a concert hall reviving the repertoire of Ukraine

LVIV, Ukraine – A concert hall in western Ukraine fills up nightly with a classical music program reviving lost and neglected works of Ukraine’s repertoire, often with an orchestra that fled the war zone.

Concerts are occasionally interrupted by air raids, and musicians have played by candlelight during power outages, but the city of Lviv’s Organ Hall — housed in a stately 17th-century former Catholic church — has become one of the city’s hippest admission tickets.

Performing during the war means tighter budgets, longer hours and a quadrupling of the effort, said the hall’s co-director Taras Demko. But people need it more than ever.

“Terrorist attacks from Russia happen all the time,” Demko told Reuters. “We need to support people who need some kind of peace of mind for at least a few minutes a day.”

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The hall’s resident orchestra is the Luhansk Philharmonic, which relocated twice to escape the war: first to the small eastern city of Severodonetsk in 2015 after its hometown was taken by Russian-backed separatists, and then to Lviv last year when Sieverodonetsk was razed to the ground by Russian invaders.

Orchestra director Igor Shapovalov says he often recognizes people in the audience who he once saw at concerts in the East.

“Music has always helped people, since ancient times,” said Shapovalov. “For some, it offers confidence. For others, it offers psychological healing.”

Due to the varied program, there is an average of more than one concert per day in the hall. More than 30,000 tickets were sold or donated in the first seven months of this year, more than in all of 2022.

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who settled in western Ukraine after fleeing fighting in the east and south can apply for free tickets. About a third of the audience consists of people displaced by the war.

Even though Lviv is hundreds of kilometers from the front line, keeping the concert hall going in a beleaguered country is still a huge challenge. When concerts are interrupted by airborne sirens, visitors are ushered into a windowless corridor.

Last winter, staff learned to connect the electrically powered organ to a generator in the event of failures due to attacks. Candlelight concerts are so popular that they have continued after power was restored.

When ten people were killed in a Russian rocket attack on a residential building in Lviv in early July, the organ hall canceled the choir concert that evening.

The hall presents Ukrainian music, including new compositions and little-known works. Many performances are recorded live and posted on YouTube to help the world learn more about the work of Ukrainian composers.

“Everyone plays Mozart, but who plays Kosenko?” Demko said, referring to Viktor Kosenko, a 20th-century Ukrainian composer known for his poetry.

Ivan Ostapovych, the hall’s other co-director, was sifting through archives for lost Ukrainian music when he came across “Zorya,” a satirical one-act opera by composer Ihor Sonevytsky that pokes fun at the treatment of artists under Soviet rule.

The only known performance of the opera was by students some time after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. It was premiered in the organ hall at the beginning of the year.

In one aria, a soprano sings about a bird spreading its wings at a Communist Party rally. The party secretary replies that the party is a nicer topic.

Performing such a play in the 1960s, when it was written, could have been punishable by imprisonment, Ostapovych said.

“Now we’re re-establishing that music in our history.”

(Reporting by Andrea Januta in Lviv)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

Brian Ashcraft

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