On Sunday, June 25, a benevolent concert to benefit those in need and victims of the war in Ukraine was held in the cathedral hall of the Synod of Bishops in New York City. The concert was planned a year ago, at the end of May, and received the blessing of Metropolitan Hilarion of blessed repose. At that time, numerous organizations and individuals abroad tried to do everything possible to help those who fell into the meat grinder of terrible events in Ukraine. Funds from the concert were to go to the Fund for Assistance to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, from which they would transferred to help the victims and refugees. People at the time prayed and hoped that hostilities would end soon.
"But Metropolitan Hilarion reposed, and all concerts were canceled," says George Kirjanov, organizer of the charity event, a member of the Princess Elena Wolkonsky Foundation. The parishioners of the Cathedral of the Sign remember the concerts that Elena Wolkonsky regularly arranged before her death. The funds from them went, in particular, to the restoration and maintenance of the Synodal Headquarters in decent condition.
"The idea to revive the concerts came to us in 2021, and when the terrible events began in Ukraine in 2022, we decided to fundraise to help those who, suffered all sorts of hardships as a result of the war, were forced to leave their homeland, and ended up outside Ukraine in unfamiliar places without jobs or livelihood.
"I had the idea to hold a fundraising concert after I attended a benevolent concert to support Ukraine in one of our churches.
"This year, we decided to hold the concert before most people leave for their summer vacations."
The Synodal Headquarters has not heard such applause for a long time. Wonderful musicians ‒ high-class professionals ‒ performed before the audience. Four of them are singers of the Synodal Choir: soprano Olga Ship, baritone Isaiah Trofimenko. Galina Shatilova is a violinist with the New York Ballet Orchestra, who together with Liana Branskoy performed Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins; and John Arlievsky, a young talented pianist and vocalist, who performed Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Prelude.
The concert was attended by Metropolitan Nicholas of Eastern America & New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad.
Olga Ship and Isaiah Trofimenko opened the concert, performing a duet from Mozart’s opera "The Magic Flute."
Olga Ship was born and raised in Odessa, and graduated from Odessa’s A.V. Nezhdanova National Music Academy, specializing in vocal and choral conducting. In Ukraine, she sang in the choir of the Greek church and in one of the country’s largest churches ‒ Holy Dormition Cathedral. When she arrived in New York, the first thing she did was go to church.
"I liked the Cathedral of the Sign more than the others," Olga recalls. "The choir just needed a soprano singer. So I stayed here and have been singing for 17 years.
"When the war started in Ukraine, we had the idea to raise funds in support of the victims and we planned to organize a concert. People are heartbroken about what is happening in Ukraine now, because many of them have family and friends there."
It should be noted that the charity concert consisted entirely of secular music.
"Everyone chose his or her own repertoire,” continues Olga. "I sing the works of one of the founders of Ukrainian music, Mykola Lysenko, and the famous composer Kyrylo Stetsenko, who also wrote church music. Our Synodal choir performs one of his works.
"Ukrainian folk songs have always been well-known and beloved not only in Ukraine, but also in Russia and abroad, wherever native Russians and Ukrainians live. And I wanted to introduce listeners to serious chamber music – classical romances based on poems by famous Ukrainian poets, who are little known outside of Ukraine.
"We specially compiled the program so that it included both Russian and Ukrainian music, because this concert is designed to unite, not divide. We are all God’s children, we are all against the war, and are waiting for it to end as soon as possible."
Though young, Isaiah Trofimenko has been a choir singer for man years. He chose two of Glinka’s songs for his solo performance ‒ "Tell Me Why" and "Do Not Demand Songs from a Singer."
Presenting wonderful melodies, he noted that he is now trying to fight Russophobia to the best of his ability: "I am categorically against this – music and art in general have nothing to do with politics."
"I came to the Synodal choir in 2007, when I was still at school," the singer explains. "At first, it was quite difficult for me: everyone in the choir sang at a high level and I was delighted with the professionalism and talent of both the choir director and the singers. After some time, I was accepted into the choir as a singer and I began to sing regularly, and last year I was given the great honor of becoming the deputy choir director, which I do whenever our choir director, Vadim S. Gan, is absent. This is a huge responsibility, but thanks to our wonderful singers, we do our best to perform wonderful spiritual music."
Some musicians present were invited to take part in the concert.
Alexander Chaplinsky ‒ choir director at St. Nicholas Patriarchal Cathedral in New York City, a professional pianist and concertmaster who accompanies famous opera singers ‒ played "Prelude" by Sergei Rachmaninov and "Ukrainian Capriccio" by the contemporary composer V. Ptushkin remarkably on the piano, accompanying all of the performers and also performing himself.
Saxophonist Mykola Klochkov masterfully performed the works of the French composer Fernande Decruck, the Ukrainian folk song "The Deep Well" was sung soulfully by the young singer Vasilisa Serova.
Olga and Isaiah concluded the concert with the lyrical Ukrainian folk song "The Moon in the Sky."
"The concert reflected warm Christian feelings toward the Ukrainian and Russian people on the parts of both the musicians and the audience, who decided to band together to support their brothers and sisters in Ukraine, as well as those who found themselves in other countries, in this difficult time," said George Kirjanov, sharing his impressions of the concert. "It is hard to count how many thousands of Ukrainian refugees really survive thanks to such assistance. We had incredibly talented musicians and singers, and I think that this realization also became a source of inspiration for them.
"The Fund for Assistance to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia is a phenomenal organization that supports ROCOR parishes and clergy around the world and, of course, financially helps the Church in Ukraine through Metropolitan Onuphry, and Ukrainian refugees in different countries – in Germany, for example, through the diocese’s ruling bishop, Metropolitan Mark.
"My relative, Elena Wolkonsky, always supported the arts and the Church and organized charity concerts at least twice a year at the Synod, selecting talented participants. I hope that we will continue this tradition."
…The bright greenery and variety of colors of Manhattan please the eye, and it is difficult for most to imagine the faces of those who, for the past year and a half, have been hearing the approach of military aircraft and deafening explosions, who see daily the reflection of grief and fear in the eyes of family and friends, children and the elderly.
In these terrible days, one very much hopes that these people not forget the words of the most wise King Solomon: "Everything passes ‒ this, too, shall pass." We all know this saying. How these words console in the deepest grief! But it turns out that there was a third phrase on the ring of King Solomon: "Nothing passes away." And let the desire to do good from the hearts of benefactors not go away, and the gratitude of those who received help at the most necessary moment does not go away.