200 classical musicians join London orchestral flashmob in solidarity with Ukraine
7 March 2022, 15:06 | Updated: 16 March 2022, 16:37
Flashmob of Ukrainian National Anthem takes place in Trafalgar Square
Musicians took part in a flashmob in London’s Trafalgar Square, to show solidarity with Ukraine.
An orchestra of both professional and amateur classical musicians, conducted by Russian-British pianist Petr Limonov, gathered in London’s Trafalgar Square on Sunday to protest the Russian war in Ukraine.
The 200-strong ensemble, starring violinist Jennifer Pike and composer Gabriel Prokofiev on the French horn, played three pieces of Ukrainian music, including Mykola Lysenko’s Prayer for Ukraine and the country’s national anthem.
With no rehearsal time, the musicians gathered for an outdoor flashmob described as “spine-tingling” by spectators walking past the square.
Speaking to Classic FM, Jennifer Pike said: “At this time we are trying to do all we can for a horrific situation, and musicians only really know one way, which is to play.
“To be surrounded by musicians from around the world and feel the depth of emotion emanating from the crowd in Trafalgar Square was a powerful experience. The culture and identity of Ukraine cannot be erased, and music shows us that the spirit of people cannot be extinguished.”
The ‘Music for Peace’ protest was organised by classical music fan and events manager, Juliet Barclay, in just five days.
Feeling powerless watching the news from Ukraine and “longing to help” in some way, Barclay contacted two musician friends, Jaga Klimaszewska and Eva Pires, who brought in Limonov to conduct an impromptu performance in central London. A note was sent to all major London orchestras and music schools, and messages began to flood in.
“We could only logistically cope with orchestra of 200 and we were very sad to have to turn away hundreds of people, but a 600-piece orchestra would have been an impossibility,” Barclay told Classic FM.
Working with Klimaszewska and Pires, Barclay crowdfunded to buy the rights to perform Hymn 2001 by Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov, who is thought to have left Kyiv on Sunday with his daughter after days of shelling from Russian forces.
Performing on a makeshift stage outside the National Gallery, the musicians also performed the Ukrainian national anthem in a version arranged by Keith Terrett, which members of the crowd could be heard singing along with, and Mykola Lysenko’s poignant Prayer for Ukraine.
Limonov, who wrote detailed conducting notes on the sheet music to make up for the lack of rehearsal time, said the response from musicians to join the protest was “truly overwhelming”.
On the day, he said “all musicians played with phenomenal dedication and devotion, and the musical result was truly astonishing. I could see tears in the eyes of many of them when we started playing”.
“This felt like the most special concert I have ever taken part in in my life,” Limonov said of the performance, which has raised nearly £4,000 for the Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.
“I will never forget the purity and the might of the orchestra’s sound in the Anthem and in the ‘Prayer’, and the magical silence in the audience in Trafalgar Square whilst we were playing the noble, quiet ‘Hymn’ by Silvestrov, hundreds and hundreds of people joining us, listening to us and with us, united in their unconditional support for Ukraine, and its people.”
‘Music for Peace’ was one of several organised protests in the UK capital over the weekend in reaction to the Russian war in Ukraine, which has now killed at least 364 civilians, according to United Nations figures.
One of the organisers, tour manager Eva Pires, said: “Yesterday […] the universal language of music carried an emotional message of support and solidarity for the people in Ukraine. Seeing both the musicians and the crowd in tears was heartwarming.”
Pires added that she saw the musical protest “as a chance to play for peace and unity. I thought of my family in Bulgaria who is currently hosting refugees in our home as well as my family in Crimea, being divided in the conflict.”
Pike, who last year published an album of Polish violin music with Limonov, was also reminded of her family. “My grandmother’s hometown before WWII was Lviv (then Lwów) and when she was 7, in 1946, the borders moved and they packed what possessions they could and left on one of the last trains out. To see images of people fleeing the city in 2022 is heartbreaking.”
Oleg Gourskii, a Ukrainian double bassist who played in the orchestra, said: “Many thanks to all the musicians for playing yesterday. Your support means a lot to my nation and makes us stronger in the fight against the Russian occupation. You are great people. Thank you for everything.”