With four decades of experience in entertainment, Eva Bornstein has spent the past 17 years booking concerts at the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts. So bringing in acts from all over the world is something she is used to.
But when it comes to the Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine, she gets a special feeling, especially this year. Amid fighting for their independence from Russia, orchestra members and fellow Ukrainians have had to live under destruction and blackouts caused by bombardments.
As part of a 40-day American tour, the orchestra will make a stop at Lehman Center on Sunday, Feb. 19. Led by conductor Theodore Kuchar of Ukrainian descent and featuring violin soloist Vladyslava Luchenko, the orchestra will perform classic compositions of European composers Johannes Brahms and Jean Sibelius.
It was 1902 when Finnish composter Sibelius completed “Symphony no. 2” at the time, his country was struggling with Russian oppression. The piece is connected with his country’s struggle and a turning point in an individual’s life. That is one of the compositions that will be performed in D major.
A few of Sibelius’ successes that gained him a reputation during the nationalist period was “The Swan of Tuonela”, “Lamminkäinen’s Return” and “Finlandia,” which were poems.
One piece of Brahms is something the orchestra and Luchenko will feature is the “Violin Concerto in D Major,” the only violinist concerto by Brahms.
Back home the Ukrainian orchestra has to brave the dangers of war.
“You can have an opera performance or a symphony concert. As soon as the alarms go off. Everything has to come to an end,” Kuchar said. “The audience, the orchestra, the singers on the stage and the opera, everybody has to go underground to the bomb shelters.”
After 45 minutes of silence, the performers and the audience can return to the performance. The war affects everyone in Ukraine, not only volunteers and soldiers.
The orchestra consists of 110 musicians. However, more than 30 will stay behind due to limitations. The remaining will perform in front of the 2,300-seat Lehman concert hall.
The concert was planned two years ago but has taken on a significant role in the past year.
Bornstein, who recommends all the Lehman shows, finds herself connected to the Ukrainian orchestra.
“I was born in Poland, and for me, to support the Ukrainians right now is a testimony that it is important, and I was very proud to be able to showcase these wonderful artists from Ukraine,” Bornstein said.
Starting last month, the orchestra has already performed in more than a dozen concert halls this year.
Kuchar says people shouldn’t assume that their American tour is a “pity tour, organized because of the war in Ukraine and this is America’s way of acknowledging its support.”
In general, it takes Bornstein several years to book national tours. It becomes complicated when she needs to book accommodations such as hotels and transportation.
“Ukrainians have a very long tradition of being music lovers. To them, it’s bread and butter. I’m sure for them, it’s a great opportunity to present their talent in the United States,” Bornstein said.
Kuchar said for people who have never debuted in the United States before, whether they’re from Asia, South Africa or Australia, there is a high level of anticipation for the musicians.
The conductor understands this anticipation level because he grew up in America with his brother and Ukrainian immigrant parents.
“My parents were very strict,” he said. “As they say in America, my way or the highway,”
Not only were the siblings not allowed to speak English inside their house, but their childhood was also different from the neighborhood boys. Instead of soccer or baseball practice, they spent 45 minutes in violin lessons.
Kuchar now praises his parents for the tough job they did handling, “unappreciative, ungrateful brats.”
But ultimately, he said his parent’s efforts paid off because Kuchar himself is the most recorded conductor of his generation with more than 140 compact discs released.
He has also been with the orchestra since 1994 and has appeared in over 250 performances in Kyiv and on tour.
And the orchestra at this moment in time is one of the most recorded orchestras in the world. In the past year, the orchestra and Kuchar have made 15 recordings, he said.
This was not the first time the group will step into the Lehman performing arts center. The last was in 2017, before its renovations in 2021. Kuchar expressed his excitement to see the new venue.
“We spent over $16 million to put new bathrooms, elevators, new offices and new seats in the auditorium, and then Covid happened,” Bornstein said.
The performing arts center cut the ribbon in September 2019, half a year before venues were shut down due to the quarantine after major renovations and its 40th anniversary in the Bronx.
“I hope the entire community comes and participates in their concert,” Bornstein said.
“It’s a National Orchestra with Ukraine, with a great conductor, great soloist, as it’s going to be a magnificent concert.”