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Extended Concert Programme: National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine | Tue 17 October 2023

A large room where an orchestra is sitting down underneath a glass chandelier.

Bristol Beacon presents 

National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine

Tue 17 October 2023, 7.30pm
Bath Forum

This evening’s performance:

Volodymyr Sirenko Conductor
Aleksey Semenenko Soprano
National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine

Lyatoshynsky Grazhyna
Bruch Violin Concerto No 1
Sibelius Symphony No 1



We are excited to return to the UK for the first time in 22 years and we are deeply grateful to the UK government, the 17 tour venues and UK tour promoters enabling this ambitious tour to take place.

We are fighting for the recognition of Ukrainian culture all over the world. Ukraine is not Russia; Ukrainian music is not Russian. It is special, original, self-sufficient, and beautiful.

We feel emotional every time we perform now as we convey what is in our hearts through music. On the one hand, there is pain, sadness, suffering, and on the other hand, faith in the victory of Ukraine and the prosperous future of our country.

Alexander Hornostai
Managing Director and Producer, NSOU


It is a privilege and an honour to welcome Ukraine’s national symphony orchestra to the UK and to present the opening night performance of their 17-venue tour – their biggest tour of the UK in 100 years. We welcome this opportunity to show that the people of the UK support these artists and recognise the importance of Ukrainian culture.

I have no doubt that this will be an incredibly special and poignant evening and a fitting prelude to our reopening of Bristol Beacon on Thu 30 November. We have built a celebratory place full of warmth and light, where music lovers meet and everyone belongs: we very much hope that you will join us over our reopening weekend. Please find our programme of events at

Louise Mitchell CBE
Chief Executive, Bristol Beacon

Boris Lyatoshynsky (1895-1968): Grazhyna (1955)

Andante sostenuto – Allegro risoluto – Poco meno mosso – Con moto e poco agitato – Andante – Allegro – Poco sostenuto

The Symphonic Ballade, Grazhyna, was composed to mark the centenary of the death of the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855); Mickiewicz was the prominent Polish writer in the first half of the nineteenth century. He wrote the narrative poem, Grazhyna, in 1822 whilst staying in Vilnius and it celebrates the life of a mythical Lithuanian chieftain and her battles against the army of the Order of the Teutonic Knights leading to her death at the hands of her enemies. Grazhyna had disguised herself as her husband in order to lead the Lithuanian troops into battle and her death is marked at the climax of the symphonic poem.

Lyatoshynsky wrote a detailed programme note at the head of the orchestral score, highlighting the events being portrayed. The seven tempo markings listed above mark the turning points in the story.

The structural pillars of western sonata-form can be detected, the work opening in the depths with a slow introduction (Andante sostenuto); lower strings intone a chant that seems to have been proceeding before the music begins. After two minutes, a memorably expressive cor anglais solo makes its first appearance, and this can be heard as a musical portrayal of the eponymous heroine. We are then hurtled into the first battle sequence (Allegro risoluto), marked by trumpet fanfares and solemn brass chords. Emotional relief (Poco meno mosso) comes with what can be described as sonata-form secondary subject material, with prominent harp and falling string phrases depicting the pity of war.

Increasingly busy timpani and relentless forward motion (Con moto e poco agitato) suggest that we are moving towards the climax of the battle, with a powerful brass chorale-like theme. After we reach the climax, there is a quieter plateau (Andante) as two tam-tam strokes mark the death of Grazhyna, with the timpani providing an appropriate funereal tread, alongside lamentation by strings and horns. However, her death is transfigured through an emotional apotheosis (Allegro), with a more optimistic major mode suggesting her ultimate victory in the struggle. Finally, the slow introductory music returns (Poco sostenuto), with Grazhyna’s cor anglais melody once more prominent in the texture. The symphonic poem gradually ebbs away to silence, ending with two plucked notes on lower strings.

Lyatoshynsky composed this work just two years after the death of Stalin, at a time when there was increased hope for greater freedom in the USSR. Here we have a Ukrainian composer marking the anniversary of a Polish poet, who was describing the Lithuanian struggle for independence. All three countries can no doubt identify with the emotions expressed in what many consider to be Lyatoshynsky’s greatest orchestral composition.

© Timothy Dowling

Max Bruch (1838-1920): Violin Concerto No 1 (1866, rev 1867)

1. Vorspiel (Allegro moderato)
2. Adagio
3. Finale (Allegro energico)

For five years this work topped Classic FM’s Hall of Fame and it remains Bruch’s most popular work, indeed the only work by which he is widely known, other than his shorter Kol Nidrei for cello and orchestra (1881).

