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Event/The Netherlands

When muses are not silent. Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin's anti-war trio played again in The Hague


The year of war. A year when, as a Russian, you have no unconditional right to talk about war, but when every anti-war statement by Russians counts. And especially the voices of those Russians who are already part of world culture.

Although Munich cancelled the concerts of opera singer Anna Netrebko and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra refused to play with pianist Denis Matsuev, Christmas '22 in Europe was still accompanied by Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker. The internationally renowned pianist Grigory Sokolov donated his concert fees to the Ukrainian Red Cross in Vienna. Olga Smirnova, prima donna of the Bolshoi Theatre, spoke out against the war with Ukraine, left Russia and is now dancing in Amsterdam. Russian musicians' statements in support of Ukraine have been collected by the YouTube channel Nota Protesta.

But perhaps the most resounding anti-war statement by "classical musicians" was a performance by pianist Evgeny Kissin and his anti-war composition - a trio for piano, cello and violin, dedicated to the struggle of Ukraine which was a vivid artistic act.

Evgeny Kissin: "I feel that I have to do my best"

Evgeny Kissin

On the first day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine - 24th of February 2022 - an anti-war video by Evgeny Kissin was released: "War is always grief, tears, blood and death. Aggressive war is a crime for which there is and can be no justification".

A year later, the musician's position has only strengthened: "Today is exactly one year since Putin invaded Ukraine. Putin does not surprise me: to me, and to all the people around me, it has been clear as day since Soviet times that a KGB colonel is, by definition, a scoundrel...

...Today I read with horror and disgust Olaf Scholz's recent statement that sending warplanes to Ukraine now "makes no sense".

Let me tell western politicians: every day of delay in sending all the weapons it needs to Ukraine brings more and more deaths of Ukrainian civilians, which means their blood is not only on Putin's hands, but also on yours.

By not providing the necessary military assistance to Ukraine, you have betrayed (for the umpteenth time!) your own principles and ideals. The past year has demonstrated most clearly how heroic the Ukrainian people and their government are, so in the end Ukraine will inevitably win."

Kissin's anti-war trio for piano, violin and cello has been playing in concert halls throughout Europe all year: in Amsterdam and Weimar, near Milan and in Prague. Music dedicated to the struggle of the Ukrainian people.

On his Facebook page Kissin writes: "The 1st part of the trio depicts the Russian invasion, bombing and suffering of the Ukrainian people; the 2nd part, in which I quoted two Ukrainian folk songs ("To the grave I shall descend" and "Woe to me, woe") depicts the tragedy of the Ukrainian people; the finale, during which I quoted the Ukrainian anthem, is a symbol of the Ukrainian victory, in which I strongly believe in ...

It will be the victory of the whole world, of all the freedom-loving nations, and if - God forbid! - Ukraine loses the war, it will be a defeat for all mankind, a defeat and shame for the entire Western civilisation".

The trio premiered on October 14 in Amsterdam at a benefit concert for the Zeilen van Vrijheid foundation that brings ambulances and medical equipment to Ukraine. Despite a very tight concert schedule, Kissin was able to come and even work with the musicians before the concert.

The line-up of performers is international and very strong: Maya Fridman (cello), Maria Nemtsova (piano), Merel Vercammen (violin).

Place: The Walloon Church (De Waalsekerk) in Amsterdam, once a sanctuary for fleeing French Protestants, and centuries later an opportunity for musicians fleeing war and persecution in Ukraine and Russia to play within its walls.

Six months after its premiere and a year after the outbreak of war, on the 25th of February 2023, Evgeny Kissin's anti-war trio played again in the Netherlands. This time at a benefit concert in The Hague.

Maya Fridman and Maria Nemtsova, the first performers of Evgeny Kissin's music, are the organisers and inspirers of these two concerts.

Maya Fridman: "I couldn't breathe without pain"

Maya Fridman
Photo: Brendon Heinst

Sensitive, gentle, talented and strong, Maya Fridman has been bringing Russian and Ukrainian musicians together and organising charity concerts since the early days of the war. In the first month of the war alone, they raised more than 200,000 euros in aid of Ukraine.

A documentary film "United we stand. Musicians in times of war" by Dutch filmmaker David van Tijn - on the anniversary of the beginning of the war, on the 26th of February 2023 $was shown on Dutch national broadcaster NPO2. It was on the set of the film - and this moment is in the film - that Maya met Evgeny Kissin, who asked her to play the premiere of his trio in support of Ukraine.

"The day Russia invaded Ukraine was a shock. Even now there are no words to describe it! I couldn't breathe without pain, nor live without pain. It was devastation and despair.

