Oksana Lyniv: "Ukraine is experiencing a cultural rebirth"
Ukraine's newly founded youth orchestra is to perform at Germany's Beethovenfest this week. Its conductor, Oksana Lyniv, tells DW why music and cultural exchange are more important than ever in her country.
At just 39, Oksana Lyniv can already look back at impressive achievements as a conductor. From 2008 to 2013, she was associate chief conductor of the Odessa National Opera, and in the following season, she assisted Kirill Petrenko at the Bavarian State Opera. This fall, she is taking up a position as chief conductor of the Graz Opera and the Graz Philharmonic Orchestra.
Last year, in her home country of Ukraine, Lyniv co-founded a national youth orchestra. Intended as a tool of reconciliation, the ensemble brings together talented young musicians from the eastern and western parts of the conflict-torn country.
On Thursday and Friday, Lyniv and the Youth Orchestra of the Ukraine will be performing in Bonn and Berlin, respectively, as part of the Campus Project of the annual Beethovenfest Bonn. The program highlights young musicians from a different country each year, and brings them to Germany for a time of cultural and musical exchange with Germany's own youth orchestra, the Bundesjugendorchester.
DW: You have just spent a week rehearsing with young Ukrainian and German musicians and performed twice. How has it been?
Oksana Lyniv: I would call it a small miracle. We actually managed to become an ensemble in such a short time. It wasn't easy. The members of the Bundesjugendorchester have a great deal of experience, despite their young age. They are a seasoned orchestra.
For many of the young Ukrainians, it was the first time they'd played in an orchestra. But it was an exchange and an unparalleled flow of energy.
The youth orchestra, here performing in Lviv, brings together young musicians from eastern and western Ukraine
What did the musicians learn from each other?
Mostly a lot of practical things. I heard the German brass section explaining to the Ukrainian brass section how to play Mozart. On the other hand, the Ukrainian musicians know better how to play Ukrainian music, like that of Boris Lyatoshinsky, which we have on the program.
It was also important for the German musicians to see that, for the Ukrainians, making music isn't just fun but also an existential matter.
Read more: Encounter with Ukraine in the Campus Project
Ukraine was also the guest country during the first Beethovenfest Campus Project in 2001. Looking back 16 years, how has Ukraine changed?
A lot has happened, both in the world and in my home country. There have been two Maidan revolutions, the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by Russia, the war in the Donbass region with over 10,000 casualties, the tragedy of Odessa where people were burned alive.
But Ukrainian society has also really pulled together and expressed commitment to Europe and to democracy. Recently, visas were lifted for Ukrainians traveling to the EU. A wonderful gesture! Projects like the one here in Bonn are now all the more important.
We can usually identify typical characteristics of German, French or Russian music. But how would you describe Ukrainian music?
It's important to keep in mind that our country has only been independent since 1991. Before that, Ukraine was constantly dominated by neighboring empires. Ukrainian culture, publications in Ukrainian and even the language itself were forbidden. To be successful, you either had to go to Vienna or Moscow.
Solomiya Krushelnytska, the famous opera diva in Lviv, was invited to Odessa for a reading of poetry by famous Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko around the year 1900. For the reading, the windows were drawn and the doors were locked. "What kind of country is this!" she wrote, upset. She had performed throughout Europe and was Giacomo Puccini's favorite singer — she was his Madama Butterfly.
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What I want to say is that we have been experiencing the birth of free Ukrainian culture over the past two decades. Culture and music make our nation strong. Unfortunately, that is not always appreciated by the politicians in the country.
What's next for the Youth Orchestra of the Ukraine?
International interest in the orchestra has been very strong. We have been invited to several different countries. But first, there is work to do. Ideally, the Youth Orchestra of the Ukraine should function like Germany's Bundesjugendorchester — with a schedule of rehearsal periods, guest performances and workshops spread out over the year.
For that, the project will need stable funding and a logistical foundation. With pure enthusiasm and the wonderful support of my Ukrainian and German colleagues alone, it won't be possible in the long run.