An act of defiance by Ukraine’s National Philharmonic


On Friday night in Kyiv, the sound of a nation’s soul takes centre stage.

With bow in hand and a flick of the conductor’s wrist, inside the historic Mykola Lysenko Column Hall, one of Ukraine’s most prestigious orchestras rehearses its bold production.

Rows of musicians finely tune their violins, flutes and French horns, as a pianist prepares and a bass drum rumbles. Tonight is no ordinary evening at the orchestra, for this is no regular day.

The performance is titled “music of defiance” to mark the one year anniversary of the Russian invasion and Ukraine’s National Philharmonic have come together to use their own instruments of change.

Thirty minutes before taking to the stage, concert master and violinist, Vadym Borysov calmly shares, “our life is music and our weapon is our music.”

Nearly every musician in this orchestra fled Ukraine when the war began, and nearly all have since returned ready to perform. Including violinist Oksana Sharboviychuk, who says she came back to “share with the world our music and our lives.”

The timely reunion isn’t lost on orchestra manager Larissa Parkomiuk who pointedly states: “This is our cultural front; we are fighting with our violins and with our tubas.”

Twelve months ago to the day Russia began its advance towards Kyiv, and as night falls, braving the stage has taken on new meaning.

“They (the orchestra) are a little bit nervous today to play music, many people are waiting for the bombs to fall,” Parkomiuk told CTV News.

She admits people are concerned bombs are going to land on the concert hall. There’s been warnings all week the Kremlin may rain down missiles on Ukraine’s capital to mark what some are calling the one year anniversary of the war.

The concerns are valid. In October a missile hit Kyiv’s Klitschko bridge just steps from the venue. “All of the windows broke,” Parkomiuk said. The concert hall was turned into an “open air” stage.

Since repaired, the doors are opened as a cautious, modest crowd comes to watch and listen. The Philharmonic’s performance has been trimmed down to just one hour. It also begins an hour earlier – at 6 p.m. local time – to allow people enough time to get home before the wartime issued curfew kicks in.

The National Philharmonic take the stage to an applause and their powerful concert begins, reminding those in attendance that when words fail, music has the power to speak.

“When I’m playing music,” Borysov said, “I’m just thinking about music. Who’s Putin?” Referencing the stage behind him, Borysov points out: “This is music, this is most important.”

The concert doesn’t end on an uplifting note. The Philharmonic have chosen a song by a Ukrainian Jewish composer titled “Cry and Pray” to mourn the thousands lost — and give strength to those still fighting for their country’s freedom.

“Our orchestra, our musicians, they give hope to people that we must be strong,” proclaimed Parkomiuk.

Putin may have intended to break the spirit of Ukrainians – though on Friday night in Kyiv, it’s clear he may never be able to capture the soul of this nation.

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