anthem “Shche ne vmerla Ukraina,” dedicating the concert “to the suffering people of Ukraine.”
Part of the global shock and attempts to respond to the invasion of Ukraine are widespread, often confused actions against Russian artists and repertoire, culminating in cancellations of performances of works by Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, even such victims of Stalin’s reign of terror as Shostakovich.
Michael Tilson Thomas became involved with the cancellation of part of a program he is conducting in Montreal, with Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM), which canceled the appearance of a young Russian pianist, Alexander Malofeev, along with the work he was to perform, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3.
“It is regrettable that political situations have made it impossible,” MTT said, adding he is looking forward to possibly working with the pianist in the near future.
It is very painful for me to see everything that is happening. I have never seen so much hatred going in all directions, in Russia and around the world. Most of the people with whom I have personally communicated these days are guided by only one feeling – fear. I am contacted by journalists now who want me to make statements. I feel very uncomfortable about this and also think that it can affect my family in Russia.
I still believe Russian culture and music specifically should not be tarnished by the ongoing tragedy, though it is impossible to stay aside now. Honestly, the only thing I can do now is to pray and cry.”
The pianist, who has family in both Russia and Ukraine, said “I do understand that my problems are very insignificant compared to those of people in Ukraine. The truth is that every Russian will feel guilty for decades because of the terrible and bloody decision that none of us could influence and predict.” Malofeev asked the OSF to donate his fee to organizations aiding Ukrainians.
Closer to home, pianist Inna Faliks responded by posting a performance of Beethoven’s “Appassionata” sonata in honor of Odessa, her city of birth. Faliks, who teaches at UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music, said “We are scared for our family and friends who have no way out and really no hope.”
Meanwhile, British violinist Kerenza Peacock coordinated a worldwide musical collaboration of 94 violinists to accompany a young Ukrainian musician performing from a basement shelter between bomb blasts. Peacock described the instant orchestra this way on her Instagram account:
I befriended some young violinists in Ukraine via @instagram and discovered some were in basement shelters but had their violins. So I asked colleagues across the world to accompany them in harmony. And I got sent videos from 94 violinists in 29 countries in 48 hours! An astonishing collaboration forming an international violin choir of support for Ukraine. Illia Bondarenko had to film this between explosions, because he could not hear himself play.
Nine other young violinists sheltering in Ukraine join in unison, and are accompanied in harmony by world-class players from the London Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo Symphony, Oslo Philharmonic, the Hollywood Studios, and renowned violinists from all over the world including Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Belgium, Georgia, Poland, South Korea, South Africa, Moldova, Denmark, India, and the entire violin section of the Munich Chamber Orchestra. We have famous names from different fiddle traditions including Indian, Scottish, and bluegrass. And soloist Daniel Hope who had, by coincidence, once coached [Bondarenko].
Violinists are a fellowship who all have rosin and broken E strings in common, but sadly some are currently having to think about how to arm themselves, and hiding in bomb shelters instead of playing Beethoven or bluegrass. Some more Ukrainians wanted to take part, but now have guns in their hands instead of violins.”
Making an appearance in the streets of Kyiv, even as the city was bracing for a seemingly inevitable siege, the Kyiv-Classic Symphony Orchestra performed in the capital’s Maidan Square on Wednesday. The conductor said the musicians were playing as an “action of peace.”
Also in Ukraine, among those leaving the country are all employees of the Goethe-Institut, the German cultural organization, which has 15 language learning centers, 17 partner libraries or reading rooms, and many university co-operations in Ukraine, reaching 4,000 language course students per year and supporting 670,000 people the Ministry of Education says are learning German. Among the Goethe staff leaving were those working in the multiyear project “House of Europe” — a sadly symbolic report.
Major museums around the world have cut their close links with such great Russian institutions as the Ermitage in St. Petersburg as UNESCO warned of damage to Ukraine’s cultural heritage and international cultural institutions stepped up their condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine’s minister of culture, Oleksandr Tkachenko, has joined a group of Ukrainian artists, gallery owners, actors, musicians, and film directors in demanding stronger, sweeping cultural sanctions. They have signed a petition calling on international institutions to cancel cultural partnerships with the Russian Federation, sever relationships with Russian nationals sitting on advisory boards, and ban Russian participation in major art events, including Art Basel, the Venice Biennale, and the Cannes Film Festival.
“The Russian Federation is a rogue state,” says the petition. “Russian culture, when used as propaganda, is toxic. Don’t be an accomplice!”
The sudden and largely unexpected war caught the world unprepared to protect art in Ukraine. Unlike the U.S. Army specialists’ storied work as the Monuments Men of World War II, who protected and recovered millions of European treasures looted by the Nazis, no similar attention has been made to historic and cultural landmarks in Ukraine. Kyiv, Lyiv, and many other ancient cities in Ukraine have cultural treasures now in the same jeopardy as the people of the country.