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Playing for the Ukrainian Children

Susan Warner, Acting Principal Clarinet, and Ian Hallas, Principal Bass, demonstrating their instruments for the group

Neil Kimel, horn

Neil Kimel (horn) spoke with Preman Tilson (principal bassoon) about concerts he organized to benefit Ukrainian refugee children. N: How did this particular concert come about?

P: We organized a benefit concert for Ukraine in April of 2022, which was very successful. Much of the Lyric Opera Orchestra and part of the Lyric Opera Chorus participated, Mayor Lightfoot and Cardinal Supich attended. We raised quite a bit of money, most of which went toward helping Ukrainian refugee children come to Chicago and attend St Nicholas Cathedral School. A group of children from the school also came to Lyric to see Fiddler on the Roof in October, and we had a chance to meet them. I spotted an article in the Chicago Sun-Times about the school and the experiences of the refugees and it occurred to me that it would be an excellent idea for some of the Lyric musicians to do a concert for them at their school.

N: Approximately how many students were in attendance and how many were from Ukraine?

P: There were a few hundred students in attendance, many of whom are from Ukrainian backgrounds and a few dozen refugee children who attend the school.

N: What did you perform for the children and why did you select that music?

P: By sheer chance, the players who volunteered made up the exact instrumentation of the Beethoven Septet (clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello and bass), so that was the obvious choice of repertoire! I arranged the Ukrainian National Anthem for the same instrumentation so that we could perform it with the students singing, and we demonstrated each of our instruments for them as well.

N: Did you have any favorite moments of the morning and why?

P: It’s difficult to pick just one. Playing the Ukrainian National Anthem with the entire student body singing in Ukrainian was the emotional high point for sure; I also enjoyed taking questions from the students. Seeing so much media interest and watching my colleagues being interviewed after the concert was also gratifying.

N: Why is it essential to perform music for young audiences?

P: Classical music can only survive in the future if new generations have contact with it. Recordings are great, but there is nothing better than live music, especially having a direct interchange with real musicians. These are the kinds of experiences that plant the seeds for a lifelong interest in music.

N: Do you have an early memory of hearing live music for the first time, and did it impact your life?

P: I grew up in a non-musical family, but recorded music was significant to us. I heard a wide range of music, from opera and classical to contemporary and older popular music. My early exposure to live music was limited, but I do remember being taken to Lincoln Center to hear Mozart's chamber music for strings, winds and piano, and we had seats right on stage, very close to the performers. That definitely made a big impression on me! I knew very early on that being a musician was the life I wanted.

The group with St. Nicholas Cathedral School Principal Anna Cirilli

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