With the support of the Embassy of Switzerland in Ukraine, three concerts featuring renowned Ukrainian musicians, as well as their colleagues from Poland and Switzerland, were held as part of the Odessa Classics in Zurich project. These performances served as a litmus test of Europe's attitude towards Ukraine, with full halls, thunderous ovations, and deep appreciation for the music of modern Ukrainian composers, which was well understood by the audience. The high level of recognition of our art by the European public was evident.
It is significant that the Odessa Classics festival, which had to leave its native Odessa due to the war, began its European tour in Switzerland. Oleksiy Botvinov, the founder and president of the festival, who is one of the most renowned and sought-after pianists in the world and a People's Artist of Ukraine, shared his impressions of the sophisticated Swiss audience, the debut of the young Kyiv pianists, the Fedyurko brothers, and his personal experiences at the concerts in Zurich. He also spoke about the continuation of the Odessa Classics festival's European tour.
Oleksiy Botvinov, the founder of the festival, shared his impressions of the concerts in Zurich
- I am delighted with the outcome of our inaugural Odessa Classics festival in Zurich. Each location - Tonhalle Zürich, St. Peter's Church, and Kunsthaus Zürich - received considerable audience interest. The halls were filled to capacity, and the public's reception was overwhelmingly positive, as they gave standing ovations and called for encores. Our top priority was to connect with the audience, and we are pleased to have achieved this goal. The concerts were diverse, ranging from chamber music to a children's concert and my solo piano performance. Overall, I believe that we had a successful and vibrant start to the project.
In Zurich, you presented three distinct concerts: a solo performance, a collaborative concert with the esteemed Polish violinist Janusz Wawrowski, and a performance featuring the budding talent of the Fedyurko brothers, young pianists from Kyiv, alongside their Swiss colleagues, Romy Unseld and Stefan Szypura. Did the audience differ?
- I have held a deep admiration for the Swiss public, especially the music-savvy and emotionally receptive Zurich audience, for quite some time. Therefore, achieving success with this discerning audience holds great significance for me. In terms of audience makeup, I did not observe any significant differences across our concerts, except for the presence of parents with their musically-inclined children at the children's concert - a common feature of such events. However, what pleasantly surprised me was the considerable number of adult attendees who avidly listened to the performances by our young talents - the Fedyurko brothers and their Swiss colleagues. Zurich's audience standards are notoriously high, and as such, the success of all three concerts bears exceptional importance to us. It is a clear indication of the elevated regard our Odessa Classics festival enjoys within this sophisticated Swiss community.
How was your joint concert with the leading Polish violinist Janusz Wawrowski?
- Janusz Wawrowski is an exceptionally talented and accomplished Polish musician, renowned for his unmatched ability to play the Stradivarius violin - a unique and unparalleled instrument in the country. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that he has been granted the honor of wielding this extraordinary tool. During our concert in Zurich, Janusz dazzled the Swiss audience with his first solo performance, earning rave reviews and cementing his place as a revelation in their eyes. With the impeccable acoustics of St. Peter's Church, the violin sounded incredible, making the evening an unforgettable experience.
Janusz Wawrowski, Oleksiy Botvinov
Few days after the Zurich festival, we performed the same program with Janusz at the Beethoven-Haus Bonn. The audience at this venue was composed mostly of politicians, diplomats, and political scientists, as the concert was held on February 24th, in commemoration of the beginning of the full-scale war in Ukraine. The success we achieved was overwhelming. Therefore, Janusz and I have decided to collaborate on numerous projects in the future.
How did the audience perceive your solo piano program? What music resonated the most with the Swiss audience?
- I had the honor of concluding the Odessa Classics festival in Zurich with my solo piano program at the Tonhalle Zürich, performing to a full venue. Alongside masterpieces by Schumann and Rachmaninoff in the first part of the program, the second part featured a special piece by Alemdar Karamanov, a Ukrainian composer of Crimean Tatar origin who was a dissident during Soviet times. Karamanov's music was banned because he refused to compromise his conscience and deny his religious beliefs to obey Soviet authorities. His works, which all had religious titles, were only able to be performed after Ukraine gained independence. Interestingly, Karamanov was given the honor of writing the official anthem of Ukrainian Crimea.
Ambassador of Ukraine in Switzerland Iryna Venediktova, Oleksiy Botvinov, National Program Officer of Embassy of Switzerland in Ukraine Olena Chernezhenko
I was privileged to be the first to perform Karamanov's third piano concerto, "Ave Maria," and worked with the composer himself to interpret the piece. The Zurich audience had the chance to hear my arrangement of the work, which was a Swiss premiere. As a performer, it was important for me to gauge the reception of this piece by a discerning and demanding audience. The audience rose to their feet in ovation as soon as the last notes faded, and their applause continued for a long time. This moment was a highlight of both my concert and the entire festival. I hold the third concerto "Ave Maria" in high regard as one of the most remarkable works of Ukrainian classical music for the piano, and I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to present it at the Odessa Classics festival in Zurich.
