Silvestrov's Prayer for Ukraine: a musical response to war

On Wednesday 18 (LSO St Luke's in London) and Thursday 19 May (Brighton Festival), we perform works by Lili Boulanger, Marc-André Dalbavie and Tchaikovsky conducted by Marta Gardolińska. Marta has decided to add a short work to the programme, Silvestrov's Prayer for Ukraine, a work which is now receiving performances all over the world as an expression of solidarity with Ukrainian people.

Who is Valentin Silvestrov?

Composer and pianist Valentin Silvestrov celebrates his 85th birthday this year, in what we hope might be better times for him and his compatriots. However, at present, he and his family are living in Berlin after fleeing from Kyiv in March for safety.

Born in Kyiv, he came to music relatively late and was at first self-taught. He was considered part of the 'Kyiv avant-garde', which began in the 60s and was criticised by the conservative Soviet authorities. In the 1960s and 1970s his music was hardly played and, if played at all, was heard only in Russia or in the West. He chose to withdraw from the spotlight. After the fall of the Soviet Union his popularity increased and his style changed, with vocal and choral music, particularly on sacred subjects, becoming an increasingly important focus of his work.

'I believe that music – even if it cannot be 'sung' – is song nevertheless'
~Valentin Silvestrov

Ukrainian nationalism is at the forefront of his recent writing, including his 2014 work Diptych, which sets the poem Testament by Taras Shevchenko. The piece is dedicated to the memory of Serhiy Nigoyan, an Armenian-Ukrainian who died in the 2014 Hrushevskoho Street riots and is believed to have been the first Euromaidan casualty that led to the Revolution of Dignity

Prayer for Ukraine

Cover of the score of Silvestrov's Prayer for Ukraine

Prayer for Ukraine was written in 2014 for mixed unaccompanied choir. Like Diptych, Prayer for Ukraine was written in response to the Euromaiden protests, and forms part of a cycle of songs 'Maiden Cycle of Cycles'. Silvestrov visited the Majdan Square campment in Kyiv on many occasions, hearing the prayers and songs of the peaceful demonstrators before the shooting began. His cycle of songs was his way of fighting for his country with music. The text of Prayer for Ukraine reads 'Lord, protect the Ukraine. Give us power, faith and hope. Our Father.'

The version that will be performed at the two concerts in London and Brighton was specially arranged for symphony orchestra in March this year, along with a version for chamber orchestra. All three versions are now being performed all over the world as an expression of solidarity.

On the decision to include the work in these concerts, Marta Gardolińska, herself from Poland which has a long shared histroy with Ukraine, writes: 'Do we have the moral right to be silent when given a platform? As artists there isn't much that we can do in times of war, but what we can try to do is convey important messages with the platform that we are given. We can remind our audiences that not far away there is a country with a rich and proud culture, an incredible force of spirit and sense of beauty. A country that shares our values of freedom and peace, but where these things are under horrific attack. This amazing place has produced not only fierce defenders but also art of the highest level. Now in Ukraine, artists are being forced to either flee their homes or fight for them, Ukrainian cultural institutions are bombed, their artworks stolen. Therefore, we have decided to finish the program of this concert with Valentin Silvestrov’s Prayer for Ukraine, a piece written at the start of the war in 2014. Let us take a moment to commemorate the victims and to pray for the brave defenders of freedom and our Western values.'


Concerts

Wednesday 18 May 2022 6.30pm (sold out)
LSO St Luke's, London
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Thursday 19 May 2022 7.30pm
Brighton Dome Concert Hall, Brighton Festival
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Top image: Marta Gardolińska © Bart Barczyk

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