By Gretchen Berger
Friday night marked the second and final performance of the Ukrainian Freedom Tour in New York City, with two free outdoor evening concerts at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park. The concerts were the culmination of Lincoln Center’s Summer for the City festival, which began in May.
The Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra brings together world-class Ukrainian musicians in the artistic defense of their homeland, organized by the Metropolitan Opera and the Polish National Opera in solidarity with the victims of the Russian invasion.
The 75-piece orchestra is led by Canadian-Ukrainian maestro Keri-Lynn Wilson, originally from Winnipeg, Canada, whose husband is the Metropolitan Opera General Manager, Peter Gelb. It was her idea to create the orchestra, whose members include many refugees from all over Ukraine – featuring some of the country’s top musicians, who perform in orchestras all over Europe.
Opening night featured the orchestra playing the Ukrainian National Anthem. The program included masterful and rousing performances of the contemporary Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov’s Symphony No. 7, Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Brahm’s Fourth Symphony, arias from Beethoven’s Fidelio and Verdi’s Aida, and Dvorak’s iconic From the New World symphony.
The arias were performed by Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska, who replaced the Met’s Anna Netrebko after her contracts were cancelled in the wake of Russia’s invasion. The Chopin concerto was performed by renowned Ukrainian pianist Anna Fedorova. The band shell and park surroundings were beautifully lit, and the stage backlit, in the bright blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag.
The park was packed with an audience of young and old, who were moved and elated by the orchestra’s amazing offerings on these beautiful nights. The orchestra’s 12-city tour ends on Saturday, with its final stop at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, after having toured earlier all over Europe.
One of the orchestra’s musicians best captured the spirit of these concerts with, “I don’t have a gun, but I have my cello.”