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National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine - Norwich Theatre Royal (05.11.2023)

This might have been the end of the UK tour for the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine (NSOU), but it was a night where they reminded us that their country's fight for freedom from oppression very much continues.

While the orchestra's Managing Director stated that this tour was about showcasing that there's more to Ukraine than the conflict, inevitably, the line between culture and politics was more blurred than usual.

Indeed, the ongoing struggles came to the fore when we learned that the orchestra was down a couple of members as they've been conscripted to fight with the Ukraine military. The programme itself also featured work from one of the country's most celebrated composers, Boris Lyatoshynsky, who himself struggled with oppression from Soviet authorities in the 1930s.

The concert opened on a more effervescent tone though, with Strauss' symphonic poem Don Juan. This allowed Concertmaster Maksym Grinchenko the chance to weave an enchanting path for the strings section to pursue.

This was followed by what was my highlight of the evening, as we were treated to Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.4 and a display of delicate ferocity from pianist Antonii Baryshevskyi as he sparred with the orchestra.

The second half opened with the anthemic Finlandia by Jean Sibelius, a brief but rousing call-to-arms from a composer who also was familiar with Russian oppression.

And the programme was officially brought to a close with Lyatoshynsky's Symphony No.2 - a dark, brooding brass-heavy piece, littered with lighter moments on the harp.

It was an exceptional performance led by long-standing Conductor Volodymyr Sirenko, giving us a clear demonstration of the power and poignancy of orchestral music. Most of all though, this was a night for Ukraine to articulate that their culture, in more ways than one, will never be suppressed.


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