What was the perception of the music composed by modern Ukrainian composers among the Swiss audience? Is it relatable to the European listener?
- During the concerts in Zurich, we showcased works from several other prominent Ukrainian composers, such as Valentin Sylvestrova, Myroslav Skoryk, Lev Revutsky, and Viktor Kosenko. These composers' music has gained worldwide recognition and is now frequently performed on the global stage. The enthusiastic applause from the audience demonstrated that Ukrainian classical music is an integral part of the European musical canon, and its appeal is universal and highly sought after by European audiences.
What was the performance of the talented young pianists like? Both from Ukraine and Switzerland.
- I am thrilled to have introduced the talented Fedyurko brothers, Oleksandr and Roman, to the audience in Zurich. It was their debut in Switzerland, and they had already captivated audiences in Tallinn and Bonn during the previous festival with their extraordinary performances. Once again, they left the audience in Zurich in awe. It was an exhilarating experience for me.
On a related note, Roman Fedyurko participated in the prestigious Schumann competition in Dusseldorf (Germany) just three days after the concert, where he won the grand prize, first prize, and audience prize, making him a recipient of all the main prizes. I am hopeful that this competition will serve as a gateway to an illustrious concert career for him. The achievement is symbolic and speaks volumes about the unique talents of both brothers, whom I aim to support through our Odessa Classics festival.
The young Swiss pianists Romy Unseld and Stefan Szypura, who are exceptionally gifted, also received resounding applause from the audience. It was heartwarming to see the children interact and share their impressions. I am confident that the creative collaborations between Ukrainian and Swiss musicians will be crucial in the future.
Director of "Odessa Classics" Olena Zozulya, founder of the festival Oleksiy Botvinov, founder of Destinations.ua Inna Geletyuk, TV presenter and founder of ivaLive Foundation Ivanna Onufriychuk with husband Almaz
Could you share your upcoming plans? Are there any other performances you have scheduled as part of the Odessa Classics festival?
- After the conclusion of the Odessa Classics in Zurich, an important concert by Odessa Classics was held in Warsaw a few days later. The original version of Alemdar Karamanov's third concert "Ave Maria" with an orchestra had its Polish premiere, performed by the Polish Radio Orchestra.
Looking ahead, a grand Odessa Classics festival is scheduled to take place in Tallinn from May 25 to June 7, featuring numerous concerts with orchestras, ensembles, and guest artists. The pre-opening event of the festival will take place soon on March 9 at the Tallinn Philharmonic. Following that, concerts will be held in Germany and Greece.
Oleksandr Fedyurko, Stefan Szypura, Romy Umseld, Roman Fedyurko
The young musicians were eager to share their thoughts on the concert, with Swiss pianist Romy Unseld offering her impressions:
"I had a truly unique experience. It was a meeting of young musicians from two different countries. The concert atmosphere was extraordinary, with a highly knowledgeable audience that showed their appreciation for each of us with wild applause. I sincerely hope that Odessa Classics will be held again in Odessa next year!"
Ukrainian pianist Roman Fedyurko:
"Participating in concerts as part of the Odessa Classics festival is a great honor for both Oleksandr and myself. We have been invited by Mr. Oleksii Botvinov not for the first time, and we are deeply grateful for his trust and faith in us. Every performance fills us with admiration, inspiration, and anticipation. In the past, we have had the pleasure of performing at the festival in Tallinn and at the Beethoven House in Bonn. We cherish every opportunity to perform and feel immense gratitude for them."
Stefan and Wenjin Elva Liao Szypura, Oleksiy Botvinov, Inna Geletyuk
The performance by the young Swiss pianist Stefan Szypura was particularly noteworthy during this concert. His family has been actively supporting Ukraine, with Stefan's mother Wenjin Elva Liao Szypura engaged in the initiative dedicated to assisting Ukrainian children with oncological conditions.
"Together, we pray for peace in Ukraine as it has been a year since the beginning of the war. We are constantly thinking of ways to help you and your country. Music is the universal language of diplomacy and we are proud to have witnessed Ukrainian and Swiss children performing together on the same stage. In addition, we are actively involved in the Sonnenhof social project that supports children with cancer in Ukraine. To date, we have brought 20 ill children and their mothers to Switzerland and created a special community to support them in every possible way. We remain committed to doing everything within our power to help" - says Wenjin Elva Liao Szypura.