Vilnius is more than sympathetic to the challenges and vicissitudes that Ukraine has been living through. Lituania understands only too well what it is like to be invaded, and enduring war conditions. Buses read Vilnius heart Ukraine across the top of their windshield screen. There are flags everywhere. People are collecting donations on the street, and there are even blue and yellow lights in places. Vilnius has not forgotten, and the feeling is palpable. Egle Jarkova made sure to invite young musicians from Ukraine to participate in the Vivace Vilnius Music Festival this year.
Eva and Maya Konstantinova were enthusiastic about discussing their experience at the Vivace Vilnius Music Festival July 30-August 5, 2023. With the help of Natalia Malkova and Mila Piatkov to translate we met on Zoom.
These 23 year old cello students from Kharkiv, Ukraine, began their studies at age 8. Their mother encouraged them to study a stringed instrument and both twins and their older brother (by 3 1/2 years) were drawn to the cello. Rising seniors, they study at Kharkiv National Kotlyarevsky University of Arts in their home town, walking a half an hour each way with their cellos, and plan to attend graduate school to continue their musical education.
Vivace Vilnius was their first music festival and both expressed that it exceeded their expectations. In addition to the scholarships that all participants received, they exclaimed that “It was such a welcoming environment. So joyful! It was wonderful to meet and communicate with international students and to be able to perform. Something has changed for us, transformed us as musicians. We believe it has had an impact on our careers and performing. We are excited to return home and continue to study.” The cellist are animated and their passion radiates through the screen.
The young women traveled thirty hours by bus to attend the festival and on the way home waited five hours between the Polish and Ukrainian borders. It is their second time out of the country, following a month long European tour last winter.
Their master instructor, Luigi Piovano, from Italy, speaks English in addition to Italian, but their best means of communication was with body language, the basic phrases they learned in English, and by demonstrating phrasing on the cello itself. Both felt their abilities were expanded by the experience of the master classes, learning new exercises, techniques and different styles as well as hearing others play.
They were impressed with the attentiveness of the children when they performed at the Children’s Hospital, and could also feel the encouragement of the audiences at the evening concerts.
What do you do when you’re not practicing cello?
“We love to read, watch films, help out at home and walk the dog. That, and walking a half an hour each way to class with our cellos is our main form of exercise. We listen to music of Bach, Popper, Saint Saëns and Mozart.”
Who are some of your favorite artists?
“We love Mischa Maisky, Mstislav Rostropovich, Jacqueline du Pre, Sol Gabetta and YoYo Ma.”
They do not mention the atmosphere of their home town, or the war that has so deeply affected not only their city, but the entire country until prompted. At this point, they remark: “Due to the precarious and unsafe conditions within the country, the sound of air alerts at night instills a sense of fear, making it unsettling to go to sleep. However, upon waking up each day, there’s a profound sense of gratitude and joy for being alive and witnessing the arrival of a new day.” One cannot help but wonder what the impact of this is like ongoing, how it permeates every part of their beings. Music plays a vital role for them, and the way that they communicate through the resonant voice of the cello. It takes time to consider and absorb the depth and gravity of their comments and the courage that these young women exhibit in their every day lives.
With one last question to return to the week they have experienced in Vilnius, I ask “Is there anything you’d like to add about the festival?” Both cellists’ faces light up and they are chattering over each other.
“We just loved the whole experience.” Their broad smiles underscore this declaration. They would love to return to Vilnius. Maya and Eva hope to play in orchestras or ensembles with other professionals in the future. They are looking forward, living their lives, fanning the flames of hope and possibility, demonstrating the power of vision, direction and intent. They are able to see through this dark period, and it is clear that music is a sparkling, robust line to better times. We will be hearing from these talented young artists again. How wonderful it will be to see how they develop their skill and artistry moving forward, as they continue to rise above the extreme challenges imposed on them and on their country. A treat of magnitude to look forward to for sure.