»When we are talking about music and art, however, we are talking about the people«

Online talk: Meeting with the Ukrainian Contemporary Music Community
Presentation of KCMD's new foundation for support and panel discussion on the current situation of Ukrainian musicians

On the 6th of May, the Kyiv Contemporary Music Days and inm – initiative neue musik berlin / field notes organised the presentation of a newly created fund as well as a panel discussion on the current situation of artists in the field of contemporary music in Ukraine.

Russia's war and its ambition to eradicate Ukrainian culture has, ironically, led to it being more visible in the West than ever before: there is more Ukrainian music being programmed at music festivals and concert halls than ever, while the interest in traditional and contemporary music from Ukraine has increased significantly. To address this interest, the panel discussion covered the historical dimensions as well as the most recent developments within contemporary music in Ukraine, particularly electro-acoustic music, while furthermore exploring effective ways of supporting Ukrainian culture and native musicians, whether in Ukraine or in exile.

As starting points in the panel discussion, we asked whether there is a new understanding of Ukrainian culture and what role art can play in asserting Ukrainian identity and emancipating it from Russian prevalence. The panel also addressed the elephant in the room, elaborating in a very differentiated manner on the question of how the West should deal with the dissemination of Russian culture.

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PRESENTATION: KYIV CONTEMPORARY MUSIC DAYS AND THE KCMD FOUNDATION

Before February 24th

Albert Saprykin, composer and artistic director of KCMD (Kyiv Contemporary Music Days), and Daria Vdovina, media artist and coordinator of KCMD, presented the KCMD and its new foundation.

KCMD is an educational platform and festival. Before the 24th of February, it organised festivals, concerts of chamber orchestra and electro-acoustic music, public lectures, and masterclass workshops with and for musicians and artists from Ukraine and all over the world. Kyiv is privileged to have a curious audience beyond the regular visitors with a professional background in music. Nowadays, festival attendees consist of roughly 20% professional musicians and 80% people from other professions.

KCMD has taken an international approach since its inception in 2015. It was founded by guitarist Francisco Morais Franco (Portugal), clarinettist Darko Horvatic (Serbia-Croatia), composer Albert Saprykin (Ukraine) and violinist Junya Makino (Japan), who all met at the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz. The collective organised concerts in Kyiv that later became a festival consisting of 17 events taking place over ten days.

Since then, the platform has organised hundreds of events and hosted over 100 musicians from around 25 countries, something made possible thanks to the extensive community of volunteers throughout Ukraine.

After the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine

Following the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, KCMD has streamlined its activities into two major fields: preserving the Ukrainian music landscape and helping Ukrainian musicians both in the fields of classical and contemporary music as well as cultural diplomacy. It achieved its goal of presenting players from the Ukrainian contemporary music scene internationally by initiating concerts and public discussions along with international partners.

Donations to the KCMD foundation are used to cover living expenses such as food, medicine, and accommodation for Ukrainian composers, performers, and musicologists. It also helps musicians to maintain their artistic practice by assisting with the maintenance of instruments, the replacement of lost ones, and providing artists with unbureaucratic financial help.

When the foundation grew bigger, they decided to implement a funding board to guarantee that the allocation of monies is balanced and transparent. There are six board members, half of whom are Ukrainian (Oleg Bezborodko, Nazarii Stets and Yurii Chekan) and half of whom are from other countries (Francisco Morais Franco, Darko Horvatic and Junya Makino).

In closing, KCMD highlighted several ways to support the foundation. Apart from donations, international actors and organisations can help raise awareness of the initiative and organise charity projects in partnership with KCMD such as concerts or talks to solicit additional donations. KCMD pointed out that the festival has developed a series of concerts, concepts, and programmes that are ready to be tailored for different venues and to be performed. Those who would like to support artists in maintaining their artistic practice can offer help or donations for fixing and replacing instruments. Since the war has deprived musicians of their livelihoods, helping Ukrainian musicians to network with international professionals and arranging job opportunities is also a great help in sustaining the Ukrainian music scene.

PANEL DISCUSSION

Historical context of Ukrainian contemporary art music

Iryna Tukova divided the Ukrainian contemporary art music scene into two dimensions.

