Not surprisingly, 2014 witnessed unprecedented culture wars on both sides of the Atlantic over Russian-sponsored terrorism and invasions of Ukraine.
Pro-Putin musicians who continued to parade their support for Kremlin policies included soprano Anna Netrebko, conductors Valery Gergiev and Vladimir Spivakov, pianist Valentina Lisitsa and over 500 other artists who signed an open letter in support of the Crimea annexation and Vladimir Putin’s other aggressive policies. The global web of musical artists who support Russia was outlined in an article by Adrian Bryttan in The Weekly on December 14. This same article also revealed how the propagandistic art exhibit “Material Evidence” in Berlin and New York City was financed by the extremist far right in Moscow in order to spread disinformation about the Maidan under the pretext of “photo documentary.”
Many high-profile Ukrainian artists took advantage of their cultural eminence to promote their support for Maidan and the Ukrainian state. For example, on September 19, Volodymyr Koshuba, chief organist of Kyiv’s National Concert Organ Hall, interrupted his concert at St. Luke Lutheran Church in Silver Springs, Md., to speak to his American audience about the Maidan, the Crimean annexation, and Russian terrorism and invasions.
At the same time, the Ukrainian public took matters into its own hands, utilizing artistic events to publicize the truth about Ukraine, raise money for the Maidan and war victims, and demonstrate against and boycott pro-Putin artists.
Ukrainian communities responded in numerous creative ways. More than 50 demonstrators protested conductor Vladimir Spivakov’s concert at Sanders Theater in Cambridge, Mass. Harvard Alumnus Dr. Roman Torgovitsky was arrested after Mr. Spivakov attempted to create a confrontation with him on stage. The “Music Lovers against Putin’s Aggression” group on June 14 organized a Harvard street festival to oppose Russian pianist Denis Matsuev’s scheduled performance. Their counter-concert featured Ukrainian musicians and sympathetic Harvard faculty. The Boston Globe’s Jeremy Eichler wrote: “These Russian artists who are courted by the Kremlin because of their cultural eminence… shouldn’t be surprised when the Kremlin’s actions then follow them far away from home.”
Almost 600 miles away, demonstrators picketed piano soloist Valentina Lisitsa (and her especially vitriolic anti-Ukrainian Twitter pages) and handed out information flyers in front of Pittsburgh Symphony’s Heinz Hall at its season opening concerts on September 20. One hundred activists protested the opening night performance of the Bolshoi Ballet at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on July 29. Many concert-goers showed solidarity with the demonstrators and this story dominated local media.
On May 23, Brooklyn musicians organized a concert at Our Lady of Refuge Church to raise funds for Ukrainian military fighting pro-Russian terrorists. Organized by soprano Liudmila Joy-Vasuta and coordinated by Dmytro Topchiy and Ukraine Abroad, this action raised $3,000 and featured vocalists and instrumentalists.
The Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus under Oleh Mahlay performed in Parma, Ohio, on March 5 at a benefit concert to raise funds for the families of the fallen Heavenly Brigade.
At the legendary home of the Vanderbilts at the Breakers in Newport, R.I., Dr. Orest Zaklynsky and Lubomyr Demchuk organized a concert on July 28 dedicated to the heroes of the Euro-Maidan with the hope this will be the beginning of an annual event. Featured were three young Kyiv artists: bandurist/vocalist Larysa Dedyuch; Ukrainian bandurist Roman Hrynkiv; and the winner of the 2012 International Horowitz Competition, pianist Roman Lopatynsky.
In Toronto on May 24, the Canadian Bandurist Capella presented a sold-out benefit concert for the Ukrainian heroes who had suffered on the Maidan. The capella performed under the direction of Andriy Dmytrovych and featured an appearance by Zoloti Struny, an ensemble of young male and female bandura players and singers directed by Oksana Zelinska Shevchuk.
Throughout the year, Ukrainian musicians continued to showcase their talents and delighted audiences in chamber recitals, symphony halls and opera theaters.
Ukrainian Canadian soprano Andriana Chuchman made an unexpected earlier Met Opera debut as Adina in “L’Elisir d’Amore” on January 9, filling in for an ailing Anna Netrebko. The New York Times critic Zachary Woolfe praised her “… melting fullness… and exuberant vigor from long, lyrical phrases to glittering little tumbles of notes.” Ms. Chuchman is a native of Winnipeg and was a member of the San Francisco Opera’s Merola Program. She has appeared with Chicago Lyric Opera, Michigan Opera Theater, the Kennedy Center, Edmonton and Manitoba operas and the Toronto Symphony.
