Norwich was the final stop for the first UK tour by the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine in more than 20 years, in a night that indelibly mixed music and politics.
With war still raging in Ukraine, the whole 17-date tour is partly about keeping the conflict present in people’s minds, as well as the reminding us of the support needed for those sheltering in the UK. It is also about remembering that like any other country, Ukraine is at war but not defined by it; it has a rich cultural life that somehow goes on – even with some orchestra members diverted to the army.
Conducted by musical director Volodymyr Sirenko, the full scale orchestra – something of a rarity in Norwich itself, even without its particular qualities – performed an evocative programme, with Strauss’ whimsical and sensitive tone poem Don Juan; Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 4, with its battle between piano and strings; Sibelius’ militaristic Finlandia, and Ukraine’s own Lyatoshysky’s foreboding Symphony No 2.
The last two pieces are especially pointed, respectively representing a country’s struggle for independence, and a piece officially banned by the Soviet Union.
Soloist Antonii Baryshevskyi gave a breath-taking performance for the Beethoven, with delicate precision in his keying, and also treated the audience to a unprogrammed performance of his own composition, a jazzy piece called Toccata with echoes of Gershwin.
We are blessed with many fine musicians locally, but it is rare to hear music of this scale and quality performed in the county – and even more special in the circumstances.