Vertical Dimension

The vertical dimension comprises state-subsidised institutions and organisations. First, there is the National Union of Composers of Ukraine (originally called the Union of Soviet Composers and renamed Union of Composers of Ukraine in 1957) and its departments in different Ukrainian cities. The public organisation unites Ukrainian composers and musicologists working in art music, and its regional branches hold festivals of contemporary art music, such as Premieres of the Season (since 1989), the Kyiv Music Fest (since 1990), the Youth Music Forum (since 1995, Kyiv), the Two Days and Two Nights of New Music (founded by Karmella Tsepkolenko in 1994, Odessa), Contrasts (since 1995, Lviv). Another festival Tukova pointed out was the EM-VISIA Festival with a focus on electro-acoustic music in Kyiv, founded in 2005 by the composer Alla Zahaikevych.

Besides other festivals, representatives of this vertical dimension include the state concert halls and opera houses. Although the focus remained on classical repertoire for a long time, the past five years have brought about a rethinking of the programming and a shift towards contemporary music. The Kharkiv National Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, for instance, celebrated the premiere of Alla Zahaykevych’s avant-garde opera »Vyshyvany. King of Ukraine« (libretto by Serhiy Zhadan and directed by Rostyslav Derzhypilsky) last year, while the Lviv Opera House has recently been surprising audiences with more and more events focused on contemporary music and opera. Furthermore, the state orchestras began to include works by contemporary composers in their programmes.

Iryna Tukova explains this paradigm shift with the formation of a new generation of musicians and soloists in Ukraine eager to promote their own music. These include composers Illya Razumeyko, Roman Grygoriv, Svjatoslav Lunjov, Maksym Kolomiets, Maxim Shalygin, Anna Arkushyna, Anna Korsun, Alisa Kobzar; pianist Antoniy Baryshevsky, flautist Sergiy Vilka, oboist Maksym Kolomiiets, clarinettist Dmytro Pashinskiy, violinists Andriy Pavlov and Marianna Skrypa, violoncellists Zhanna Marchinska and Zoltan Almashi, and bassist Nazariy Stets.

Horizontal Dimension

Tukova counts initiatives that could be described as belonging to the independent scene as what she refers to as the horizontal dimension. While similar structures have existed prior to this, in the last few years, these trends have developed a mass character. It is only a recent development that you can hear new music at events in different venues in Kyiv, Lviv, or Kharkiv.

Two examples of such initiatives are the Kyiv Contemporary Music Days and the Ukho Music Agency, which is organised by music lovers for non-professional musicians. Other private initiatives include opera associations such as Opera Nova and Opera Aperta. Opera Aperta is a new initiative led by the composers Roman Hryhoriv and Ilya Razumeiko. One of their very impressive projects was the »Opera lingua«, a music theatre in seven books that premiered in the concert hall of the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine. Another important driving force behind this flourishing scene was the formation of a plethora of ensembles during the past decade.

The Ukrainian Contemporary Music Scene Today

All this had led to the establishment of a very diverse and vibrant contemporary music scene in Ukraine with a wide range of events, performances, and composers in different regions of the country. Tukova illustrated the dynamics and the mobility of the contemporary scene with a personal story: »My friends came from Kharkiv to Kyiv in autumn to listen to music by Sciarrino. I went to Kharkiv to listen to Alla Zahaikevych’s opera. This is what we did before the war. Now we’ll see how it’ll go in the future.« To end on a more positive note, she added: »The situation is very sorrowful, but I would like to emphasise that our Lviv composers and performers are moving from the eastern and central part of Ukraine to the western part of Ukraine. Having the ability to listen to online concerts gives me the strength to imagine a home for our music and the further development of our contemporary music.«

The composer Alla Zahaikevych, who also represents the Ukrainian Association of Electroacoustic Music, went into detail about the structure of this community and its participants. The first studio for electro-acoustic music in Ukraine was founded at the Music Academy in Kyiv in 1997. In 2006 the Lviv National Music Academy inaugurated a festival for electronic music and soon after founded a second studio in Lviv. Therefore, the two major communities for electro-acoustic and experimental music are in Kyiv and Lviv, though also Kharkiv has a vibrant community centred around experimental electro-acoustic music. Andrey Kiritchenko, for instance, founded the first Ukrainian label for electro-acoustic music called Nexsound as well as the Nexsound Festival while the electro-acoustic music groups Moglass and Maxim Trianov are also based in Kharkiv. Despite its modest size, this community is quite prolific.

