Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine continues to perform concerts despite ongoing war

The Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine is launching a 40-date U.S. tour with one stop in Opelika on Jan. 21.

This will be the second Ukrainian group to perform at the Opelika Center for the Performing Arts during the 2022-2023 season. The first was the Kyiv City Ballet company that performed Swan Lake in October.

“It’s been a great opportunity. I set out last spring and into the summer looking for an opportunity to bring attention to the arts and culture of Ukraine because of this circumstance, but initially it was really difficult,” said Phillip Preston, director of East Alabama Arts.

Preston said those who attend the concert on Saturday will love the music and will feel inspired.

“The point of the tour coming to the United States is to help reinforce the Ukrainian spirit for this country and audiences here,” he said.

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The 66 piece orchestra will perform at 7:30 p.m. at the Opelika Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $20-$59 and are available online at eastalabamaarts.org.

Return to Lviv

Theodore Kuchar, music director and principal conductor of the Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine, said with or without a war going on, he feels called to represent and share the culture of Ukraine through music.

Kuchar grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and is the first generation in his family to be born in the United States. His parents came to this country from Lviv, Ukraine, after WWII.

He said his father often told him, “You don’t know how lucky you are to have been born in the United States where you have everything. Someday you will have an obligation to go back to where we came from and to give back to those people that were not as fortunate as you.”

Following his father’s wish, Kuchar traveled to Ukraine for the first time in 1992 and was appointed to be the music director and principal conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine in 1994.

“I eventually made it the most recorded and most traveled orchestra in the world during the first decade of my relationship there,” he said.

With the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, Kuchar appeared in over 250 performances, in Kyiv and on tour on four continents.

Kuchar is a multiple award-winning conductor, is the most recorded conductor of his generation and appears on over 140 compact discs for the Naxos, Brilliant Classics, Ondine, Marco Polo, Toccata Classics and Centaur labels.

He’s served in director and principal conductor positions in Czech Republic, Venezuela, Australia, the United States and now Poland.

“I felt that the time has come that I have to at least do something for the city of the origin of my family, of my parents and all of our relatives who at some point in time during the 19th and 20th centuries occupied very major positions,” Kuchar said.

He began visiting Lviv as a guest conductor in 2017, and by 2022, he became the principal conductor of the Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine.

“We started, just like in Kyiv, we started doing anywhere from 10 to 12 recordings a year, and then suddenly the world, the musical world, was getting to know (Ukrainian music) through compact discs,” Kuchar said.

Radio stations around the world also began playing a number of their recordings, some of which had won international awards.

While this will be the Lviv orchestra’s first time performing in Opelika, Kuchar traveled to Opelika in 2017 to conduct the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. He said that was the first time a Ukrainian symphony orchestra has ever come to the United States.

The schedule for the Lviv orchestra’s 2023 U.S. tour includes Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. They’ll make stops along the east coast and go as far west as Kansas between January and March.

Kuchar said the program in Opelika will consist of composers Brahms and Beethoven and feature Piano Concerto No. 5 and Symphony No. 9, known as the New World Symphony.

During the national costume segment of the Miss Universe competition, some contestants chose to make political statements including Miss Ukraine, Viktoria Apanasenko, who made an impact with her reference to the ongoing war.

Lviv is a major city in the western half of Ukraine. With the ongoing war with Russia, Kuchar said media personnel that come to cover the war base themselves in Lviv.

“Although we’ve seen our share of rockets and living with no electricity and no heat for much of the time, Lviv has largely remained intact compared to the others,” Kuchar said.

The concert hall in Lviv, which houses a number of orchestras, musical collectives and organizations including the Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra, has become a location to store supplies, food, clothing and other things that people from around the world are sending to Ukraine.

“The building in which the National Philharmonic Orchestra is housed has started housing these things and being like a distribution center point for these things to be sent out,” Kuchar said. “The building, the organization which houses us, has taken a very central and responsible role in helping the country, not get on its feet, but to exist.”

When Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, Kuchar said everybody thought that Russia would take over the entire country within a couple of days.

“Nobody, nobody in the world expected that Ukraine would be holding off Russia,” he said. “Russia is the place that’s supposed to be taking over everything, but not so easy.”

Kuchar remembers conducting a concert in Lviv the day before the invasion. People from the embassies centered in Kyiv had already left the capital city and moved to Lviv.

That night, Kuchar said the American Embassy came to listen to the symphony concert. Afterwards he spoke with one of the American ambassadors to find out what they thought was going to happen. He said the ambassador’s response was, ‘Nobody knows.’

At this time, Russia already had about 150,000 troops on the Ukrainian border.

“We spoke for about 45 minutes and about 10:45 that evening, the night of the 23rd, I went home and they went home,” he said. “Woke up at 7 o’clock the next morning, I had an email from the assistant of the American ambassador in Ukraine that we were told to evacuate to Poland immediately at 6 a.m.”

The war has not silenced the Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra. Kuchar and his group of musicians have continued to tour and perform at concerts around the world sharing Ukrainian spirit and culture.

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