Despite its appearance of having been composed in the white-heat of inspiration, Bruch’s Concerto had a difficult gestation and he revised it thoroughly after its first performance in 1866 with advice from the greatest violinist of the nineteenth century, Josef Joachim. After some six re-writes (according to Bruch himself), the version we know today was premiered in early 1868.

Like Mendelssohn’s Concerto the soloist opens Bruch’s Concerto, but this first movement is unusually titled ‘Vorspiel’ (Prelude) and it has a sense of constant anticipation, as if it is an introduction rather than the Concerto’s main centre of gravity. Thus Bruch’s structure does not follow the classic example of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, as Brahms was to do just a decade later.

After the rather restless opening theme we are transported to a radiant episode in the relative major key (B flat). An orchestral tutti passsage then leads to a mini-cadenza section and the soloist exchanges questions and answers (or perhaps more questions) with the woodwind.

This leads directly to the central Adagio movement of the Concerto in a warm E flat major, surely the slowly beating heart of this work. The Adagio is based on three inspired themes that combine together very effectively at its climax before drawing to a peaceful close.

However, not a full close, because the Finale clearly needs to follow directly, as its ‘opening’ in E flat major carries on the tonality of the Adagio before moving back to the Concerto’s home key of G, with a lively Hungarian dance-type tune in the major key. This alternates with a glorious second theme which could have Elgar’s nobilmente inscribed as its marking in the score. But there is no Elgarian lingering here and Bruch rushes headlong towards an exultant ending.

There have been advocates for his later concertos, but in truth Bruch never recaptured the spontaneous rapture of this romantic warhorse. Sadly, he sold the rights for the work cheaply early on and its unending popularity (together with his failure to live up to the inspiration of the G minor Concerto) was a source of bitter regret in the later years of his long life. Like his close contemporary Saint-Saëns (1835-1921), Bruch remained oblivious to the developments in music across Europe at the turn of the nineteenth century and he died virtually in poverty and oblivion in 1920.

Bruch’s G minor Concerto owes much to Mendelssohn’s E minor Concerto, just as Grieg’s A minor Piano Concerto is similarly indebted to Schumann’s in the same key. The Concertos by Bruch and Grieg are often paired together with their respective role models. Perhaps the original models do strike deeper chords, but there is no denying the sheer romantic attraction of the two works inspired by the timeless masterpieces of Mendelssohn and Schumann.

© Timothy Dowling

Jean Sibelius (1865-1957): Symphony No 1 (1899)

1. Andante ma non troppo – Allegro energico – Tranquillo – Tempo I (Allegro energico) – Tranquillo – a tempo
2. Andante (ma non troppo lento) – Molto tranquillo – Tempo I
3. Scherzo: Allegro – Lento (ma non troppo) – Tempo I
4. Finale: Quasi una fantasia: Andante – Allegro molto – Andante assai – Allegro molto come prima – Andante (ma non troppo) – Più largamente poco a poco

Sibelius concentrated on instrumental and chamber music in the 1880s and only moved into the orchestral world in the early 1890s, focussing purely on programmatic and illustrative music. He did not shy away from larger forms, as demonstrated by his large-scale Kullervo Symphonic Poem, in 1892. Sibelius later referred to this as his ‘Kullervo Symphony’ but made it clear that it was not one of his symphonies. The other large-scale orchestral composition of this period was the Suite of Four Legends, known as the Lemminkäinen Suite. Alongside several other works, both Kullervo and the Lemminkäinen Suite derived their inspiration from the Kalevala (1835-1849), a nineteenth-century work of epic poetry compiled by the physician and philologist Elias Lönrot (1802-1884) from Karelian and Finnish oral folklore and mythology.

Sibelius was closely involved with Finland’s struggle towards independence, providing stirring music to accompany various pageants that celebrated Finnish history and national identity. His first substantial contribution was the incidental music for a series of historical tableaux for the Karelian homeland in 1893 (Karelia Suite). The Russian Czarist authorities became increasingly concerned by the political situation in the Duchy of Finland and the authoritarian response was increased censorship.

Sibelius was then asked to compose music for the ‘Press Celebrations’, part of a mass movement to counter the censure of free speech in Finland. Sibelius provided a Prelude and music for six tableaux, each portraying either historical or mythical events connected with Finland. The last of these tableaux, Finlandia, remains one of his most popular compositions and was composed around the same time that he started work on his First Symphony.