The experimental music scene in the Kyiv region is centred around people like Edward Sol, Kirkim Vashinko, and the perhaps most popular local media artist Georgy Potopalsky a.k.a. Ujif_notfound. The scene does not solely consist of composers of electro-acoustic music but draws precisely on crossing genre borders as well as cross-pollination with other forms of experimental music.

Zagaykevych also stressed the importance of setting up projects within Ukraine for local musicians. Her festival EM-VISIA has first and foremost an artistic orientation but also includes education programmes and events for musicological discourse. For this year’s edition, the festival was planning a spring concert at the National Philharmonic of Ukraine with electro-acoustic music. It was the first time in the history of the National Philharmonic of Ukraine that it accepted a concert with electro-acoustic works by Ukrainian and French composers. The production was planned for May and fell victim to the war.

Additionally, collaboration with European partners is of vital importance for the Ukrainian community. The Ukrainian Association of Electroacoustic Music is a member of the International Confederation of Electroacoustic Music (ICEM) and regularly organises concerts with music from Ukrainian composers in different countries within this framework, and Ukrainian members can participate with musicological papers and presentations that engage with the field of electro-acoustic music. Zagaykevych highlighted a particular project with the Polish Society for Electroacoustic Music (PSME) which was supported by the House of Europe. The House of Europe is an EU-funded programme fostering professional and creative exchange between Ukraine and EU countries. The project was held online, and in her experience, it provided an apt solution that made it possible to maintain a dialogue.

Preserving Ukrainian Culture During the Second Russian Invasion in a Decade and the Distinction Between Ukrainian and Russian Culture

Oleksandr Vynogradov took the opportunity to address »the elephant in the room« and maintained that the question of cultural diplomacy and the preservation of Ukrainian culture are intimately linked in contemporary Ukraine: »It is impossible to talk about this without mentioning Russian culture, which is a huge rival to Ukraine in the international arena.« He pointed out that Ukrainian culture has been living in the shadow of Russian culture for several centuries. During the Russian empire and later in the times of the Soviet Union, the Russian state exerted its imperial power on Ukraine and treated it as a colony. The cultural colonisation of Ukraine was two-fold, said Vynogradov: on the one hand, Russia has been systematically destroying Ukrainian culture and its creators while, on the other hand, it drew talents from the periphery to metropolitan centres like Moscow and St. Petersburg, thus appropriating Ukrainian culture and relabelling it as Russian.

Vynogradov cited Maxym Berezovsky as an example, an 18th-century composer who is labelled and marketed today as »the author of the first Russian symphony« despite being, in fact, Ukrainian. This is just one out of a great many examples from the past decades. Vynogradov went on to criticise the lack of discussion in Western Europe about the repression of Ukrainian intelligentsia since at least the 19th century through official bans of the Ukrainian language and the persecution of Ukrainian cultural and political elites by the Russian states. In Soviet times, Moscow led several waves of devastating repression, killing and imprisoning thousands Ukrainian artists, writers, thinkers, and clergy even after the end of Stalinism. In fact, repressions against Ukrainian culture continued up until the collapse of the USSR in 1991. Even those Ukrainian artists who were not physically repressed by the regime suffered from policies that Vynogradov considers to be imperialist. The only way for a classical composer to make a successful career in the Soviet Union was by moving to Moscow and becoming a de facto Russian composer.

Moscow had a monopoly on high cosmopolitan culture while the periphery, including Ukraine, was only allowed to produce second-rate, provincial, and ethnographic art. This is why Borys Lyatoshynsky, Ukraine's leading 20th-century composer who chose to stay in Kyiv and worked there his entire life, could never in any way get close to the success of Sergei Prokofiev or Dmitri Shostakovich, his contemporaries—even though his work was as diverse and his musical language as modern as theirs. In terms of international recognition of Ukrainian culture, little progress has been made since 1991. The Russian Federation inherited not only the USSR’s oil and gas exports but also its imperial culture. Ukraine could hardly compete with the likes of Tchaikovsky and the Bolshoi.

With that in mind, Vynogradov highlighted the need for all partners in Europe to support Ukrainian culture by providing exposure to Ukrainian voices, which in the case of music institutions means performing works by Ukrainian composers and inviting Ukrainian musicians. »If you would send a message to support the people in Ireland, for example, probably you wouldn't do that by playing English music«, said Vynogradov. »The same is true in this case. Shostakovich doesn't really need any more exposure at this point. But Lyatoshynsky definitely does.« He continued to say that, given the circumstances, it is understandable if foreign musicians and audiences lack the knowledge of Ukrainian music, but pointed out that institutions such as KCMD, the Ukrainian Institute, and the State Agency of Ukraine on Arts and Artistic Education would be happy to provide more information and networking opportunities.

