As air-raid sirens sound, a Lviv orchestra opens summer festival with Mozart's Requiem

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As air-raid sirens sound, a Lviv orchestra opens summer festival with Mozart's Requiem
The International Symphony Orchestra shares the stage with boxes of medical supplies during a performance in Lviv, Ukraine, May 20, 2022. The war in Ukraine has upended the meticulous planning that has gone into the Lviv Philharmonic’s annual summer music festival for four decades. But for musicians and the audience, the show must go on. Diego Ibarra Sanchez/The New York Times.

by Erika Solomon



LVIV.- The audience members took their seats among boxes of medicine, first-aid kits and intravenous tubes. The orchestra was missing four men who are now fighting on the war’s front lines. A handful of guest singers who had fled bombings and bloodshed stood onstage with the choir.

The war in Ukraine has upended the meticulous planning that has gone into the Lviv Philharmonic’s annual summer music festival for four decades. But for musicians and the audience, the show must go on.

Even as the space — a Baroque, pastel-colored chamber in western Ukraine — has become a coordination site for humanitarian supplies during the war, it has remained a home to musicians and choirs. This spring, instead of playing upbeat music at the festival’s first performance, the orchestra decided to open with Mozart’s Requiem.

The concert, performed Friday night, was a tribute to the Ukrainians lost in three months of war.

“This is a place now for medicine — for the body and the soul,” said Liliia Svystovych, a teacher in the audience. “We understand that a requiem is about mourning, that it is sad music. But it is like a prayer. And a prayer is always a form of hope.”

About an hour before the concert started, air-raid sirens began to wail.

Iolanta Pryshlyak, director of Lviv’s International Symphony Orchestra, was preparing to delay the concert until the all-clear sounded. As she waited in a backroom where doctors were packing up medical supplies, she took phone calls from volunteers who were driving aid to Ukraine’s embattled east.

Pryshlyak, 59, is not only the orchestra director now. Since the invasion began, she has also directed the flow of supplies that pass through the theater on their way to the war’s front lines. It is her base for both jobs.

She had been up since 4 a.m., and she was tired: “I’m just running on autopilot.”




Still, she was looking forward to a night of music. “War makes your heart like a stone,” she said. “But music can soften it again.”

Downstairs, the orchestra’s conductor, Volodymyr Syvokhip, put on a suit in his office as a baritone soloist sang arpeggios in a nearby room.

For weeks, performers had rehearsed amid towers of humanitarian aid boxes as volunteers and doctors organized supplies all around them. Sometimes the musicians would help the aid workers. And sometimes the medics would stop their work to listen to them play.

“We are supporting each other through this, in some way,” Syvokhip said with a smile.

As he went onstage, Syvokhip told the audience that as air-raid sirens sounded in Lviv, a bomb in the eastern Kharkiv region had reduced a cultural center to rubble, and with it, the local theater.

When the requiem ended, members of the orchestra and their audience were in tears.

“The sound of those alarms and sirens combined in our heads with the words of the conductor, and we understood why musicians must not keep silent,” said Natalia Dub, a headmistress at a local academy.

She had put as much care into her appearance this year as she had for summer festivals before it, with red lipstick and a string of pearls.

“We need to come here,” she said. “This is the place we need to be most of all.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.










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