Inevitably, contemporary audiences assumed that there would be a political message and/or programme for his Symphony No. 1, but Sibelius was always very clear that his symphonies cannot be interpreted in these simplistic terms. Sibelius later declared his personal vision of the symphony:

‘A symphony is not a composition in the ordinary sense. Rather, it is a declaration of faith…. A better name for the symphonies would be: ‘prayer’. Preghiera. Although misleading….’

‘A propos symphonies: for me, they are declarations of faith at different ages. That is why all of mine are so different: Tempora mutantur et nos illis mutamur [Times change, and we change with them.].’

Several years later, when Karl Ekman was writing his biography of Sibelius (published in 1935), Sibelius recalled a discussion with Mahler in 1907: ‘When our conversation touched on the essence of the symphony, I said that I admired its strictness and the profound logic that creates an inner connection between all the motifs. This was my conviction, based on my creative work. Mahler had a wholly opposite opinion: “No!” he exclaimed, “the symphony must be like the world. It must contain everything.” ’

And so, Sibelius was driven by his inner need to find and express the profound logic in his musical material; the opening movement of his First Symphony provides one of the great examples of his newfound symphonic mastery. It demonstrates the musical journey that Sibelius had travelled in the seven years since his Kullervo Symphony, although admittedly Kullervo was a programme work that did not necessarily require the same depth of thematic development.

Given the prevailing political mood at the time it is ironic that the main musical inspiration seems to come from the Russian symphonists, and particularly Tchaikovsky. This is not surprising given that the Pathétique had been premiered in Helsinki 1894, following its premiere in St Petersburg just weeks before Tchaikovsky’s death in November 1893. Sibelius himself said, ‘There is much in that man that I recognize in myself.’

Commentators have drawn attention to the similarity between the main theme of the opening movement and that of Alexander Borodin’s First Symphony, premiered some thirty years prior to Sibelius’s own First Symphony in 1869. Sibelius denied having heard Borodin’s work although there is a report of it having been performed in Helsinki in the 1890s.

The opening clarinet solo could not be more unassuming, as it steals in espressivo over the pianissimo drum roll and much of the following music can be traced back to this introductory Andante, ma non troppo, growing organically from the various phrases quietly sung by clarinet. Its most dramatic return will come at the start of the Finale, when it returns forte (largamente ed appassionato) on full body of strings.

The first movement is notable for its dramatic sweep and sense of forward momentum, with powerful rhythms always taking us to the next stage of development. Even the contrasting pastoral-type music, with birdlike calls first heard on a pair of flutes, can be traced back to that opening clarinet solo.

Sibelius had learnt his art as a musical story-teller in his earlier symphonic poems and he now employs those same musical devices to portray an abstract emotional drama. Each listener can identify with the powerful emotions herein portrayed without necessarily being able to translate them into words.

The two middle movements are perhaps more straightforward; each demonstrates the respective Russian and Austro-German musical traditions that inspired Sibelius. The Russian-influenced slow movement is dominated by the brooding main theme on muted strings, with its gently sighing motif. The radical change in atmosphere after the opening movement is managed by the unusual choice of key, stepping down a semitone from the first movement’s E minor to a warm E flat major. The memorable theme recurs between various episodes, including characteristically powerful brass-fanfares and further pastoral woodwind sections.

The Scherzos of Beethoven’s Third Symphony (Eroica) and Bruckner’s Third Symphony (which Sibelius heard whilst in Vienna in 1890) are echoed in the quiet, pulsating energy of Sibelius’s third movement, similarly turning pastoral for a peaceful central interlude. Again, the new sound-world is partly down to the unusual choice of key, starting out in a bright C major for the faster outer sections, before swaying into E major for the more reflective central ‘trio’ section.

Sibelius labelled his Finale ‘Quasi una Fantasia’, although its formal structure is relatively straightforward after the complexities of the opening movement. As mentioned earlier, the Finale opens with an anguished restatement of the Symphony’s opening clarinet solo on full-bodied strings as part of a slow introduction to the main body of the movement. Its hesitant phrases, interrupted by four dramatic pauses, give way to an Allegro molto, initially bursting with energy. Sibelius soon introduces a heartfelt Tchaikovskian theme, sung by massed first and second violins on their richest G string, cantabile ed espressivo, with harp arpeggios confirming its romantic quality. After the energetic development section this theme returns in full glory at the emotional climax of the work; however, the concluding bars remain far more ambivalent, Sibelius quietly signing off with pizzicato strings, echoing the sparse conclusion of the first movement. Sibelius has no plan as yet to match Finlandia’s unambiguously triumphant conclusion; his Second Symphony will soon continue his symphonic journey, this time achieving triumph through very different means.

