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Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra will tour with stops in Europe and Britain to support war effort

NEW YORK (AP) — The Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra will tour for the second straight summer, appearing in eight cities in Europe and Britain in support of the nation’s war effort against Russia.

Keri-Lynn Wilson, the Canadian-Ukrainian wife of Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb, will conduct the tour, which runs from Aug. 20 to Sept. 3 and is being produced by the Met and the Teatr Wielki-Polish National Opera. The Aug. 24 concert at Berlin’s Schönhausen Palace coincides with Ukrainian Independence Day and will be a free outdoor performance.

“Putin and the Russian propaganda machine have kind of weaponized culture and it’s very important for Ukraine to mount its own cultural defense,” Gelb said Friday, referring to the Russian president. “Ukrainian people need to be bolstered. They’ve been battered and their morale needs to be lifted.”

Musicians include members of the Kyiv National Opera, National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, Lviv Philharmonic Orchestra and Kharkiv Opera. Wilson said all but a dozen of the 74 musicians are holdovers from last summer.

“One of the members is pregnant; she can’t join the tour. Others have taken on different jobs that conflict,” Wilson said, the orchestra's music director and founder. “Some that we approached last year that were unavailable because they were drafted for the war, we wanted to bring them in this year.”

The core of the orchestra lives in Ukraine. Four or five musicians have found positions with orchestras elsewhere in Europe. The principal second violin lost a brother in the war, Wilson said.

The tour opens Aug. 20 in Warsaw and includes stops in Gdansk, Poland (Aug. 22), Lucerne, Switzerland (Aug. 27), Amsterdam (Aug. 28), Hamburg, Germany (Aug. 30), Snape, England (Sept. 2) and London (Sept. 3). It is slightly shorter than last year’s tour, which began in Europe and ended in New York and Washington, D.C.

The Warsaw concert features Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Other programs include Verdi’s overture to “La Forza del Destino,” Yevhen Stankovych’s Violin Concerto No 2 with soloist Valeriy Sokolov, Myroslav Skoryk's “Melody” and Beethoven’s Third Symphony.

Opening with “Forza” is meant to be symbolic.

“This is a wake-up call I would like to think to the Western World,” Wilson said. “This is our message of continuing to fight this war, to galvanize the western world that we must stay together.”

Ronald Blum, The Associated Press

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