Soprano Oksana Dyka made her Met Opera debut on February 6 in Borodin’s “Prince Igor” – also shown in theaters in “The Met: Live in HD.” Ms. Dyka, a principal soloist with the Kyiv National Opera, has performed with leading opera houses in Austria, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and the United States. On December 7, Ms. Dyka and violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv performed at a concert titled “Ukraine, Shevchenko & Music” at Merkin Concert Hall near Lincoln Center. Their program featured compositions set to Shevchenko poems, and a world premier for violin and piano by Kharkiv-born composer Alexander Shchetynsky. The New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini praised Ms. Dyka’s “cool, penetrating intensity, fearless high notes and a glint of steel in her sound.”
Kyiv-born Van Cliburn Competition Gold Medal Winner Vadym Kholodenko attracted one of the largest crowds ever in Crowell Auditorium at a February 14 concert at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
Odesa-born violinist Aleksey Semenenko, first prize winner of the 2012 Young Artists International Auditions, made his successful Washington recital debut on January 28 at the Kennedy Center. This concert was partly sponsored by The Washington Group Cultural Fund, which also presented concerts by pianists Thomas Hrynkiw, and Anna and Dmitri Shelest.
The well-known Canadian piano duo of Ireneus and Luba Zuk presented a recital of contemporary compositions by Bartok and Constantinidis, which included rarely heard pieces by Ukrainian composers Fedir Akimenko, Halyna Ovcharenko, Yevhen Stankovych and Canadian George Fiala.
As part of the U.S. government’s outreach to the Palestinian people, Ohio pianist Roman Rudnytsky performed recitals and conducted master classes in February at the Bethlehem Peace Center, and Academies of Music in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, schools on the West Bank, and for music students of Al-Quds University in the Shufat Palestine refugee camp.
On June 7, the eighth season of the “Bandura Downtown” series concluded with a concert in conjunction with The Ukrainian Museum’s Shevchenko exhibition. The performers were bandurist Julian Kytasty, composer Roman Turovsky, and klezmer artist Michael Alpert.
Jazz violinist Yuri Turchyn with his four-man ensemble performed at a Winter Solstice Concert on December 21 at the Hannah Art Gallery in the historic Paterson Museum in New Jersey. Sharing the stage with singer/percussionist Alessandra Belloni and violinist Joe Deninzon, Mr. Turchyn introduced and performed improvisations on his acoustic and electric violins in this concert dedicated to the shortest day/ longest night in the year, a time when “homes were filed with candles and Christmas lights, and evergreens and wreaths represented rebirth and the circle of life.”
The dean of Ukrainian composers, Myroslav Skoryk, was honored on his 75th birthday with a Naxos CD release of his music performed by Hobart Earle and the Odesa Philharmonic. The compositions recorded included Mr. Skoryk’s “Carpathian Concerto,” “Diptych,” and violin and cello concertos.
More than ever before, Ukrainian filmmakers drew inspiration from the most recent headlines of the day. Because these stories about Ukraine dominated media in 2014, international cinema audiences were exposed to diverse presentations ranging from documentaries to animation to creative fiction. In particular, YouTube videos on the Internet emerged to become a most powerful tool for the reporting of fast-breaking events, from the Maidan to Crimea, Odesa and the invasion in Ukraine’s east.
In September, the Toronto International Film Festival screened two documentary-type Ukrainian films: Sergei Loznitsia’s “Maidan” and Myroslaw Slaboshpytsky’s “Tribe” about the initiation rites and subsequent clan thuggery and prostitution activities of a group of deaf-mute boys in a Kyiv “internat.” “Tribe” had previously garnered the Grand Prix Critics Award at Cannes and quickly became one of the most critically talked about films.
Oles Sanin’s new movie “The Guide” received screenings in early December in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Ann Arbor, Detroit and at Harvard. Intended for a broad audience, the film portrays a young American boy who befriends a blind bandurist and ends up on the run in Stalinist Ukraine around the time of the massacre of the bandurists by the Soviets.
On September 27 in New York, the Shevchenko Scientific Society hosted a presentation of short films produced by Babylon ’13 Group, which was organized in December 2013 to film the protests in Ukraine. The screenings were introduced by Igor Gruzinov, an ethnic Russian wounded three times during the Maidan movement, and one of the founding members of Babylon. The films depicted the Maidan, the Ukrainian army in Crimea, Mariupol and the residents in Sloviansk.
Prof. Yuri Shevchuk reflected on the first decade of the Ukrainian Film Club at Columbia University. His two-part interview in The Weekly (November 30 and December 7) outlined the activities of the club: providing a platform for young generation of Ukrainian filmmakers, approaching bigger outlets such as the Tribeca Festival, connecting American filmmakers with Ukrainian counterparts and propagating Ukrainian film through mini-festivals in different cities. One of the primary goals of the Film Club always was to sponsor discussions with every showing, to speak about what the film represents and about
“…Ukrainian culture in its infinite manifestations… to have a conversation, to create a buzz.”
