Roman Rewakowicz’s performance
at the Conference of the Association
of Polish Philharmonics in Katowice.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
Thank you very much for the opportunity to participate in the Conference of the Association of Polish Philharmonics with the important topic of Ukrainian music for me.
Let me briefly tell you why exactly Ukrainian music, why I know about it and what I propose.
Ukrainianness – I can say so – has accompanied me since birth. I am a descendant of the victims of Operation Vistula, which in 1947 forcibly dispersed some 140,000 Ukrainians from the southeastern part of Poland’s post-war borders across the Recovered Territories. This is how I saw the world in the beautiful city of Lidzbark Warmiński, in what is now the Warmian-Masurian province.
This Ukrainian dimension was very important to my parents – both in terms of culture and the language itself – they spoke Ukrainian among themselves at home, but already in the hallway of our four-family house and further beyond – they changed their language to Polish. We hid our origins for fear of social ostracism. So I grew up in two worlds Polish and Ukrainian at the same time.
When music appeared in my life – it was quite late, as it was only at the end of elementary school – the world for me ceased to exist. Music was everything to me from then on, and it has remained that way to this day. Despite my late start in learning the piano – I began this study at the age of 15 – I graduated from the Secondary Music School in Olsztyn on this instrument. It also became clear that a piano career was not my destiny, but music did not stop being it. I graduated from music theory at the Warsaw Academy of Music, studying composition there as well.
At the time, the Ukrainian dimension came to me only on family visits to Lidzbark Warmiński on holidays two weeks late from those generally accepted.
In no classes during my studies did the subject of Ukrainian music appear. Even in lectures on folklore there was no place for Ukrainian music.
And yet all the time we were and are neighbors of a nation of more than 45 million people with a centuries-old culture in which music has always held a special place.
In the years I am referring to here – in the 1970s and 1980s, if Ukrainianness in the Polish public space appeared, it was rather as a reminder of the dark times of World War II. Positive information was not encountered. Also, the dimension of Ukrainian high culture was completely absent. One did not encounter Ukrainian repertoire in musical institutions, there was none on theater stages.
It simply did not exist in Poland.
A turning point in my life was meeting with the amateur Ukrainian Men’s Choir “Zhuravli” (Polish for cranes), in which I first sang and then became a conductor. The choir exists to this day and is a symbolic form of overcoming Operation “Vistula” – in the ensemble sing choristers from all over Poland, who come together once every few months in a selected place for several days of rehearsals and concerts.
And here began for me the process of learning about Ukrainian musical traditions, about which I knew almost nothing. And they are especially in the sphere of choral music very rich. 10 years of work with this choir led me to another study, this time of conducting, and this was followed by an attempt to appear in musical life as a conductor.
Contacts with Ukraine, especially Lviv, turned out to be very important, where together with the Lviv music community in 1995 I founded the “Contrasts” Festival of Contemporary Music, which is still an important platform for new music in Ukraine.
Already at the second festival in 1996, we had an extremely important concert – a performance of Krzysztof Penderecki’s “Polish Requiem” at the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Lviv, with the participation of Poland’s leading soloists and the Krakow Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Penderecki. This was Krzysztof Penderecki’s first musical visit to Ukraine. It was followed by others. Thanks to my activity, the Ukrainian premiere of Penderecki’s “Credo” in Kiev in March 1999 was earlier than the Polish one. It was held in Warsaw that year in September.
Since the 1990s, I have been building Polish-Ukrainian musical bridges. This is served by the Pro Musica Viva Foundation, founded 25 years ago, and its flagship project, the Days of Ukrainian Music in Warsaw, the 9th edition of which was held this year in September. Here I want to sincerely thank Mr. Wojciech Nowak – director of the National Philharmonic and Mr. Andrzej Kosendiak – director of the National Forum of Music for the participation of their ensembles in our festival. We also regularly present Polish music in Ukraine with the participation of all the country’s symphony orchestras. In 2013, for example, I organized 10 concerts in Ukraine dedicated to the 100th anniversary of Witold Lutoslawski’s birth.
During these 25 years of the Foundation’s operation, I managed to organize and conduct more than 200 concerts and musical events.
This historical perspective leads me to one more memory. I remember how in 2005, during the first protest in Kiev’s Maidan – at that time an all-Ukrainian rebellion prevented Viktor Yanukovych from coming to power – Polish media covered the protests and how Poland stood emotionally by the struggling Ukrainian people. This, in my memory, was the first manifestation of such strongly manifested Polish sympathy for Ukraine. Also, subsequent freedom uprisings in Ukraine have always had a positive response in Polish society. This great Polish empathy for the tragedy that began on February 24 last year surpassed all assumptions and various expert analyses, which at the beginning of this war expressed concern about the wave of refugees from Ukraine. The wave was large – mainly mothers with children were fleeing. Despite this large wave, Poland hospitably and cordially opened itself to this terrible misfortune, astonishing the world and probably themselves.
Someone will ask – why am I talking about this at this conference. Here again I will return to a thought already stated – what is the matter of knowledge about Ukraine, its culture, its identity?