When I started doing concerts, it was still hard, but everything made sense. Wonderful Ukrainian musicians, many of whose families were still in Ukraine, responded. In a couple of days, Anya Fedorova (a pianist from Kiev, who lives in the Netherlands) and I put together the programme for the first benefit concert, which took place in Concertgebouw (Amsterdam) on March 6.

For all of us, both Ukrainian and Russian musicians who were on stage together, it was more than just concerts, it was a breath of air and a feeling that we have an opportunity to fight and to help Ukraine in some way.

The organization FreeRussiaNL joined in the preparation of one of the concerts. I jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with them because it was important for me to do something with those Russians who openly oppose Russia's aggression. And, as many Ukrainians said, it was also important for them to see these acts of protest by Russians. This is exactly the kind of concert that Evgeny Kissin's trio performed.

The next big benefit concert in support of Ukraine was held on the 24th of February. It was organized by University of Amsterdam, University of New Europe, Davidbundler academy and my charitable foundation TRIDA Foundation. The concert was held under the auspices of the Amsterdam city hall and the embassy of Ukraine in the Netherlands.

The amazing thing is that not only brilliant Ukrainian musicians, but also children, who left Ukraine with their mothers several months ago, but who continue their studies of music in the Netherlands in Davidbundler Academy in The Hague, took part in it.

Part of the proceeds from the concert went towards bursaries for these children. And I am happy to be able to help in this big and important work. This is a huge, but very rewarding job.

Maria Nemtsova: "This is our statement - through music and art. And our therapy"

Maria Nemtsova

"Vitalik, get up, the war has begun! "Why did I wake up today? After all, I was born in Kharkiv. Now they're bombing it" Roman Mints says to himself... "NO WAR!" We wrote  on the wall. It was still possible then. A few days later almost all of us left... One year later, on February 25th, we will be in The Hague the next day. We will be asking questions. We will pull the thread out of our mouths, our lips will bleed. Our hearts will scream and our eyes will go numb, widening with horror... I ask myself this question every day.

"How did this happen? Why did they steal our childhood, our laughing hair waving in the bright sunshine? Why did they steal my 17 years? Who gave them permission?"

On the 25th of February at the Walloon Church in The Hague, some very smart people were trying to explain things to me.

There will be Saskia Tornqvist, musicologist, journalist, specialist in Nazism and identity in music; Pavel Kanygin, former journalist at Novaya and now founder of Continuation follows; Luc Pankhaus, historian and writer; Nikolay Epplée, author of An Inconvenient Past; Svetlana Pylaeva, working on national minorities and their destruction in Russia. They will all try to tell "how it came to be".

We will play music written over the last year and the music of the Gulag; we will show who Sentsov starved for, how Memorial was closed, and what those who left think. Conceptual artist Andrey Kuzkin will be making a graphic performance entitled 'Time of War'. As our videographer Tasya Krougovykh says, "the sound of running generators is the constant sound of Ukraine today. This sound will be in our hall. And we will put this unit in the church, and there will be a QR code, through which it will be possible to transfer money to other generators in Ukraine. Ours will then also go there, as will all the proceeds from the concert. WFU.World will help us with this. The last words of Skochilenko, Navalny, Gutnikova, Yashin will be heard...

I don't know how it happened. But nothing has changed for a year now. We must take the thread out of our stitched mouth and try to understand and do something so that the war will end and never happen again.

Come. Glory to Ukraine!".

So begins the announcement of the big festival-concert "WHO AM I?", which took place in The Hague on February the 25th (we told you about it on our telegram channel). It starts with a text that is impossible to read without tears. These are the words of Maria Nemtsova, pianist and organizer of the festival and founder of the Music for Peace Foundation.

"It's an amazing coincidence: we're playing Evgeny Kissin's anti-war trio again, again it's played to help Ukraine, again in the Walloon Church, a centuries-old refugee shelter, again in a joint project with FreeRussiaNL. And now in The Hague. Which is also symbolic in its own way.

In February our squad changed. Maya and I remained. And we were joined by the beautiful violinist Roman Mints, who was born in Kharkov.

Roman Mints

The three of us have an absolute unison of thoughts and feelings, the same understanding and reading of those musical quotations, which Kissin did not even try to veil, but rather used deliberately to show a connection with the Ukrainian people and their culture.

Certainly the festival itself, and the performance of this trio, is more of a political statement. And I am very grateful that Maya invited me to play the premiere of Kissin's anti-war trio in October. To be able to touch such material and hear the author's advice and remarks is priceless.

It was an ensemble work, beautiful also because an experience like that is a kind of therapy for the artists: we definitely need an emotional and professional outlet. The only way we can do this is through music, art and the management of such concerts and events.

By: Olga Smirnova
Cover photo:
Milan Bures for The NYT

Event/The Netherlands

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