Given his dedication to programmatic music through the 1890s, Sibelius’s First Symphony marks a major change in direction, the first of his seven completed symphonies composed over the next quarter century. His determination to stay true to absolute music has meant that all seven symphonies have obstinately avoided all attempts at suggested external programmes or additional titles.

Curious listeners might like to explore the Symphony in F minor by Sibelius’s younger Finnish contemporary, Ernst Mielck (1877-1899). This was premiered in 1897, just two years prior to the premiere of Sibelius’s own First Symphony. Sakari Oramo has recorded this work in a dramatic performance with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Sadly, Mielck died at the age of 22 in the same year that Sibelius presented the start of his own symphonic journey.

© Timothy Dowling

Volodymyr Sirenko

Volodymyr Sirenko was born in 1960 in the Poltava region of Ukraine.

His conducting debut took place at the Kyiv Philharmonic Hall in 1983 with works by Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Boulez. In 1989, Sirenko graduated from the Kyiv Conservatoire where he studied conducting under Prof. Allin Vlasenko. In 1990, he was a finalist at the International Conducting Competition in Prague. A year later, he was appointed as Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Ukrainian Radio Symphony Orchestra, a position which he held until 1999. During this period, he made over 200 recordings with the orchestra, including Mozart Symphonies Nos. 38 and 41, Beethoven Symphony No. 9, Brahms A German Requiem, Dvorak Symphonies Nos. 7 and 9, R. Strauss Macbeth, Janacek Taras Bulba.

Since 1999 he has been the Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. Highlights include cycles of Gustav Mahler’s Complete Symphonies, Bach’s four Passions and Mass in B Minor, Lyatoshynsky’s Complete Symphonies, Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher, Berlioz’s La damnation de Faust, and Debussy’s Le Martyre de St. Sebastien.

He has recorded over 50 recordings with the orchestra and the CD of Silvestrov’s Requiem for Larissa was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2005. He has premiered many works by Ukrainian composers including Sylvestrov’s Symphonies Nos. 7, 8, 9, Stankovych’s Symphony No. 6, oratorios A Tale of Igor’s Campain and Taras Passion.

Sirenko has toured Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, China, Korea, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.

He has worked with many international orchestras including the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sinfonia Warsovia, NOSPR (Katowice), the Bratislava Radio Symphony, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, Israel Sinfonietta, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, BBC Philharmonic. Sirenko has appeared in numerous concert halls around the world, including Concertgebouw (Amsterdam), Berliner Philharmoniker, Brucknerhaus (Linz), Barbican Hall and Cadogan Hall (London), Theatre des Champs-Elysees and Opera Comique (Paris), Teatro La Fenice (Venice), Seoul Art Center, Palau de la Musica in Valencia and Centro Manuel de Falla in Granada, Filharmonia Narodowa (Warsaw), the Roy Thomson Hall (Toronto), the Tokyo City Opera and the Osaka Symphony Hall. He is also Professor of Opera and Symphonic Conducting at the National Music Academy of Ukraine.


Aleksey Semenenko

The refined, impassioned and commanding playing of Ukrainian violinist Aleksey Semenenko identify him as inheritor of the great Odessa violin tradition and earnt him places on both the BBC New Generation Artists scheme and Young Concert Artists in New York, bringing him to the attention of audiences across Europe and the US.

He has given recitals at Snape Maltings, Wigmore Hall, the Kennedy Center and Alice Tully Hall, and performed concertos with orchestras including BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Philharmonic, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Seattle Symphony, Orchestra of St Luke’s, National Orchestra of Belgium, Ulster Orchestra, Kyiv Symphony and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. His festival performances include invitations at the Hay, Cheltenham and Edinburgh festivals. This season, Semenenko tours with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine under the baton of Volodymyr Sirenko.

The most recent addition to Semenenko’s discography is his new album ‘Crossroads’ on BIS, with pianist Artem Belogurov, featuring sonatas by Previn, Schemmer and Gay. The launch of the album was marked by a Wigmore Hall recital in which the duo performed a selection of American works.

Semenenko began his violin studies at the age of six with Zoya Mertsalova at the Stolyarsky School, making his solo debut with orchestra only a year later with the Odessa Philharmonic. He completed his studies with Zakhar Bron and Harald Schoneweg at Cologne’s Hochschule für Musik and was a prize winner in the 2015 Queen Elizabeth Violin Competition. Alongside his performing career, Semenenko is Violin Professor at the Folkwang Universität der Künste. He is kindly supported by the Deutsche Stiftung Musikleben.