During the course of four weekends in October, the Pittsburgh Hoverla Film Festival featured a diversity of styles and genres in contemporary Ukrainian cinema, from documentaries by the Babylon ’13 group to animation to adventure stories and thrillers. Themes included the Maidan, Crimea, the 2013 “Shadows of Un-forgotten Ancestors” and a true story about the 1928 Ukrainian strongest man on earth titled “Ivan the Powerful.”
The Ukrainian Museum in New York on December 5 hosted a showing of the 1964 film “The Dream” based on the satirical poem by Shevchenko and his subsequent forced exile. Dr. Vitaly Chernetsky from Kansas University introduced the film and moderated the Q&A session afterwards.
Artist Emilie Brzezinski, wife of former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, featured a sculpture, “Ukraine Trunk 2014,” as the centerpiece of her September 18 exhibit at the Kreeger Museum in Washington. Her towering chain-saw creation was inspired by New York Times photographs of Maidan demonstrations.
Artist Ola Rondiak presented an exhibit in July titled “Revolution of Dignity” inspired by the faces of women living through Ukraine’s recent struggles, and the stoicism and unmoved patience of Byzantine iconography, the “bedrock of Ukrainian values.” A Cleveland native, Ms. Rondiak had relocated in 1995 with her family to live in Kyiv. The exhibit of collage paintings was on display at the Soyuzivka Heritage Center.
Opening in July, an art exhibit titled “Voice of Ukraine” by Ukrainian American artist Oksana Tanasiv went on display in the Mayor’s Gallery in Stamford, Conn. It was a political collection of realistic and surrealistic images with collage and was dedicated to the fight of the Ukrainian nation for a better future.
The Ukrainian National Museum in Chicago is annually visited by thousands and especially in 2014 served as ambassador for Ukraine due to increased visitor interest. Its permanent collection includes priceless relics, artifacts brought by Chicago’s first Ukrainian immigrants, Kozak weapons, hetman’s medals, antique bibles, 100-year-old “Kobzars” and much more.
The Ukrainian Institute in New York hosted a two month “2014 Summer Art Exhibit” devoted to contemporary paintings of Ukrainian fine artists: Ilona Sochynsky, Max Vityk, Vasyl Bazhaj, Mykola Zhuravel and Temo Svirely.
An exhibit of 40 sculptures by Petro Kapschutschenko was presented at the Ukrainian Educational and Cultural Center in Jenkintown, Pa. Born in Dnipropetrovsk, Mr. Kapschutschenko established his own studio in Philadelphia in 1963. He passed away in 2006. His works in various media have been exhibited in the U.S., Canada and Argentina, and are on display in nine museums in Ukraine.
The North American Premiere of “Capt. John Smith Goes to Ukraine” took place at the La MaMa ETC in New York on February 27. Directed by Virlana Tkacz, this was first performed in Kyiv in 2013. The production dealt with the early adventures of John Smith in Eastern Europe and Ukraine before he travelled to Jamestown to become the famous figure of American history.
On March 15 and 16, Ms. Tkacz and the Yara Arts Group also presented “Dark Night Bright Stars” at the La MaMa Theater in New York. This was a dramatization of the meeting and friendship between Shevchenko and one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of that time, the African American Ira Aldrich, and included readings from Shakespeare, and traditional songs from Africa and Ukraine.
On November 2, the Toronto 35th International Festival of Authors was held under the auspices of the Shevchenko Foundation. Organized by its director, Dr. Christine Turkewych, the foundation sponsored a literary perspective on World War I and the internment of Ukrainian Canadians. The panel was moderated by Prof. Alexander Motyl and included readings by Prof. Bohdan Kordan, author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch and freelance writer, editor and translator Jars Balan.
Prof. Michael Naydan from Penn State University published his anthology of new Ukrainian women prose writers titled “Herstories,” which he said offers a “glimpse into the heart and soul of some of Ukraine’s finest women writers.”
The Zolotyj Promin Dance Ensemble from Hartford, Conn., celebrated its 20th anniversary with a gala performance at the Bushnell Theater on October 4. During the past two decades more than 225 students have performed with this group, which is often invited to various festivals.
In a renewed sense of pride, many Ukrainian politicians and entertainers chose Ukrainian designers and adopted ornaments featuring Ukrainian folk motifs. Dr. Maryna Poroshenko attended her husband’s presidential inauguration in a dress and stylized necklace by Kyiv designers, while Lviv’s Sofiya Fedyna, singer and president of the World Federation of Ukrainian Lemko Organizations, wore a Lemko wedding “krysa” around her neck.