The Collegian
Monday, June 05, 2023

Songs of Europe's east: The Ukrainian National Symphony Orchestra comes to Richmond

<p>Lights glow on the stage in the Dominion Energy Center shortly before the Ukrainian National Symphony Orchestra began their performance Friday at 7 p.m.</p>

Lights glow on the stage in the Dominion Energy Center shortly before the Ukrainian National Symphony Orchestra began their performance Friday at 7 p.m.

The National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine performed in the Dominion Energy Center at 7:30 p.m. Friday as part of the Modlin Downtown series, with a pre-performance lecture at 6:30. 

According to the program, the orchestra played three pieces: Maksim Berezovsky's First Ukrainian Symphony, Peter Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 and Antonín Dvořák 's Symphony No. 7.

Volodymyr Sirenko, the orchestra's artistic director, spoke about his background at a pre-performance lecture translated by Alexander Kordzaia, the University of Richmond’s orchestra conductor. 

According to the program notes, Sirenko was born in the Poltava region of Ukraine and studied conducting at the Kyiv Conservatory under Allin Vlasenko. He debuted as a conductor at the Kyiv Philharmonic Hall in 1983, and he has made more than 300 recordings and 50 CDs of varying pieces and has appeared in numerous concert halls around the world, including the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris, and Seoul Art Center. 

Before the performance, Kordzaia said he first had been introduced to the orchestra while studying at the Tbilisi Conservatory.

"I had [a] concert in Kyiv, Kyiv Philharmonic, and that’s where [the orchestra] actually rehearse[s]," Kordzaia said. 

He said: "I went to their concert after my concert, and then I had a friend, my classmate, [who became the] conductor with this orchestra." 

Kordzaia found out about the orchestra’s performance in Richmond from Shannon Hooker, assistant director at the Modlin Center for the Arts, he said.

“She contacted me one year ago, and she said, '[The] Ukrainian National Symphony Orchestra is coming; would you consider moderat[ing] that pre-show talk?'" Kordzaia said. "And I said, ‘I’ll be more than happy.’”

Kordzaia also said he was looking forward to watching the strings, because the strings players in "orchestras coming from Russia or [the] former Soviet Union ... are extraordinary.” 

The concert received multiple standing ovations. The Symphony Orchestra then played two encore pieces, which each received its own ovation.

During the pre-show lecture, Sirenko said he wanted to play more modern Ukrainian music and introduce more people to it. The orchestra tends to play more standard repertoire because it is hard to sell tickets for more modern works, Sirenko said.

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However, the orchestra played a piece by a modern composer when it came to the U.S. three years ago and received positive feedback, so it hopes to continue introducing the world to modern composers, Sirenko said.

One way he said the orchestra continued to expose the public to it and its performances was by playing free, open-air concerts during the summer in Ukraine, so those who cannot afford to come to regular performances can enjoy its music. 

At the end of the pre-performance lecture, Sirenko said he wanted to convey to the audience where he and the performers were coming from as Ukrainians -- and the standing ovations showed they did just that.

Contact lifestyle writer Colette Creamer at

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