The war that is going on beyond our eastern border is of a dimension and character comparable to the military actions of the Second World War. Here, it must be said directly – Russia does not recognize the independence and subjectivity of Ukraine. For Russia, Ukraine is part of its mental and cultural space. To contradict this thesis today Ukrainians are dying on the frontlines. One could talk at length about the absurd grounds of Russian usurpation. Suffice it to say that Kiev is the origin not of Russia, but of Ukraine, and dates back to the 5th century. In the 11th century, Kiev had a population of 30,000, while Paris, for example, had only 3,000. At that time Moscow was a dumb province. In my opinion, there is no point in dwelling on the Russian false vision of history. It is a fact, the reality of which is reinforced by Russian aggression. It is taking place just across our eastern border. Perhaps it is worth adding here how much Russia has done to prevent Ukraine from existing. In 1876, the tsar banned the use of the Ukrainian language in print. In the 1930s, Stalin’s regime executed thousands of Ukrainian cultural figures. In those 1930s, the Great Famine in Ukraine claimed several million lives.
Ukraine is defending itself thanks to the support of the civilized Western world – Poland is of extraordinary importance here. Without this support, it is clear that Ukraine will not resist this expansion. What will happen if Ukraine is absorbed by Russia? Russian tanks will stand on the eastern side of the Bug River. The question – for how long? How long will we then wait for this eastern wilderness of the Bug to cross over and set up Bucha, Irpin and other Ukrainian sites in Polish cities that have been touched by the fate of meeting a Russian soldier.
There is also another question – how long will the world be able to help Ukraine. And why it should do so.
How visionary and pertinent and how current are the words of Jerzy Giedroyc (others say Jozef Pilsudski) – There is no free Poland without a free Ukraine.
Ann Appelbaum, in one of her articles at the beginning of the full-scale war, showed emphatically that without a free Ukraine, the European Union, world peace and democratic order are at risk.
And here I come to the purpose of my statement. It is in our own interest – that we secure our peace – to build a feeling in Polish society of the importance of Ukraine.
You have a wonderful instrument for this – the instrument of the philharmonic. Last year, after that Russian aggression against Ukraine, the need arose to show examples of Ukrainian high culture in philharmonic repertories as well. I have to say that I feel that this was more of a momentary reaction to the long-standing Ukrainian stage absence, rather than a planned action that would lead to a radical change in this situation.
Again, let me remind you – Ukraine has a chance to defend itself only with global, including Polish, support. Ukrainians today are crying out – give us iron, our people will pay the price of blood so that you do not have to pay it.
You also know what kind of response this cry finds. With what caution the Western world is increasing aid. This caution is also understandable – a nuclear catastrophe hangs over us, the consequences of which today no one can predict.
What can the world of music culture in Poland do today in this context? Build the validity of Ukraine.
How can it be done? It’s simpler than you might think.
Set yourself the task of posting one Ukrainian piece once a month. Give such a series a name – “Getting to know Ukraine”. Urge your conductors and soloists to learn this repertoire and present it with your orchestras to your audience. Put the slogan – “We get to know Ukraine” – in your media space. Ukraine today is also defending us and fighting for our future – let’s get to know its culture. Let’s find out what her sons and daughters are dying for. Let’s show the world how we support Ukraine in the music space in Poland.
I want to emphatically emphasize – Ukrainian music (and Ukrainian culture more broadly) deserves to be known. Let me just mention the works of Valentin Silvetrov, Boris Latoshinsky, or from the younger generation Bohdana Frolak, Oleksandr Shymka and Zoltan Almashi. Their music will surround the philharmonic programs.
In the context of the repertoire, the question arises about the presence of Russian music. I, for one, have my own clear view on the subject. In my opinion, at a time when Russia is destroying Ukraine, and in its civilizational aspirations – also the Western world, this West should expose Russian culture to the margins. Not because it is a culture not worthy of attention. On the contrary, it is a great, significant culture for civilization. But today she is fulfilling the role of mentally softening the Moscow regime in the eyes of the world. This question then arises – Putin and his camarilla cannot be as bad as they are portrayed with such a great culture. This is my conviction. The great Russian repertoire should return to civilized halls after Russian aggression is stopped. Let’s not help Russia prove that nothing happened, and that Ukraine is Russia’s sphere of influence and no one has anything to do with it.
To sum up – I urge you to take into account this Ukrainian dimension and the need to build the importance of Ukraine in our society when creating your programs. This will allow you to continue helping Ukraine. Already voices are being raised that it is too much, that it is at our expense. So that this cost is not even greater, our society should feel the importance of this aid. The presence of this dimension of Ukrainian high culture in the Polish public space can solidify this favorability of our society for Ukraine, also strengthening our security.
And one more geopolitical aspect. Ukraine aspires to join the Western world, the European and Euro-Atlantic structures. Ukraine and Poland together have a population of about 80 million, a huge economic and human potential. Good relations with Ukraine are our strength. This is one more argument in favor of this cultural investment in Ukraine.
Finally, the practical dimension. I am ready to provide any assistance to you in finding Ukrainian repertoire for your concerts – pro bono. The website of the Pro Musica Viva Foundation www.pmv.org.pl contains a lot of information about Ukrainian music. There is my text on the musical culture of Ukraine – https://pmv.org.pl/kultura/muzyczna-kultura-ukrainy/ . Here short biographies of Ukrainian composers – https://pmv.org.pl/indeks-kompozytorow/
In the link “Days of Ukrainian Music” (https://pmv.org.pl/dni-muzyki-ukrainskiej/ ) you will find reports from nine editions of this festival. At the bottom of each page view there is a downloadable PDF of the program book of each edition of the festival, with lots of information and discussion of this music. Next to the programs listed are links to recordings from the last several editions of the festival, posted on You Tube.
Let’s learn about Ukraine for our future – our security and in our own interest!