Prom 19a: Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra review – tears and roars of delight for new national ensemble

Royal Albert Hall, London
Giving only their second ever performance, the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra was highly impressive and deeply moving in a programme of Silvestrov, Chopin, Beethoven and Brahms

I was still hundreds of metres from the Royal Albert Hall when I spotted the first Ukrainian flag. It was the first of many worn as capes, not to mention the badges, hats and colour-coordinated outfits scattered around the near-capacity auditorium. If this sounds reminiscent of the annual flag-fest on the Last Night of the Proms, think again: this crowd was sombre, even subdued. But that changed as members of the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra started to filter on to the stage, met by a battery of applause and an immediate standing ovation.

It was an impressive start for an ensemble that didn’t exist a fortnight ago, rapidly assembled from professional Ukrainian musicians in Ukraine and across Europe. One musician I spoke to – a trombonist with the Kyiv National Opera – had travelled straight from Lviv to Warsaw for the orchestra’s first rehearsal under founding conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson. Instantly recognisable in his concert dress outside RAH, he told me this was his first trip to London: “Like a dream come true”.

There were first-time prommers, too. A Ukrainian and her young daughter, dressed in matching embroidered white shirts, had recently come to London under the Homes for Ukraine programme. “We want to support Ukrainian musicians and music,” she explained. “It’s a very big event for us – very emotional. It’s a possibility to support Ukraine on all levels.” Meanwhile the two young Ukrainian refugees sitting next to me were taking carefully posed selfies. “This is a fantastic building!” one beamed.

Keri-Lynn Wilson conducts the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra in the Royal Albert Hall, London.
‘The quality of orchestral blend was extraordinary:’ Keri-Lynn Wilson conducts the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra in the Royal Albert Hall, London. Photograph: Mark Allan/BBC

No wonder the hush that fell for the start of Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov’s elegiac Seventh Symphony – all blurry splashes of harmonic colour and meandering tunes underpinned by dark bass shadows – was so intensely concentrated. In Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 2, Anna Fedorova provided laid-back virtuosity on tap, while the quality of orchestral blend was extraordinary for an ensemble giving its second ever performance. Liudmyla Monastyrska served up a fearsome “Abscheulicher …” from Beethoven’s Fidelio, and Brahms’s Symphony No 4 – conducted by Wilson without score and with serious guts – had raw swagger to burn.

158 days into the Russian invasion of Ukraine, this late insertion into the Proms season was always going to be as much about the humans as about the music. When Wilson turned to the crowd and yelled “Slava Ukraini!” (“Glory to Ukraine!”), before leading an arrangement of the Ukrainian national anthem, there were both roars of delight and tears brushed away.

• Available on BBC Sounds until 10 October. The UFO are at the Edinburgh International festival on 6 August and Snape Maltings Concert hall on 8 August and tour until 20 August.

Contributor

Flora Willson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
‘Channelling our anger’: Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra heads for the Proms
Ukraine’s 74-person ensemble, most of whom had spent war at home, begin European tour to rousing reception in Warsaw

Shaun Walker in Warsaw

29, Jul, 2022 @12:25 PM

Murray Perahia – review
Murray Perahia took his intellectual approach to six of the keyboard greats – but only included one showpiece, writes Erica Jeal

Erica Jeal

03, Apr, 2011 @9:45 PM

Article image
The week in classical: Dalia; Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra and Aurora Proms – review
Garsington’s refugee community opera bowls everyone over. At the Proms, uprooted Ukrainian musicians play as one, and Aurora Orchestra go to the brink

Fiona Maddocks

06, Aug, 2022 @11:30 AM

Bournemouth SO/Karabits/Lewis – review

Kirill Karabits and soloist Paul Lewis crowned this concert with a compelling performance of Brahms's First Piano Concerto, writes Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements

11, Apr, 2013 @5:21 PM

Article image
Peter Donohoe review – a wonderfully direct guide to rarely heard first works

Donohoe played a fascinating selection of rarely heard Opus 1s, writes Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements

22, Jul, 2014 @1:42 PM

Article image
How low can you go? Singer Iestyn Davies’s melancholic playlist
What connects a tea towel, a double-decker bus and a facial? The countertenor picks his 10 favourite tracks that distil the beauty of tears, pull at the heart strings and suspend time

Iestyn Davies

25, Oct, 2022 @1:06 PM

Article image
Brahms: String Sextets review – hefty, melancholic ensemble work

Kate Molleson

11, May, 2017 @2:45 PM

Article image
Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra to perform at 2022 BBC Proms
Ensemble that includes refugees and Ukrainian members of European orchestras to play in opening week

Lanre Bakare Arts and culture correspondent

26, Apr, 2022 @5:01 AM

Hebrides Ensemble – review
In Lost Landscapes, composed by Peter Nelson for the Hebrides Ensemble, subdued string chords jostle up like giant lily pads on the Amazon, writes Kate Molleson

Kate Molleson

01, Feb, 2012 @7:15 PM

Article image
Last Night of the Proms review – party falls flat as BBC miss chance to speak up
Despite desperate cheeriness from assorted guests and committed performances from all musicians, this event is about more than the music, and 2020’s concert failed to reflect current times

Flora Willson

13, Sep, 2020 @1:59 PM