“Natalia Ponomarchuk is one of the Great Ukrainian Conductors” Read the Feature in The New Statesman

11 Apr 2024

Conductor Natalia Ponomarchuk recently sat with Edward Docx to discuss her life and music since leaving Ukraine for a powerful feature interview in The New Statesman.

Docx reports:

“Ponomarchuk is one of the great Ukrainian conductors. In 2001 she was named an Honoured Artist of Ukraine. She was the resident conductor of the country’s National Symphony Orchestra from 2009 to 2011, and she has appeared with top orchestras all over the world – in Spain, Germany, the US, China, Estonia, Lithuania, Brazil and Turkey. She has been the chief conductor of the Kyiv Chamber Orchestra since 2018 and each month she returns to Ukraine to conduct in Kyiv, Odesa and Dnipro. Earlier this year, she conducted an acclaimed performance of Mendelssohn’s Third Symphony (his “Scottish symphony”) in the UK three times. Over the course of our conversations, she is in London, Ukraine, Turkey and Germany.

“’War shows the true faces of people,’ she says. ‘In the face of mortal danger, people change their behaviour. And you become a witness to the incomparable nobility and courage of some people – and, on the other hand, the betrayal and indifference of others. An important experience is to remain human.’ And there is nothing more human than music in all its forms; indeed, music may well be the distilled expression of our better nature.

“We talk about how the scores do not – in one sense – stay the same at all. Far from it. ‘The war has changed me and, yes, this has deeply affected my perception of music. All feelings became sharper: pain, joy, love, happiness, beauty – all categories of life became sharp and intense. The feeling [of conducting now] is very unusual – as if you put on glasses and suddenly you see all the details, all the lines. Beauty has lost the feeling of calm contemplation, for example. On the contrary, the feeling is now that behind [the beautiful passages] there is an immense tragedy somewhere.’” …

“In Mendelssohn’s language, this movement is a description of war,” says Ponomarchuk. (Beneath the many textures, the music is full of fanfare and agitated marching rhythms.) “Everywhere you hear the sound of the battlefield. You can almost see it – as if in a wide, panoramic film shot. And then, towards the end, you suddenly get this solo clarinet followed by a solo bassoon, and they start to rise up and soar above the destruction. The strings are almost silent playing just one note. Everything feels absolutely empty. You know – you just know – that nobody has survived. It’s a sound like the smoke after bombing; as if the clarinet and the bassoon are the only souls left, and so it’s also a lament, a requiem. Then Mendelssohn just stops the music altogether. There’s a pause. Nothing. Like the idea of minute’s silence. And then comes the coda, which is really a prayer.”

Click here to read the full article.

Photo: Alina Harmash