The music festival “Odessa Classics” in Bonn

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“Odessa Classics” is one of the most popular summer festivals in Ukraine. This year it cannot take place in Ukraine because of the war – and is now visiting friends.

Old friends: violinist Daniel Hope and pianist Alexey Botvinov

Odessa, the pearl of the Black Sea, enjoys the status of one of the most important cultural metropolises Of Ukraine. Famous are the city's opera house, which opened in 1809 and was built by a French architect, the philharmonic orchestra and the music schools, where world-class artists such as Sviatoslav Richter, David Oistrakh and Natan Milstein studied. No wonder that Odessa is a magnet for is the international music community.

Numerous artists from all over the world would have made the pilgrimage to Odessa again this summer, including for the popular summer festival “Odessa Classics”. But on February 24, the day Russian troops invaded Ukraine, the world changed. Also for the star violinist Daniel Hope.

“Hope for Peace”

“For many years I have played at the wonderful music festival 'Odessa Classics'', a place that symbolizes the connection between Europe and Asia,” says Hope. He would have loved to have performed again this year in the city where his mentor, the famous violin teacher Zakhar Bron, was also trained.

Those were the days: Daniel Hope and Alexey Botvinov at the 2019 festival in Odessa

It was therefore a matter of the heart for Daniel Hope to bring “Odessa Classics” in  to support these difficult times. As President of the Beethoven House in Bonn, he co-initiated the “Hope for Peace” project – a series of seven benefit concerts that took place from the 5th July to August 23, 2022 in the Beethoven-Haus Bonn. There are artists who have already performed in Odessa or would have done so this summer: including internationally renowned musicians such as the opera singer Thomas Hampson or the violinists Pinchas Zukerman and Michael Barenboim as well as well-known, but also still unknown young Ukrainian artists. Daniel Hope himself will also be on stage.

The concert series was conceived by the founder and artistic director of the “Odessa Classics” festival – the Ukrainian star pianist Alexey Botvinov. “We established 'Odessa Classics' as a European festival for a European city that was and remains our Odessa. That was our response to the Crimean annexation in 2014,” says Botvinov, who comes from an old Odessa artistic dynasty DW.

Needs to be protected: this is what the Odessa Opera House looks like now

Now he is also on the run with his family: “Like many Ukrainian musicians, I was forced to leave my homeland because of the terrible Russian aggression against my country. I try to do as much as possible as an artist and to use every concert opportunity, to draw public attention to the injustice that is currently happening to Ukraine. I believe that the concert series in Bonn is not only a great symbol of solidarity with Ukraine, but also a highly exciting and multifaceted cultural project,” said Botvinov. Before arriving in Bonn, 'Odessa Classics' made stopovers in Tallinn, Estonia, and Thessaloniki, Greece. “The willingness to help was enormous and very touching,” says Alexey Botvinov.

Ukrainian artists visit Beethoven

Like Hope, the director of the Beethoven House and Archive, Malte Boecker, is one of the co-initiators of the project: “We understand the strategic role that Odessa is now playing,” Boecker told DW. “But also what symbolic meaning it has as a cultural city in Ukraine.”

Malte Boecker: “We have to help”

Culture has also suffered from this war, says Boecker. As a culture manager, you can't do anything militarily, but at least draw attention to the situation: “If an entire festival is silenced, we have a responsibility to show the artists a perspective.”

In addition to the emergency aid program launched at the beginning of March as part of the “Hope for Peace” project, the Beethoven-Haus provides housing and scholarships for Ukrainians who have had to leave their homeland. “We want to enable the artists who have fled to continue working artistically or scientifically in Bonn and to realize projects that build cultural bridges,” says Malte Boecker.

“We are fighting for the future of the country”: director Anastasia Verveiko

The scholarship holders also include the young theater director Anastasia Verveiko, who comes from Luhansk and fled Kyiv . “These extremely difficult times shape the identity of Ukraine,” says the 25-year-old. “And we are proud to be a part of the resistance, because we also defend the great European house, our common values. The opportunity to continue living and developing our culture, also here, in Bonn, thanks to the Beethovenhaus, is part of this fight.”

The pianist Alexey Botvinov has also moved into quarters in the Beethovenhaus: “We hope so much that we can meet again in beautiful Odessa,” Botvinov told DW. “But realistically speaking: Unfortunately, it won't be possible again that soon.”