For a year and a half, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has saturated U.S. airwaves with images of death, destruction, and despair. Now, the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (KSOC), backed by a Florida-based nonprofit, is out to strike a different note on its monthlong “Hope for Ukraine” tour.
An Explosion of Light
It’s hard to imagine a more enduring expression of joy and faith than the “Hallelujah Chorus” of Handel’s Messiah. And yet, for decades, its exuberant tones — and any other religious music — fell silent behind the ideological walls of the Iron Curtain. When Roger McMurrin, a church music director from Orlando, was invited to Kiev in 1991 to direct local musicians in Messiah’s first performance in 70 years, he was profoundly moved by the experience. For the Ukranian musicians, he later recalled, the new music was like “an explosion of light.”
McMurrin and his wife Diane would later found Music Mission Kiev, a music-based ministry powered by the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (which McMurrin also founded). The KSOC now regularly performs in Ukraine, Canada, and the United States. Its “Hope for Ukraine” tour, running from mid-September to mid-October, will bring the group to 13 church venues from Florida to Ohio. Performances will raise money for humanitarian aid — and hope for the restoration of peace — for Ukraine.
A Unique Repertoire
The KSOC will perform at the First Presbyterian Church of St. Petersburg on Sunday, Sept. 17 at 4 p.m. FPC’s Director of Traditional Worship Music and the Arts Matthew Clear said the concert features sacred choral classics as well as traditional Ukrainian music. The repertoire, he notes, features solely female voices, as none of the group’s male performers may leave their country under current wartime restrictions.
There is no admission fee for the concert, though the Church will collect a freewill offering during the performance. Each host church, Clear explains, commits to raising $20,000 in donations in order to host the KSOC. First Presbyterian, together with other organizations in the Tampa Bay Area, has already met and exceeded this goal with a collection of $23,000.
A Warm Welcome
The experience of organizing the performance, says Clear, has been like nothing else in his career. Community members have come together to provide financial support, housing, and transportation for the 30 KSOC performers. Hosts will treat the group to a tour of the James Museum. They will also visit Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School, where they will sing with and to Clear’s choral students. And, of course, there will be a trip to the beach.
Most of all, Clear hopes the performance will inspire a sense of connection between the audience and the performers, some of whom have not been able to return to their homes for years due to the ongoing conflict.
“This concert truly puts a face on what is happening in the news,” he says. “It’s a whole other level of humanity.”