Ukraine’s most famous living composer is now a refugee
As Russia’s war against Ukraine enters its second month, Valentyn Silvestrov, Ukraine’s best-known living composer, has become a musical spokesman for his country. And like millions of Ukrainians, he has been turned into a refugee by the conflict: Over three days in early March, he and his family made their way by bus from their home in Kyiv to Lviv, and from there across Poland to Berlin, where he is now sheltering.
“We’re more or less OK,” Silvestrov, 84, said in a video call last week. But he added that he remains in shock about the war. “I don’t know how we lived to see this,” he said.
Silvestrov’s subtle, consoling music has taken on new significance for listeners in a war-torn country. “Putin’s bombardments of Kyiv have killed and destroyed people, houses and music,” his friend Kostiantyn Sigov, a professor and book publisher, said by phone from that city. “But with some kind of unbelievable sense of hearing, Silvestrov has realized how they might be resurrected.”
Born in Kyiv in 1937, Silvestrov made his name in the 1960s with avant-garde scores that challenged Soviet aesthetic norms by hovering between austere modernism and eclectic polystylism. The finely textured contrasts and sharp outbursts of his Symphony No. 3, “Eschatophony,” attracted attention from Western experimentalists; the influential composer and conductor Bruno Maderna led it at Darmstadt, a West German contemporary music hotbed, in 1968.