Vynogradov’s message to cultural institutions in Germany is as follows: a) discover Ukrainian culture, b) give a platform to Ukrainian artists, and c) collaborate with Ukrainian professionals. »That is by far the best way to support Ukraine,« he said.

Art Production in Ukraine Today

Albert Saprykin feels that during the last ten years and especially after 2014, when the Revolution of Dignity overthrew the pro-Russian president and Ukrainians started to build a democratic society and democratic institutions, a lot of grassroots movements in the field of art, specifically in the fields of classical and new music, have emerged and started to become institutionalised. Over this time, contemporary Ukrainian composers started to see that there is an audience in their cities that is curious about their music and ready to listen. There is an emerging new generation of composers who are being empowered by more experienced composers and being commissioned more and more works both within Ukraine and in collaboration with countries in Europe, North America, Asia, and even Australia.

Saprykin stressed the fact that merely a month after the invasion, it is unforeseeable whether something has changed. He, however, pointed out the threat that this process of growth and diversification of styles and approaches in contemporary music could become more and more endangered. Surely though, the war already marks a dramatic turning point in the artistic creation of today. Many composers feel incapable of writing music for the time being. They might have lost family members, friends, or friends of friends and are in pain for the fellow citizens of their country.

Oleksandr Vynogradov similarly emphasised the importance of being sensitive towards the needs of Ukrainian artists at this point: some of them are traumatised and do not want to create anything right now and should not be expected to do so. Then there are other artists who are more eloquent right now and need platforms. Vynogradov urged people to be careful about putting Ukrainian artists into categories or expecting them to make art about the war or their personal life. »If there is an artist who wants to create a kind of music that is in no way related to war, that is okay«, he said. »If they, however, want to make a statement about the war, that is also okay. And if they don't want to do anything right now, but just lay down and have a rest, that is okay, too. The main thing is to be open to their needs and to be able to listen to them.«

Alla Zahaikevych sees a parallel in the artistic response in World War I and II. When she was finishing her opera »Vyshyvany. King of Ukraine« about Wilhelm von Habsburg, she participated in a colloquium dedicated to World War I. This helped her understand the relationship between musical production by Ukrainian artists and the periods during and after World War I and II. She found out that the interwar period was one of the most interesting and productive times for the arts in Ukraine. Electro-acoustic music, for instance, embraced the epoch of futurism. Furthermore, the period after World War II saw the emergence of musique concrète and algorithmic composition in Ukraine. Similarly, Euromaidan and the second Maidan have had a huge impact on cultural productivity.

Response of the International Community to the War and Ways of Supporting Ukrainian Artists

Albert Saprykin said he is thankful for the support from European countries and beyond, welcoming the increased interest in Ukrainian music and the fact that many Ukrainians were able to find refuge in safe countries where they can rest or even start working again. »When we are talking about music and art, however, we are talking about the people, which is also KCMD’s motto«, he continued. »But the people, I'm sorry to say this so frankly, are dying here in Ukraine. Some of them don't have water. Some of them are raped. Some of them are sheltered within their own buildings. As artists, as humans, the most important thing for us is the war to be over.« Saprykin considers the Russian invasion of Ukraine as an attempt to destroy the country's culture and political sphere.

He underlined that he considers himself a pacifist and admitted that demands for arms may sound paradoxical. »But the more weapons we get, the sooner the war will end, since that is the only thing that prevents the Russian military from killing our people.« He also pointed out a rift between values: »During the past ten years, Ukraine has been moving rapidly towards a democratic society based on values of social inclusion, freedom of speech and equal rights for all. The dynamics within Russia are moving in the opposite direction. They feel threatened by the values Ukraine has adopted. Now they are using drastic measures to stop this process.«

