Lviv National Orchestra of Ukraine in Review

by | Feb 24, 2023 | Reviews, Writing

for New York Concert Review; New York, NY

February 17, 2023

Lviv National Orchestra of Ukraine
Theodore Kuchar, Principal Conductor; Stanislav Khristenko, Piano

Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
February 15, 2023

Last night I attended a most memorable concert. It was both heart-warming and heart-rending. I came home both invigorated and exhausted. Driven out of their homes by Putin’s brutal invasion, these excellent musicians have miraculously regrouped in the U.S. They are showing the world that Ukraine is as rich in music as it is in bravery and resilience. I missed the first piece, Yevhen Stankovych’s Chamber Symphony No 3 for Flute and Strings, and entered just in time for Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1, featuring the consummate pianist, Stanislav Khristenko. Mr. Khristenko flew over the keyboard with ease, tossing off virtuosic passages and soothing us with his warm sound. For an encore he amazed and enthralled us with Horowitz’s Variations on a Theme from Bizet’s Carmen, a highly entertaining and fiendishly difficult piece.

In the second half the orchestra, led by its principal conductor Theodore Kuchar, came to the fore in a thrilling performance of Dvořák’s New World Symphony. The first thing that struck me about this performance was the very long pause after the initial theme in the strings. What potent silence! Almost over the edge but not quite, making the subsequent reiteration of the theme in the woodwinds all the more gratifying. This was a foretaste of what was to come. This performance was not only technically excellent, it was also individualistic and imaginative.

At the symphony’s conclusion there was a long ovation. At this point it is usual for the conductor to give solo bows to principal players. At first, it felt a little disconcerting that this didn’t happen, but then I realized that this was truly democracy and equality in action. Any individual recognition might have detracted from the feeling of group unity. Nevertheless, I felt a little disappointed that I didn’t get to cheer as loud as I could through my K95 mask for the most eloquent and poignant playing of the English horn solo I have ever heard. It was especially touching because this theme, which was adapted into the spiritual-like song “Goin’ Home” (often mistakenly considered a folk song or traditional spiritual) by Dvořák’s pupil William Arms Fisher (who wrote the lyrics in 1922), must have surely resonated with the performers and, by extension, with the empathetic audience.

For an encore we were treated to the Ukrainian composer Anatoliy Kos-Anatolsky’s Chasing the Wind from his ballet,The Jay’s Wing.  This rollicking dance was performed with great verve and abandon. There ensued a long ovation in the sold-out hall during which a large banner, which was a combination of both the American the Ukrainian flags, was unfurled by brass players at the back of the orchestra. It brought a tear to the eye and a strange joy laced with pain.