Concert unites Kingston artists in support of humanitarian efforts in Ukraine

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This Sunflower artwork was created and donated to the ‘We Stand with Ukraine’ benefit concert by Linda Laforge.

‘We Stand with Ukraine,’ a benefit concert that could well be described as a love song to Ukrainians, will be coming to the stage of the Isabel Bader Center next month. Over 100 Kingston musicians will perform in the two-hour concert, which will support the Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal Fund through the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and Canada-Ukraine Foundation.

Taking place Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022,  at 7:30 p.m., the concert has been a labour of love by Kingston’s own PALENAI Piano Duo, Joy Innis and Adrienne Shannon, who are both adjunct professors at Queen’s University. Music and images will capture ‘Mother & Child‘ and ‘Home & Nation‘ themes: a multimedia message of the reality of the war, the beauty of Ukraine, and of hope. 

The two knew that they had to hold a benefit concert as soon as the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, 2022.

A Ukrainian soldier inside the besieged Azovstal steel plant stands under a ray of sunlight. Photo by Dmytro Kozatsky.

“At the end of February, we started talking to fellow musicians who all jumped on board to be part of a fundraiser. It’s just motivation for a lot of people, but being in the music world, we found people incredibly receptive to doing this fundraiser,” said Shannon.

So, the planning started in February and, according to Shannon, Trica Baldwin, Director of the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts “immediately supported the idea,” committing the use of the Isabel, along with all of the necessary technical support and administrative work, to make the event happen.

“Since then, we’ve been planning the music, planning the artists and, equally important, importing images from photojournalists in Ukraine,” Shannon explained. Photography of Ukraine, Ukrainian art, and powerful images from the war by photojournalists will add a multidimensional element to the evening.

Odesa National Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre in Odesa, Ukraine at night. Submitted photo.

“It was just sort of inadvertent; you see something on Facebook and there’s a name attached to it and you follow the thread,” said Shannon, who explained that photojournalists on the ground in Ukraine, including one who was injured on the frontlines, have been sending high-definition images to use, royalty-free.

More recently, said Innis, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (iFAW) has also been sharing images with the group. iFAW has been working on the frontlines in Ukraine and at the border crossings into Poland and Romania, helping people who are bringing abandoned pets or injured pets with them as they escape the war zone, and also helping zoo and farm animals to safety. 

Some of the visual pieces which will accompany the music will include “beautiful images of Ukraine, the mountains, the landscapes, the cities, the important iconic art, and architecture. What Ukraine was before,” said Shannon.

Since the 1990s, PALENAI has been at the forefront of concert artists adding visuals to live performances. The visualizations reflect the formal elements and expressive content of the music in a visual context. The duo travelled to Ukraine in 2006 as part of an international piano festival in Odesa.

“We made good friends with a piano duo team there, [but] when the war broke out, we could not locate them. We finally found them and thankfully they are okay. But things are very, very difficult. We’ve been there, so, when we see the images… they really strike hard because we do remember what it did look like,” said Shannon.

The more than 100 professional musicians and youth ensembles from Kingston will unite to send a message of support to the people of Ukraine. This exciting concert will feature members of the Kingston Symphony, Dan School of Music faculty, PALENAI Piano Duo, Bridge Wolak Duo, and Jan LeClair. Young musicians representing Canta Arya School for Strings, Kingston Youth Orchestra, Cantabile Youth Singers, and soloist Mathieu Roberge will join in the message of hope.

Shannon and Innis explained the event will feature a special guest performer. Ukrainian soprano Nataliia Temnyk, a graduate of the Odesa National Music Academy, had started to build her career in England, “but during the war, her family had to flee and came to live with her in England. So every time we talked to her on Zoom over the past month, she would tell us stories about friends who are in hiding and in subway stations and protecting their children… she had many stories to tell. Temnyk will be singing arias from Ukrainian operas and doing a masterclass at the Dan School of Drama and Music on December 2, 2022.

The Maky Ukrainian Dance Ensemble will welcome the audience in the colourful Pryvit dance. The ‘Pryvit’ is a Ukrainian dance often performed at the beginning of a program to welcome guests. Sometimes the dance features regional representation with special folk costumes and dance steps from the various areas of Ukraine. At some point during the dance, the performers bring forth bread and salt resting on an embroidered rushnyk. The bread represents the warmth of Ukrainian hospitality and the salt is symbolic of eternal friendship, and they are presented to the audience as a humble and heartfelt greeting, thanking everyone for taking the time to come and enjoy the performance.

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, more than 6.5 million Ukrainians have become refugees and temporarily left for neighbouring countries, as reported by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees at the end of May 2022. In the first days and weeks of the war, there were long queues of evacuees on the western borders of Ukraine. In this photo, people are trying to board a train at the Lviv railway station. Photo by Kostyantyn Chernichkin.

For those wanting to support the people of Ukraine by attending what the duo describe as “a performance presented by artists across genres and disciplines uniting to show their solidarity during this conflict,” all proceeds from this event will be donated to the Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal Fund of the Ukraine Humanitarian Relief committee — a joint partnership of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and the Canada-Ukraine Foundation. Tickets are $39 or $10 for students and can be purchased at the door or online through the Isabel Bader Centre.

Those who are unable to attend the concert, but still wish to donate can donate online, and are asked to please quote “Kingston concert” under the ‘private message’ section.

For more information on the Dan School of Music and Drama at Queen’s University, visit the Dan School website.

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