Ukrainians find new home in French orchestras

AFP , Friday 13 May 2022

Fleeing Ukraine, Natalia Ivanovska left her cello with her parents in Lviv -- it was too dangerous to try to carry it.

Ukraine s Kalush Orchestra is riding a wave of goodwill at the the Eurovision Song contest. AFP


But thanks to an unprecedented initiative by the Philharmonie de Paris concert hall, she has been able to rediscover the joy of playing in an orchestra.

Soon after the war began, the Philharmonie launched an appeal to all orchestras in France to welcome Ukrainian musicians.

Some 15 musicians have so far found a new home in orchestras across the country, from Paris to Lyon, with the aim of finding places for a further 25.

So far, they are all women, since many male players have stayed behind to fight.

Natalia Ivanovska, 25, played in the Odessa orchestra before she was forced to flee Ukraine aboard a crowded train to Poland.

She passed through Copenhagen and finally reached the French capital a month ago, where she now plays with the Orchestre de Paris.

"It has not been easy, mentally," she told AFP. "When I arrived (for rehearsals) on the first day, I cried all day."

"Great heart"

Originally from Lviv, where her parents and brother still live, Ivanovska said: "I think about my country every day because right now Russia is bombing Odessa a lot. It's scary, but the music helps me."

Four Ukrainian violinists have also been integrated into the group -- and all are paid on the same scale as the regular members.

"It is a fantastic initiative, it shows great heart," said Estonian maestro Paavo Jarvi after conducting a rehearsal of Jean Sibelius's Seventh Symphony, adding that he hoped other orchestras around the world would be inspired by the French scheme.

Among the other beneficiaries is Xenia Moroz, of the Kyiv Chamber Orchestra.

The 37-year-old is scarred by the horrors she experienced at the start of the war in March.

"It was 12 days of horror because explosions and gunfire were everywhere," she told AFP.

"Around the 12th day, I decided I have to run. We drove for a little bit because our neighbours were leaving and took me with them. And then we ran through the forest. There was gunfire -- it was a war zone and obviously, it was not a green corridor. We just ran."

Eventually, she was placed on an evacuation bus and then a train to the west.

"It's really nice working here," she said of the Philharmonie. "But it took me a long time to get used to it, I couldn't do it at first."

'Green lights'

During the rehearsal, a woman in the room looks proudly at the newcomers.

Anna Stavychenko, executive director of the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra, set up the project in collaboration with Sarah Kone who heads the Philharmonie's social responsibility programmes.

"It makes us all feel so happy and lucky that we are still part of this wonderful and beautiful classical music, even during these hard times of war," Stavychenko, 36, said.

She herself fled Kyiv with her parents on a train, which at one point was surrounded by Russian tanks.

Kone said she was impressed by the level of both private and government support.

"We only encountered green lights. The sponsors made accommodation available to these women, the education system found places for their children in school..." she said.

"It is important not to remain passive in the face of geopolitics," she added. "The Philharmonie de Paris has set an example".

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