National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine

Formed by the Council of Ministers of Ukraine in November of 1918, the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine is considered to be one of the finest symphony orchestras in Eastern Europe. Its first conductor was Oleksander Horilyj. Natan Rachlin was the Artistic Director of the Orchestra from 1937 until 1962. Stefan Turchak, Volodymyr Kozhuchar, Fedir Hlushchenko, Igor Blazhkov and Theodore Kuchar consequently conducted the Orchestra as its Principal Conductors. Other conductors who worked with the NSOU include Kostiantyn Simeonov, Leopold Stokowski, Igor Markevitch, Kurt Sanderling, Kiril Kondrashin, Kurt Masur, Hermann Abendroth, Willy Ferrero and others. Soloists who performed with the NSOU include Artur Rubinstein, Yehudi Menuhin, Isaac Stern, David Oistrakh, Sviatoslav Richter, Mstislav Rostropovich, Emil Gilels, Leonid Kogan, Gidon Kremer, Oleh Krysa, Monserrat Caballe, Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo, Andrea Bocelli and Juan Diego Flores. The NSOU was entrusted with the premier performances of the works of the following composers: Boris Lyatoshynsky, Valentyn Sylvestrov, Myroslav Skoryk, and Evgen Stankovych.

The Orchestra has gained international recognition over a remarkably short period of time. Since 1993, the NSOU has released more than 100 sound recordings which include both Ukrainian and international repertoires. Most of these recordings have received the highest international acclaim. In 1994, the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) rated NSOU’s recording of Boris Lyatoshynsky’s Symphonies No. 2 and No. 3 as “The Best Recording of the Year”.  The CD of Sylvestrov’s Requiem for Larissa was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2005. The CD of Bloch and Lees’ Violin Concertos was nominated for a Grammy Award four years later. The NSOU has performed in successful concert tours throughout Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, England, Hong Kong, Iran, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates and the United States of America. Volodymyr Sirenko is the Artistic Director & Chief Conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. Oleksandr Hornostai is Managing Director & Producer of the Orchestra.

Orchestra Credits

Violin 1
Maksym Grinchenko (Concertmaster)
Markiyan Hudziy
Vitalii Lieonov
Tetiana Khomenko
Roman Poltavets
Oksana Kot
Olena Poltavets
Valery Kuzik
Oleg Lytvynenko
Olga Mykhailiuk
Andrii Koliada
Kateryna Kurysheva
Olena Gusarova
Zhanna Kurtyk

Violin 2
Halyna Hornostai
Viktoriia Hanapolska
Andriy Mazko
Valentyna Petrychenko
Oleksii Sechen
Hanna Shkil
Valentyna Voskresenska
Mykhailo Zolotov
Tetiana Nikonenko
Nadiia Novikova
Vasyl Bakalov
Olena Litovchenko

Oleksandr Pohoryelov
Galyna Nemeczek
Mykola Ivanov
Orest Krysa
Olha Andriienko
Bogdan Fesiuk
Sofiia Starodub
Tetiana Kholodova

Mykola Liubenko
Vira Kornilova
Serhii Vakulenko
Olena Ikaieva
Tetiana Miastkovska
Ihor Yarmus
Yevhen Skrypka
Nataliia Subbotina

Double Bass
Yakiv Seniv
Oleksandr Neshchadym
Serhii Zhelezniak
Taras Butko
Volodymyr Kaveshnikov
Oleksandr Siryi

Igor Chura
Mykola Mykytei
Larysa Plotnikova

Hennadii Kot
Valentyn Makodzeba
Yurii Litun

Yurii Nabytovych
Pavlo Boiko
Viktor Hornostai

Taras Osadchyi
Alexandra Naumov
Ihor Nechesnyi

Yosup Apostol
Valentyn Marukhno
Kostiantyn Sokol
Iuliia Shevchenko
Sviatoslav Kuzmenko

Iurii Kornilov
Viktor Davydenko
Roman Oleksiienko
Oleksandr Shevchuk

Andrii Holovko
Mykola Artiushenko
Andrii Zymenko

Oleksiy Kobzist

Dmytro Ulianov

Danylo Shurygin
Oleg Sokolov
Hennadii Khlopotov
Georgii Orobinskyi

Veronika Lemishenko

Orchestra Staff
Oleksandr Hornostai – Managing Director & Producer
Roman Oleksiienko – Deputy Managing Director
Elmar Orro – Stage Manager
Mykola Moisieiv – Stage Manager

IMG Artists
Head of UK Touring
Mary Harrison
UK Tours Manager
Fiona Todd
UK Tours & Special Projects Manager
Julia Smith
UK Touring Consultant
Andrew Jamieson