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‘The Rockets Didn’t Stop Us’: Odesa Violinist Gears Up for Symbolic Concert

When news of a Russian missile attack on Odesa’s Transfiguration Cathedral reached Kyrylo Markiv at his home in the early hours of 23 July, the violinist headed not to the nearest bunker but to the smouldering building in his home city’s Unesco-listed historic centre.

Markiv, 27, wanted to help put out the fire, but he was also worried about his violin, a delicate instrument part-made of Ukrainian sycamore wood that he had stored in the cathedral’s choir room overnight. “Marble busts, metal tables, heavy wooden furniture: everything in the room was destroyed,” he recalled. “Only the violin had been protected in its case underneath the rubble. It was a miracle.”

As Markiv travels to Berlin with the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra on Thursday to mark his country’s independence day with a free concert at Schönhausen Palace Gardens, his sturdy violin case acts as a symbol of defiance, carrying a replacement instrument loaned to him by a violin-maker who is repairing surface damage on the cherished original.

“The rockets didn’t stop us from making art, they only brought us closer together,” said the Odesan, who usually plays in the Odesa Philharmonic Orchestra and directs an orthodox choir at the cathedral. “I still sing with my choir non-stop, and we are singing better than a month ago.”

A project originally conceived and led by the Canadian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson for a series of concerts across Europe last summer, the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra consists of 74 Ukrainian musicians, including established players in orchestras across Europe, some of whom have fled their country because of the war, and others such as Markiv who have chosen to remain in their country.

Brimming with overtly symbolic musical choices, the orchestra’s programme in the German capital will include the Ukrainian composer Yevhen Stankovych’s Second Violin Concerto, Giuseppe Verdi’s Overture to La Forza del Destino, as well as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the anthem of the European Union, with the words by the German playwright Friedrich Schiller translated into Ukrainian.

After Russia’s invasion, the EU last year agreed to grant accession status to Ukraine and neighbouring Moldova, though the European Commission has sought to dampen hopes of a fast-track procedure.

“We made the decision to sing Beethoven’s symphony in Ukrainian only three weeks ago,” said Wilson. “But it feels like such a potent rebuke to Putin trying to silence Ukrainian as a language.”

When the US conductor Leonard Bernstein conducted Beethoven’s Ninth at East Berlin’s Schauspielhaus weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, he changed the opening word from Freude (“joy”) to Freiheit (“freedom”). Taking Bernstein’s lead, the Ukrainian version will start with the word Slava (“glory”), now familiar as part of Ukraine’s rallying cry against Russian aggression, Slava Ukraini!

As well as playing the violin, Markiv has trained the orchestra’s newly established Ukrainian Freedom Chorus, which will sing Beethoven’s choral symphony, made up of 40 Ukrainian refugees and other Berlin residents.

“Beethoven’s Ninth is very symbolic to me,” Markiv said of the piece, which includes the phrase “all men become brothers”. “Schiller says people all over the world must be united in peace. And we are singing, we are shouting that message in our own language.”

The Ninth Symphony is regarded as the first instance of a major composer scoring vocal parts in a symphony, featuring four vocal soloists and a chorus in its fourth and final movement.

“It’s a very special piece of music because you have the orchestra playing on its own, then the choir singing on its own, and then you have both in unison. Everyone makes sacrifices to create something better for everyone.”

“To me Beethoven’s music is like a prayer,” he added. “You are on your own in a dark church, and then the light comes in and all is good.”

The Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra will revert to playing Beethoven’s Symphony No 3, the “Eroica”, for the rest of its tour, which includes stops in Lucerne, Amsterdam and Hamburg, culminating in a concert at the Barbican in London on 3 September.

Source : The Guardian