NEW YORK – A wedge of cabbage… hanging over a cocktail glass? Yes – but only for a “Borscht Martini”! Conjuring such a rara avis (recipe at close of this article) was one of many prequel videos on the website of the Ukrainian Institute of America (UIA) prior to kickoff for its October 25 “2020 Gala Honoring all Ukrainian Medical Personnel.” The goal was to raise $72,000 (this year is the 72nd year of the UIA).
UIA board members spun lively commentaries in real time. The center-piece was an informative “Fireside Chat” about COVID-19, flanked by many pre-filmed messages from artists and notables, plus assorted musical performances from near and far. For online viewers, UIA’s website offered videos of past events at UIA.
The diverse virtues of these virtual diversions offered a cornucopia that would have proved impossible to produce live.
The gala begins to stream
A slide show of UIA art openings, concerts and benefits set the mood for the introductory musical video from Ukraine: organist Olena Matselyukh performing a swirling, colorful fantasy on “Amazing Grace.”
UIA President Kathy Nalywajko greeted viewers, outlining the need to continue the music, arts, and education programs of UIA in virtual format during a pandemic. Ms. Nalywajko explained the significance of the gala’s dedication, and wished for all to be “entertained, educated, and inspired.” Indeed by the gala’s end, contributions via text and Internet links had climbed to $66,000.
The president of the Ukrainian Medical Association of North America, Dr. Peter Lenchur, added his greetings, thanking all medical workers in this crucial time.
Dr. Solomiya Ivakhiv, director of Music At The Institute (MATI), recounted how, over 32 seasons, MATI has presented 200 Ukrainian musicians to audiences. Future concerts will be a hybrid transmission, via computer. Dr. Ivakhiv affirmed the goal to spread Ukrainian music to multi-national audiences and performers.
To illustrate, the next video showcased African American opera star Karen Slack singing the well-known art song by Anatoliy Kos-Anatolsky “Oy Ty Divchyno, z Horikha Zernia” (O Lovely Maiden, with Heart of Thorns). Ms. Slack’s Ukrainian diction was flawless, and it was good to hear such a rich-voiced soprano interpret a song usually performed by baritones.
Virtual messages from around the world
Viewers saw a variety of video greetings. Ukraine’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Sergiy Kyslytsya and Consul General of Ukraine in New York Oleksii Holubov voiced their commendations and best wishes for the UIA. Dr. Lubomyr Luciuk from Canada sent his congratulations.
Viewers saw a very special noteworthy greeting by Alexander Davis, great-grandson of Volodymyr (William) Dzus, who founded the UIA in 1948.
Additional felicitations were aired from clarinetist Victoria Luperi of the Pittsburgh Symphony, cellist Roman Borys from the Griffin Trio in Toronto, Claude Sim, violinist from Colorado Symphony, and Eric Reis, director of the early music Ensemble Origo.
Composer Yevhen Stankovych from Ukraine, Ukrainian Music Institute President Maria Lonchyna-Lisowsky, Ukrainian National Museum of Chicago President Lida Tkaczuk and Razom President Dora Chomiak added their accolades.
Alexa Chopivsky, director of Program on the World Economy at The Aspen Institute and founder of Transnational Education Group, congratulated Ms. Nalywajko on continuing the UIA’s mission of outreach.
Two visual artists also transmitted their greetings: Ola Rondiak from Kyiv and Ilona Sochynsky from New York. Ms. Sochynsky included a preview of her new exhibition planned at UIA.
Music videos resonated from all four points of the compass: Dr. Ivakhiv performed Yevhen Stankovych’s “Angel’s Touch,” Igor Leschishin played Myroslav Skoryk’s “Concerto for Oboe,” and Oksana Mukha from Ukraine sang a Volodymyr Ivasiuk song accompanying herself on guitar. From Denver, Mr. Sim and his wife, Natalia, performed Astor Piazzolla’s sultry tango “Soledad.”
From Ukraine, Ihor Matselyukh played the pan flute with his wife at the organ, in a unique arrangement of Skoryk’s ubiquitous “Melody.”
A “Fireside Chat”
At the heart of the gala was a “Fireside Chat” with Dr. Boris Lushniak, former acting surgeon general of the United States and current dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Health. UIA Board Member Adrianna Melnyk-Hankewycz felicitously led the questioning. Dr. Lushniak enumerated the incredible achievements and speedy progress against COVID-19, but also pointed to the work still ahead, addressing topics of virus mutations, antibodies, a vaccine and herd immunity.
Regarding containment strategies, he reaffirmed public health recommendations: masks, hand washing and avoiding crowds. But we should not lose sight of social and emotional contact, he added. Dr Lushniak said the term “social distancing” had an unhappy connotation; better would have been merely “physical distancing.” We must always care for others, he underscored.
Ms. Nalywajko thanked Dr. Walter Hoydysh and Dr. Ivakhiv for their intensive work heading the visual arts and music programs at UIA. Ms. Nalywajko applauded the financial support from the Chopivsky family, Charles Podpirka and the Self-Reliance Federal Credit Union.
In a final tableau, Ms. Ivakhiv and Ms. Melnyk-Hankewycz joined Ms. Nalywajko in raising “Borscht Martinis,” to toast the viewers. (Recipe: 50 gm vodka, 50 gm apple brandy, 30 gm beet juice/syrup and juice of one lemon. Garnish with dill, beet slice and, of course, a wedge of cabbage.)