thu 25/07/2024

First person: Ukrainian violinist Valeriy Sokolov on performing while his homeland is destroyed | reviews, news & interviews

First person: Ukrainian violinist Valeriy Sokolov on performing while his homeland is destroyed

First person: Ukrainian violinist Valeriy Sokolov on performing while his homeland is destroyed

His home city of Kharkiv in ruins, a great musician plays on

Valeriy Sokolov (right) with Aurora Principal Conductor Nicholas Collon

A fortnight ago I performed Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto with the Aurora Orchestra, joining them and their Principal Conductor Nicholas Collon in Cologne. Tonight we shall present the same programme at the Royal Festival Hall. These are my first appearances with Aurora and as a Ukrainian, I feel so grateful that even during a terrible time like this, I can continue making music.

The situation in my homeland feels so overwhelming that getting on with music right now is the best thing to do for now, at least mentally.

I was born in Ukraine but grew up and studied in England so I have strong British connections including British management, and I’m happy every time I come to the UK. In many ways this tour feels like a homecoming.

I’ve been playing the Tchaikovsky concerto for 15 years and it’s taken me all those years to overcome the instrumental demands of the piece and feel free to play around with it. Over the last year I’ve been playing quite a lot of technically demanding concerti like those by Khachaturian and Paganini, and this piece only benefits from those things because although it’s highly musical, you need to be able to manage it technically. I’ve very happy that after 15 years I can see my progress with it.

Bombed KharkivThere has been much discussion around the performance of Russian music at this time, but I think now more than ever one should be extremely careful with statements of any kind, and just do what’s required as a human being to support those in need as much as possible, and restore some kind of inner balance. Making judgements on composers of the past according to their nationality is not what the European cultural scene wants, and that must be respected.

A few days before Russia invaded, I gave a concert with the Lviv International Symphony Orchestra, where I am currently Artistic Director. The day after the concert was the last opportunity for people to leave the country before new border restrictions were introduced but since none of us could have predicted the unfolding scale of events, no one felt the immediate urge to do so.

What I witnessed in the next 14 days was unlike anything I’d ever known before – a fleeing nation that only a few days earlier had enjoyed a good standard of livinge. The experience was existential and extremely troubling. Women, children, families separated; life plans ruined; innocent lives and homes being taken away by air bombs and artillery; everything changing from one minute to the next. Over 2000 residential buildings in Kharkiv, my very own home city, have been destroyed (pictured above right).

Personally I’ve always expressed my patriotism in practical actions rather than loud statements. In my opinion the important part of this unfolding scenario is that as a new country, after the current conflict, we must re-boot out cultural consciousness and take the example of nations with a highly-developed sense of their national culture. We need to respect and make Ukrainian culture contemporary and market-worthy, instead of the current ex-Soviet model which to me seems illusionary.

Valeriy SokolovIn this respect it’s hugely beneficial that so many fleeing Ukrainian musicians have been so warmly welcomed by western European concert promoters, orchestras and musical institutions. This kind of dialogue is going to be crucial in rebuilding our own cultural scene after the war.

From the beginning of my life in professional music almost 20 years ago my horizons have extended beyond my native country. I am lucky that whilst my working life in Ukraine has been upended by the war, the conflict hasn’t affected the international part of my career. The situation is so overwhelming and the scale of events so enormous that there’s not much that an individual can do apart from trying to find performance opportunities for fleeing colleagues, as well as helping the younger generation of Ukrainian musicians.

Watching news coverage of the war all day long and being able to do almost nothing about it is awful. Materially speaking I have felt the war in a direct way by having my apartment bombed and a house outside the city centre partly destroyed. Of course these things are completely insignificant compared to the many human tragedies playing out in Ukraine as we speak. I am grateful that despite all I am alive and playing, and even more grateful than ever for various opportunities to minimise this personal desperation. In this case the thank you goes to the wonderful Aurora Orchestra for this invitation.

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