I Stand with Ukraine
This is the 100th installment in this blog. I had intended to create a celebratory message with some comments about what topics evoked the most positive and negative responses, but every time I sat down to write, I have felt obligated to address the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and then found myself at a loss for what to say.
I had the remarkable good fortune to spend three weeks during the summer of 1998 in Kyiv as a participant in a conducting masterclass with the National Symphony of Ukraine led by my conducting teacher, Robert Gutter, and the famed conducting pedagogue, Gustav Meier.
It was a remarkable experience to work intensely with three great teachers: Robert, Gustav, and that inspiring orchestra. Throughout the masterclass, participants would alternate between the two clinicians and between sessions with a string quintet and piano and the full orchestra. I can still remember the feeling of entering the large rehearsal room of the Philharmonia, their home, and being hit by a wall of sound as they roared through the finale of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5. Many of them were playing world-weary instruments, but the sound of that orchestra was breath-taking,
They played with such fervor at every moment of each rehearsal. When I discussed this special quality with a couple violinists, they replied that they really knew how lucky they were every time they played and especially every time they played together. They came up in a world where despite their prodigious gifts, the opportunity to use them could be taken away at any moment. They truly played as if this might be their last chance, every single time. They possessed little, but lived most generously. They knew that selflessness is perpetually regenerative. That was their gift to me, to all of us.
While we were in Kyiv, the city was embarking on a massive public-works initiative to restore the Khreshchatyk, the main commercial street destroyed in World War II, and St. Sophia Cathedral a cultural symbol of the nation. We also toured the Lavra, a monastery complex built atop a labyrinth of caves where monks lived and prayed beginning in the 11th century. While we were there, dozens of pilgrimage groups came through. They prayed and sang Ukrainian Orthodox chants that had been banned for over three generations, and yet we witnessed three generations singing them together by memory.
For centuries, the Ukrainian people have preserved their culture and their language against all odds. They are an exceedingly resilient people. My hope for them is buoyed because I have seen how inextinguishable their flame is. They will greet each day as if it might be their last, may that never be so.