In regards to Russian culture, Saprykin pointed out that it not to be viewed negatively in itself, but that it has been used by the state to promote its political and economic interests. »The promotion of art does not happen for art’s sake, but is used as an instrument to achieve certain political goals and to secure a position of power. We feel that at least until this war is over, the world should not allow the Russian state to use this instrument to this end.« He pointed towards a long tradition of this kind of propagandistic use of culture and noted that perhaps now would be the time to discuss whether Igor Stravinsky is really a Russian or in fact a Ukrainian composer. He concluded with a plea to reconsider how Russian culture is being currently treated: »At this point, art is a warfare tool for Russia. And maybe we should leave Russia without some of their tools, at least for the time of this war, for the time in which they are killing our people.«

Alla Zagaykevich added that it is very important to understand that throughout its history, Russia comprised very different countries that today in the European or Western discourse are perceived to be part of one homogenous culture. She referred to The Cambridge History of Music Criticism, published 2019: one chapter is about music criticism in the Russian empire, the other chapter focuses on music criticism in the USSR. The latter merely covered music criticism in Russia and did not mention Ukraine once. For Zagaykevich, this is representative of the understanding—or rather, misunderstanding—of the region and further proof that it is high time that these conceptions be changed by fostering research and public projects to counteract this biased perspective.

Oleksandr Vynogradov brought up the recently published open letter by a group of German intellectuals to chancellor Olaf Scholz in which they demanded not to send weapons to Ukraine. He described how painful it was for Ukrainian cultural actors to read about that and illustrated that reaction with a story from his personal life. In 2015, he started working at a foundation called Izolyatsia, originally based in Donetsk, a city in Donbas, which was occupied by Russia in 2014. Izolyatsia had to relocate to Kyiv after the building the art institution was based in had been occupied by the so-called Donetsk People's Republic. The institution tried to save the collection, which included works by many well-known artists including Cai Guo-Qiang, Daniel Buren, and others, but only succeeded partially. »When the soldiers of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic came there, they started to point to pieces of the collection and said „Do you see what they were doing here? They were promoting pornography. They were promoting decadent Western art!’«, recalls Vynogradov. They referred to Boris Mikhailov's photo series Case History. The exhibition catalog was at Izolyatsia's library. The entire remaining collection was subsequently destroyed and the building has since been used as a secret prison in which inmates were reportedly tortured.

He also criticised the assertion that a surrender would end the suffering of the Ukrainian people, pointing out instead that Russian occupation would lead to even more losses. »Then we will have ten more Izolyatsias on all those territories. These things have been documented and they are happening right now as we speak. It is happening in Mariupol; it is happening in Kherson. Therefore, there is no question for Ukrainians as to whether we fight or not. We will! For as long as we have our army, we will fight. This war will continue, and Europe can just bring an end to it more quickly by sending arms to Ukraine. Or it can make it much slower by not supporting Ukraine. Those are the only two alternatives.« Vynogradov concluded by saying that he was speaking as someone representing Ukrainian culture and not as a member of the armed forces, but that he and the Ukrainian population talk from personal experience: »People had to flee from Donetsk, built houses in Bucha, and then their houses were bombed by the Russian military eight years later. These people now have to flee from Ukraine because they are afraid. I'm sorry we are making it sound so dramatic, but this is the reality. Unfortunately, there aren't that many options for Ukraine left.«

*****

Special thanks to Iryna Tukova, Alla Zagaykevych, Albert Saprykin, and Oleksandr Vynogradov for the insightful, nuanced, and honest panel discussion.

  • Iryna Tukova, PhD, Dr Habil, associate professor at the Music Theory Department of the Ukrainian National Academy of Music (Kyiv)
  • Albert Saprykin, composer, co-founder of the Kyiv Contemporary Music Days, lead specialist at the State Agency of Ukraine on Arts and Artistic Education, Ukraine.
  • Alla Zagaykevych, composer curator of international electroacoustic music projects EM-visia, Electroacoustics, President of Ukrainian Association of Electroacoustic Music
  • Oleksandr Vynogradov, former Head of Visual Art at the Ukrainian Institute
  • Hanna Grzeskiewicz, moderator

We would also like to thank the Ukrainian artists who agreed to share with us some very moving short videos in which they captured their personal impressions and perspectives on the situation. A selection of those videos was presented in between the different parts of the event. All videos have been uploaded to KCMD’s YouTube channel.

We are grateful for the kind collaboration with the Kyiv Contemporary Music Days and are deeply impressed by the energy and the level of professionalism, of the team despite the circumstances.

For ideas, networking and support, get in touch with inm via marketing [at] inm-berlin.de or KCMD via hello [​at​] kcmd.eu.