Carnegie Hall musters stars for a benefit concert for Ukraine

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Carnegie Hall musters stars for a benefit concert for Ukraine
Performers sing Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere” for the finale of Carnegie Hall’s benefit concert in support of Ukraine, in New York, May 23, 2022. Headliners from the fields of classical music, jazz and Broadway joined forces to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine and show solidarity with its victims. Julieta Cervantes/The New York Times.

by Matt Stevens and Javier C. Hernández

NEW YORK, NY.- It was not a typical chorus on the stage of Carnegie Hall: acclaimed pianist Evgeny Kissin reading from 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 that took part in Monday night’s benefit concert in support of Ukraine, an array of star power singing onstage as members of the Ukrainian Chorus Dumka of New York joined from the aisles.

“Hold my hand and I’ll take you there,” they sang. “Somehow. Someday. 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 that specializes in secular and sacred music from Ukraine, opened the concert with the Ukrainian national anthem. Diplomats foreign and domestic offered thanks and spoke about the power of the arts in times of crisis. In between songs, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves paused and choked up briefly while speaking about her husband, a doctor, who was in attendance just a day after returning from Ukraine, where he had been helping provide medical care.

And there was a message from Ukraine’s first lady.

“Music heals and inspires, music boosts hope and confidence,” first lady Olena Zelenska said in prerecorded video message that played early in the program. “Today’s event is a reminder that Ukraine is an integral part of world culture.”

“Music on this stage is a separate important victory,” she added. “It is a sign of unity of our cultures against the chaos and grief of war. And all of you who are in this hall 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 vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, violinist Midori, singer Michael Feinstein, soprano Angel Blue and Broadway singer Jessica Vosk. Kissin appeared toward the end of the program — first with violinist Itzhak Perlman to play John Williams’ “Theme from ‘Schindler’s List,’” and then to play Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2 alone.

Before the concert, Kissin said playing in the benefit felt “so natural for me that I can’t even call it a decision.”

“Unfortunately, I am too old and not qualified to take a gun and go to fight in the Ukraine, so I’m doing everything I can: sending money and taking part in concerts for the Ukraine,” he said. “As a Jew who was born and grew up in Russia, I, having belonged to the greatest victims of the Russian xenophobia, I have always felt solidarity with all its other victims, including the Ukrainians.”

Monday’s benefit represented Carnegie’s latest effort to use its platform to publicly support Ukraine. This season, Carnegie Hall had initially intended to highlight the work of Valery Gergiev, the Russian conductor who is a prominent supporter of President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who had planned to conduct a series of concerts at the hall with both the Vienna Philharmonic and the Mariinsky Orchestra. But it called off those engagements after Russia invaded Ukraine, becoming one of the first cultural institutions to fire artists with strong ties to 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 arts groups. In March, the Metropolitan Opera put on a concert featuring Ukraine’s national anthem and a piece by Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov, among others. The Met also has helped organize what is known as the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra for a tour that is planned for this summer.

The New York Philharmonic plans to honor the people of Ukraine at its upcoming Memorial Day concert, and to fundraise with the International Rescue Committee.

Carnegie Hall has said proceeds from its concert Monday would go to Direct Relief, a humanitarian aid group that supports relief efforts in Ukraine.

As the concert closed with the full-company finale, a man sitting in the center section of the parquet could barely contain his enthusiasm and warm feelings. Before the members of the Ukrainian chorus could make their way back up the aisle, he stood up from his seat and reached out to grasp a chorus member on the shoulder in a gesture of appreciation.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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