Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra concert aims to mark victory for Ukraine
On February 27, Maestro Benjamin Zander opened the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra concert by reading a note left for him by one of his musicians. Trumpeter Cody York had delivered a handwritten letter to Zander about the shock and devastation he felt watching the Russian invasion of Ukraine unfold. Zander added to the audience, “a classical music concert is not a political event,” then he led his orchestra through a rendition of the Ukrainian national anthem.
Deciding what is political and what is not is a matter of opinion (just ask Shostakovich after Stalin demolished the composer’s opera house “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District”). But the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra’s next concert will surely be full of art, compassion and humanity. On May 6, the orchestra will present a “Benefit for Ukraine Relief: Shostakovich/Prokofiev/Tchaikovsky Concert & Live Stream”.
“It seems very appropriate for this moment to play music that is very deep and full of extremely powerful emotions played by young people,” Zander told the Herald before the concert.
Proceeds from the concert – a program of Shostakovich’s “Festive Overture”, Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” – will go to the Ukraine Tensions: No Child Forgotten program to help some of Ukraine’s most vulnerable children . The benefit will be an amazing achievement given that BPYO is a tuition-free program and arguably the biggest training ground for young players in America.
For a decade, the orchestra has helped educate musicians aged 12 to 21 through local concerts at Symphony Hall and international tours – the organization has brought groups of more than a hundred children and adolescents in Europe and South America. After two years without touring due to COVID, the BPYO had planned to visit Russia this summer. Now, the group will spend part of their time in Greece in June; but will still play programs full of Russian composers.
“Instead of canceling all Russian music, we’re taking advantage of the fact that it’s both really good music…and that each of these pieces has an undertone of protest against Russia,” Zander said. . “When the war started, there was an immediate and instinctive revolution against Russia, that’s understandable. But it was confusing because it’s not Russia but the Russian regime that is waging this war.
“There is a long tradition of great arts and music that have been produced in protest against tyranny,” he added. “Shostakovich is a great example. The last concert, we performed Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony and we will do it on tour, and it is perhaps the most powerful protest in music against tyranny.
The BPYO itself seems to be protesting against expectations, fate, a society that often seems not to value complex and rewarding art. Over the course of a decade, the composition of the symphony became more diverse than most major professional symphonies. His repertoire challenges the idea that young people cannot perform intensely stimulating works. Its leader, aged 83, likes to defend the talents of children just out of primary school.
“They are young artists, very, very good players, some of whom are superstars, playing good music in a very compelling and deep way,” Zander said. “Boston should be deeply proud of them.”
For more details and tickets, go to bostonphil.org.