On February 23, one day before Russia invaded Ukraine, Anna Stavychenko, the artistic director of the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra, spoke with VAN about life in “a constant state of stress” and the importance of music for the Ukrainian identity. Since then, Stavychenko and her family have left their home. She is now commuting between Warsaw and Paris and organizing a series of aid projects for Ukrainian musicians, including a European tour for the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra. We spoke on April 7 via Zoom about a French initiative for refugee musicians, her attempts to promote Ukrainian repertoire, and the biggest step classical music institutions can take to support her country.

VAN: Where are you right now? 

Anna Stavychenko: I’m in Paris. I came here on Saturday, because I’m now heading a special project at the Philharmonie de Paris. We’re inviting Ukrainian musicians—from different cities and different orchestras—who have had to leave Ukraine because of war, and who are now in different places in Europe, to take part in orchestra life in France. We’re expanding it from an institutional thing to a big national project: We’re involving other orchestras from other cities [in France], to be able to give jobs to more and more people. 

How many musicians have been able to take part in the program so far?

Five, for now. They had their first concert on April 6 with Jaap van Zweden and the Orchestre de Paris. But of course we’ll invite more musicians. We’ll accommodate them and put them in different orchestras all over France.  

I read that in total about 40 musicians from Ukraine will be coming to France as part of the project. Is that right? How long will they be able to stay in France?

That’s the number of musicians we have on the list now, I’m in touch with all of them. We’re looking for possibilities for all of them to get a temporary contract in one of the French orchestras for this season, till the end of June. But of course nobody knows how things will develop in Ukraine. So hopefully, if needed, we can discuss a one-year period. 

Can they also bring their families?

Yes. Of the five musicians who are already in Paris, two have teenage daughters. They live with their families here in Paris now. One musician brought her cat. 

Why did you decide to go to France? Was it the Philharmonie de Paris that made it possible?

Exactly, it was their initiative. They wanted to help somehow. About a month ago, just when the war started, I launched a project to collect and organize Ukrainian scores. I had seen that concerts dedicated to Ukraine were happening in Europe, but nobody was playing Ukrainian repertoire on them. And it was a pity, because we have incredible music–the world should know how amazing Ukrainian repertoire is. I’m the CEO of the Lyatoshynsky Club. My team, our partners—the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation and Ukrainian Live project—and I decided to collect all the scores and offer them to any institution in the world that is interested in performing Ukrainian music. My colleagues from the Lyatoshynsky Club and I also curated programs which you can just take and perform, because there are thousands of scores—it’s hard to choose something if it’s all new to you. We offered these programs to institutions: I wrote letters to some of them, including the Philharmonie de Paris. And they replied very quickly, saying, ”Of course we would be happy to do something. We can play Ukrainian music, but we would like to help you more. What can we do for the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra, for example?” At that time all the members of the team, including almost all the musicians, were still in Kyiv, so it wasn’t possible to do too much for them. But we continued speaking to the team in Paris and then we decided: Why not help any musician from Ukraine, from any Ukrainian orchestra? So we decided to launch this project. I came to Paris, and the first musicians started to come here. 

How is this initiative funded? 

They have patrons, who are helping a lot, and even host us in their houses.

In many countries, there are plenty of solidarity concerts, but few long-term projects for Ukrainian musicians. What could these orchestras or institutions learn from the French initiative?

Hopefully other countries,  orchestras, and institutions can follow this idea: Invite Ukrainian musicians and give them jobs. You can make them part of your orchestra or your team and involve them in your concerts. A lot of orchestras want to do something, they just don’t know what exactly they can do and how to find people, whom to invite, how to arrange everything. So now we are working on a system, and we’re happy to share our experiences with other orchestras or countries.

"Hopefully other countries,  orchestras, and institutions can follow this idea: Invite Ukrainian musicians and give them jobs." Kyiv Symphony director Anna Stavychenko on how to help Ukrainian musicians. @vanmusicmag Click To Tweet

There are probably only female musicians coming to France now, right? 

Yes, exactly, because it is not possible for the men under 60 to leave Ukraine. 

Will it be possible for the male members of the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra to leave the country for your upcoming European tour?

We just got special permission from the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy allowing us to leave the country for this special cultural mission. The men are allowed to leave the country for some time, too. Of course they’ll go back. But since the orchestra is representing Ukraine to the world, they got support from our government, and so the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra is coming to Europe. This is another activity for me right now, arranging everything. Poland is helping us in every possible way. The plan to bringt the Kyiv Symphony to Europe is supported by the Polish Ministry of Culture, the National Institute for Dance and Music, the National Opera, the National Philharmonic Hall… All the main cultural institutions in Poland are helping us and doing everything possible to make it happen. 

How are these institutions supporting you? 

