Meanwhile, Keri-Lynn Wilson was madly busy turning her inspired but vague idea into a plan of action. First there was the question: what would the program be? “I knew there had to be something Ukrainian,” says Wilson, “and I found this very beautiful Seventh Symphony by Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov. We also perform Chopin’s 2n/a Piano concerto, with a nod to Poland, with the Ukrainian artist Anna Federova, and the great heroic aria from Beethoven’s opera Fidelio, with the Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska. And I wanted a big, serious symphony that wasn’t the obvious choice of Beethoven’s Fifth, so we’re playing Brahms’ Fourth and also Dvořák’s New World Symphony.
That was the easy part; making the tour a reality was something else. Fortunately, Wilson had two powerful backers: her husband Peter Gelb, who happens to be the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and leading concert management agency Askonas Holt. With the Polish National Opera, they set up a plan: ten days of rehearsal plus a concert in Warsaw, followed by a tour that will begin in Europe and end in the United States.
In addition to boosting morale and raising awareness of Ukrainian musical prowess, the aim is to raise funds for a charity to support culture in Ukraine. To maximize revenue, Wilson will receive the same base player fees as the orchestra players, and the two soloists will receive very modest fees. Expenses are covered by venue fees, support from charitable foundations and sponsors, and the Polish National Opera and the Met also offer their services free of charge.
The logistical and economic challenges of bringing together players from around the world and ensuring they have all the correct visas and Covid vaccination documentation have been immense, but Wilson is sure the effort will be worth it. “It’s a labor of love for me,” she says. “I just felt like I had to do something.”
For players, the tour is even more vital. “Together we will represent Ukraine to the world and draw attention to the horrific events unfolding in our country,” says Mark Kreshchenskyi. “It will unite people around the world and show politicians that there is no place for war in the 21st century.” Yuliya Tokach is equally provocative. “It’s a great way to show that we share the values of other countries in the civilized world, and it’s a great opportunity to show how talented our musicians are,” she says. “We are very grateful to all the organizations in Europe and the United States that support us, we feel honoured.”
Is she confident about the final outcome of the war? “Of course we have total faith in our victory. We have to be, because we have no other choice. We just know it will be so.
The Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra appears at the BBC Proms on July 31 (royalalberthall.com), the Edinburgh International Festival on August 6 (eif.co.uk) and at Snape Maltings, Suffolk, on August 8 (brittenpearsarts.org). To donate to the Ukrainian Culture Support Fund, visit donate.arts.gov.ua/en