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CARNEGIE HALL MUSTERS STARS FOR A BENEFIT CONCERT FOR UKRAINE

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.

By Matt Stevens and Javier C. Hernández

May 24, 2022

The New York Times

It was not a typical chorus on the stage of Carnegie Hall: the acclaimed pianist Evgeny Kissin reading from a sheet of paper as he sang Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere” with a gathering that included the actor Richard Gere, the mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard and the 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, the 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.

“Music heals and inspires, music boosts hope and confidence,” the first lady, Olena Zelenska, said in a 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 the jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, the violinist Midori, the singer Michael Feinstein, the soprano Angel Blue and the Broadway singer Jessica Vosk. Mr. Kissin appeared toward the end of the program — first with the violinist Itzhak Perlman to play John Williams’s Theme from “Schindler’s List,” and then to play Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2 alone.

In an interview with The New York Times before the concert, Mr. Kissin said that 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 Ukraine, so I’m doing everything I can: sending money and taking part in concerts for 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, have always felt solidarity with all its other victims, including the Ukrainians.”

Gavriel Heine. The American conductor, a fixture at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia, for 15 years, has resigned from his post as one of the state-run theater’s resident conductors. He said in a series of interviews that he had been increasingly disturbed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Valentin Silvestrov. Ukraine’s best-known living composer, Mr. Silvestrov made his way from his home in Kyiv to Berlin, where he is now sheltering. In recent weeks, his consoling music has taken on new significance for listeners in his war-torn country.

Anna Netrebko. The superstar Russian soprano faced backlash in Russia after she tried to distance herself from President Vladimir V. Putin with a statement condemning the war. She had previously lost work in the West because of her past support for Mr. Putin.

Olga Smirnova. A principal soloist at the Bolshoi Ballet since 2016, Ms. Smirnova announced that she had joined the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam, becoming one of the most significant Russian cultural figures to leave the country because of its invasion of Ukraine.

Valery Gergiev. The star Russian maestro and vocal supporter of Mr. Putin was removed from his post as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic after he refused to denounce Russia’s actions in Ukraine. His abrupt dismissal came three years before his contract was set to expire.

Alexei Ratmansky. The choreographer, who grew up in Kyiv, was preparing a new ballet at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow when the invasion began, and immediately decided to leave Moscow. The ballet, whose premiere was set for March 30, was postponed indefinitely.

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 V. Putin of Russia, and 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 Mr. Putin.

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 the 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 on 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.