The Kyiv Symphony Orchestra will play the first concert of its tour on April 21 in Warsaw. They’ll also rehearse in Warsaw for two weeks to prepare for the tour, because of course they couldn’t practice in Ukraine. We’ll even have two rehearsal spaces, one in the National Opera and one in the National Philharmonic Hall. They are also helping to accommodate all these people, because again the musicians are coming with their families. We’re bringing 126 people, and all of them need accommodations and some budget for these two weeks in Poland. 

This is the help we’re receiving from the Polish side right now. We’ll give concerts in Warsaw in the National Philharmonic Hall and in Łódź to show how grateful we are for all this support. It’s amazing what Poland is doing right now for all refugees from Ukraine. It gives us hope and belief in humanity, because what we are experiencing in Ukraine is actually killing our hope in humanity. But at the same time what we see in Europe, in France, in Poland, in other countries which are helping Ukraine so much, at least with refugees, is incredible: This help is coming from people themselves, not governments. It’s like every individual wants to do something. 

What’s the program for the tour? 

It will be a Ukrainian program: Berezovsky’s Symphony No. 1, the first Ukrainian symphony. 

Also Lyatoshynsky’s Third. It’s an iconic piece: Lyatoshynsky is one of the greatest names of Ukrainian music in the 20th century. His Third Symphony was written during World War II and is very symbolic. We’re going to  perform the first, original edition of the piece, which has a tragic finale. When war starts it means everybody loses; war itself is only loss. In Lyatoshynsky’s first version of the symphony there was no happy ending. It was not like: Everything will be as it was before. That’s impossible. In this way the symphony is very honest and very brave. Lyatoshynsky got a lot of criticism during the Soviet era for this finale. People needed hope and instead he gave them truth, and truth was never very acceptable in the Soviet Union, like in Russia now. So Lyatoshynsky had to write a second version, with a typically Soviet optimistic conclusion, a fake happy ending. It was performed like this for many years, but in the independent Ukraine we were able to perform the original version again. We will also play Chausson’s “Poème” with a soloist and “Melody” by Myroslaw Skoryk because it is very symbolic for Ukraine. 

How so? 

A lot of orchestras play this piece; even for an international audience it’s famous. And it is very much linked to Ukraine itself: the melody of the piece is an authentic Ukrainian melody. 

How is the Ukrainian Scores project developing?

We keep adding more and more scores. We still have a lot of requests; we’re adding solo pieces, orchestra pieces, chamber music…Thanks to our partners it got really big. A lot of people are now working on the project, and we’re using all our contacts abroad to make it even bigger. It is very important that Ukrainian music is heard in the world right now. Unfortunately, international audiences are not very familiar with this music, and we really want to change that. This music deserves to be heard and now is the right moment–unfortunately under such tragic circumstances, but let’s finally do it! Let’s discover Ukrainian music!  

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With all the orchestras playing solidarity concerts for Ukraine, it still took a while for them to realize they could be playing Ukrainian music. 

Yeah, it took them about a month to understand the options. I realize that it takes time for international orchestras to adopt this repertoire: It can’t happen right away, because every orchestra has the current and the next season planned already. So it’s a lot of work for all of us. But at least we got started. Hopefully at least orchestras and directors of orchestras and institutions will understand: We need to discover Ukrainian music. We need to collaborate with Ukrainian musicians more. 

And: They are Ukranians, not Russians. People used to confuse this all the time. Hopefully now they’ll understand the difference and there will be less confusion about who is who. 

What are you up to next?

I’m going back to Poland soon to help my orchestra there and to join the musicians on the European tour. But still I’m working on this project in Paris—all at the same time. Another of my new activities is a collaboration with the Sinfonia Varsovia, one of the best orchestras in Europe. They invited me to integrate Ukrainian music into their programming. And there will be special projects for refugees, both adults and children. Music and multidisciplinary projects can help people in these difficult times, because of course a lot of Ukrainians are coming to Poland. We want music to be this space for support and security. We’ll be doing projects to help these people, and to introduce them to classical, jazz, and folk music.

Which advice would you give to institutions that want to help?

What I really want to ask—not only of music institutions, but of any institution—is to be honest and brave. What I mean is to call war “war.” There is no “Ukrainian crisis.” There is no “conflict in Ukraine.” From the beginning, eight years ago, it was a war by Russia against Ukraine. For so many years, people were using these terms, which implied that there is something fake about the situation. People couldn’t understand what was happening in Ukraine; now we see the results of this wordplay, with people afraid to call it “war.”

We’d be really happy if institutions and the media called Russia the aggressor and the war in the Ukraine the “Russian war in Ukraine.” It’s really painful that after Bucha, Irpin, and Mariupol we still see all these beautiful, kind statements calling for world peace. Without saying: Which peace exactly? For whom? And who is preventing peace right now? 

This is a real war in a real European country. It was attacked and invaded by another real country. We have names for this. If we don’t use them, we’re creating a fake reality with these calls for peace, these concerts for peace. It’s disrespectful to our pain, to our victims, to all the people who were killed or raped…The least you can do is call the war what it is. ¶

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