It wasn’t a typical chorus on the Carnegie Hall stage: acclaimed pianist Evgeny Kissin reading a sheet of paper as he sang Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere” with a gathering that included actor Richard Gere, mezzo- soprano Isabel Leonard and Broadway star Adrienne Warren.
But there they were – four members of the full company who took part in Monday night’s benefit concert in support of Ukraine, an array of stars singing on stage as members of the Ukrainian Dumka Choir from New York are joined from the aisles.
“Hold my hand and I’ll take you there,” they sang. “Somehow. One day. Somewhere.”
It was that kind of night at Carnegie Hall, as artists from many disciplines and the institution itself came together to speak out against the Russian invasion of Ukraine and show solidarity with its victims.
The Ukrainian Chorus Dumka, an amateur ensemble specializing in secular and sacred music from Ukraine, opened the concert with the Ukrainian national anthem. Foreign and domestic diplomats gave thanks and talked about the power of the arts in times of crisis. Between songs, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves paused and choked briefly as she spoke about her husband, a doctor, who was present just a day after returning from Ukraine, where he had helped provide care medical.
And there was a message from the first lady of Ukraine.
“Music heals and inspires, music stimulates hope and confidence,” First Lady Olena Zelenska said in a pre-recorded video message played at the start of the program. “Today’s event reminds us that Ukraine is an integral part of global culture.
“The music on this stage is a separate significant win,” she added. “It is a sign of unity of our cultures against the chaos and pain of war. And all of you who are in this room today are our effective and true allies in this cultural struggle.
The evening included more than a dozen artists and ensembles. There were performances by jazz singer Cécile McLorin Salvant, violinist Midori, singer Michael Feinstein, soprano Angel Blue and Broadway singer Jessica Vosk. Mr. Kissin appeared towards the end of the program — first with violinist Itzhak Perlman to play John Williams’ theme from “Schindler’s List,” then to play Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2 on his own.
In an interview with The New York Times ahead of the gig, Mr Kissin said playing for the benefit was “so natural to me that I can’t even call it a decision”.
“Unfortunately, I’m too old and not qualified to pick up a gun and go fight in Ukraine, so I do everything I can: send money and perform concerts for Ukraine,” he said. declared. “As a Jew born and raised in Russia, having been one of the greatest victims of Russian xenophobia, I have always felt in solidarity with all its other victims, including Ukrainians.
How the war in Ukraine affects the cultural world
Monday’s benefit represented Carnegie’s latest effort to use his platform to publicly support Ukraine. This season, Carnegie Hall had originally planned to spotlight the work of Valery Gergiev, the Russian conductor who is a prominent supporter of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, who had planned to lead a series of concerts in the hall with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the Mariinsky Orchestra. But he called off those commitments after Russia invaded Ukraine, becoming one of the first cultural institutions to fire artists with close ties to Mr Putin.
Carnegie plans to host the Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine next season.
Several similar benefits for Ukraine have been held by New York art groups. In March, the Metropolitan Opera performed a concert featuring the national anthem of Ukraine and a piece by Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov, among others. The Met has also helped organize what is called the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra for a tour scheduled for this summer.
The New York Philharmonic plans to honor the people of Ukraine at its upcoming Memorial Day concert and raise funds with the International Rescue Committee.
Carnegie Hall said proceeds from its concert on Monday will go to Direct Relief, a humanitarian aid group that supports relief efforts in Ukraine.
As the concert ended with the finale in everyone’s company, a man sitting in the middle section of the floor could barely contain his enthusiasm and warm feelings. Before the Ukrainian choir members could walk down the aisle, he rose from his seat and reached out to grab a choir member by the shoulder in a gesture of appreciation.