The War in Ukraine: How Music Becomes a Family Survival Strategy News & Criticism | Classic B

The war in Ukraine

How music becomes a family survival strategy

03/06/2022 by Wolfgang Schicker

Since the beginning of the war, there was nothing in the life of the family of musicians Zaitsev. She now considers herself a cultural ambassador for her country. The family makes music against the war and shows Europe the richness of Ukrainian music.



Image source: Image Alliance / dpa | Robert Michael

“That’s all I wanted to say about the war.” In “Forrest Gump,” this is the only sentence the audience at a large anti-Vietnam War demonstration would understand. Because when Forrest Gump steps up to the microphone, the power goes out. He talks and talks, but no one understands him. When the force finally returns, the audience hears only the closing words of his speech. For young Ukrainian violinist Elizabeth Zaitseva, this scene is an apt expression of war. Zaitseva literally said: “You can shout, you can say, you can describe, but it still means nothing. To describe the war, you can only be silent.”

“As soon as I heard the explosion in my cell phone”


view of the field |  Image source: Image Credit: Bryan Smith / dpa-Bildfunk
View of the square in Kyiv | Image source: Image Credit: Bryan Smith / dpa-Bildfunk

Elizabeth Zaitseva is from Kyiv and studies at the Music Academy in Nuremberg. Her parents are active in the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra, Oleksandr Zaitsev’s father is a director, and mother Tetyana Zaitseva is a violinist. Memories of the beginning of the war in Ukraine are still painfully vivid and difficult to put into words. Elizabeth Zaitseva got involved right away, working with relief organizations that brought ambulances and relief supplies to Ukraine. She went to demonstrations to draw attention to her country’s plight. But she was worried above all about her father, mother and 10-year-old brother, who were still in heavily bombed Kyiv. “We were talking on the phone every hour,” she says. “As soon as I heard the explosion on my cell phone when I was talking to my mom, it was early March.” The explosive device hit the field next to the parents’ house. Escape was clearly inevitable. Tetyana Zaitseva was on the road with her son for several days, partly in the car with friends, and partly on buses, until after suffering, she arrived in Würzburg, where her daughter Alexandra lives.

What culture can do to support the nation

Father Oleksandr Zaitsev, like all men, had to stay in Ukraine. His assignment is the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra, which he directs as a director. He is interested in the question of what the orchestra can do to support the homeland. And it soon became clear: the orchestra had to play, and it had to carry the often overlooked traditions of Ukrainian music to Europe. A brave vision given the conditions in Kyiv at the beginning of March – and a really daunting task for the administration. Oleksandr Zaitsev says: “The idea came to me spontaneously, when I accompanied my wife and son on March 8 as they fled to western Ukraine. After my return to Kyiv, all my directors and directors of Ukrainian orchestras, operas and cultural institutions were with the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine.”

A look at the independence of the Ukrainian musical tradition

It was at this meeting that the idea that there must be some kind of cultural attack by Ukrainian choirs and orchestras – especially for its transmission to the West: there is an independent centuries-old Ukrainian cultural and musical tradition and is in no way just a part of Russian culture, as the Kremlin adores and insistently claims . To this end, special programs should be developed focusing on artists and composers who have hitherto received little attention in the West – including Mozart’s contemporary Maxim Berezovsky, Boris Lyatushinsky, the most important Ukrainian composer of the Soviet era, or Miroslav, who was born in Skoryk 1938.

Concert tour planning in a hurry


Kyiv Symphony Orchestra |  Image source: Axinja Weyrauch
The Kyiv Symphony Orchestra (Kiewer Symphonieorchester) rehearses at the Schützenhaus in Weissensee near Füssen. | Image source: Axinja Weyrauch

In order to enable Ukrainian bands to travel abroad, the Ministry of Culture has made exceptions for men who are not normally allowed to leave Ukraine. They obtained special passes for the duration of the concert tours – on the condition that they would return immediately if called up in the military. Because of this permission, Oleksandr Zaitsev began planning. What would have required a deadline of one to two years under normal circumstances was achieved in three weeks with the help of a concert agency: a tour with concerts in the most important concert halls in Germany, including the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie and the Berlin Philharmonie. In the past few weeks, the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra has performed in the resort of Reichenbach im Allgäu. Tireless concerts are taking place in southern Germany, but the future is uncertain: holidaymakers on Pentecost will soon move to the holiday resort and the orchestra will move to new accommodations in Baden-Württemberg.

raise your voice

After the first weeks of paralysis filled with terror immediately after the start of the war, music became the most important instrument of Elizabeth Zaitseva’s commitment. “Three weeks later I was able to play again, and that’s when I noticed the big changes that war brings. In all these demonstrations I just had to raise my voice, my talking voice. The voice was there too, and then I played more freely, more confidently, because I realized How important, how much responsibility we Ukrainians have now abroad: that I express my position, and it is really important that I, as an artist, be able to be an ambassador. ”

On a cultural mission

This is the mission of the Zaitsev family: to raise the cultural voice of Ukraine. Elizabeth Zaitseva joined her parents’ orchestra at the beginning of the tour. In fact, she is about to graduate from Nuremberg Academy of Music. Her teacher Daniel Gaede tries to enable her to do this as often as possible, and lessons are mostly given online. Because the mission of the Zaitsev family is not over as long as the war continues. “I realized it about three weeks after the start of the war: I have to play music, just so there’s something nice.”

Youth Orchestra Partnership


Archive - August 30, 2004, Ludwigshafen: conductor Oksana Lenev conducts at the Staatsphilharmonie in Ludwigshafen.  Lenev hopes there will be more opportunities for women to lead orchestras.  (to dpa
Founder of the Youth Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine: conductor of the orchestra Oksana Lenev. | Image source: dpa-Bildfunk / Ronald Wittek

Elizabeth’s twin sister Alexandra Darian is also studying violin in Nuremberg and travels as a cultural ambassador for her homeland: as the director of the Ukrainian Youth Symphony Orchestra. After the war began, she managed to evacuate most of the young musicians to Slovenia. There the youth orchestra set up a camp in Ljubljana where Ukrainian youth could live and continue to receive instruction. In 2016, the conductor of the orchestra Oksana Lenev founded the Young Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine based on the model of the Federal Youth Orchestra. Since then, both orchestras have been linked to the partnership and meet again and again for projects. For example, a joint working stage that includes a performance at the magnificent Odessa Opera House in May 2022, with lecturers from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, has long been planned. The invasion of Ukraine and the brutal missile attacks on cities and residential areas of Russia thwarted these plans. In July, the young orchestras, two friends, went on a charity tour instead, with concerts in Berlin, Hanover and Cologne.

Broadcasting: “Music Feature” on June 03, 2022 from 7:05 pm ON BR-CLASSIC
Repetition: In the June 4, 2022 from 2:05 pm ON BR-CLASSIC

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