After reading gruesome news headlines of the Russia-Ukraine war overseas, University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance masters student Valentin Kovalev was inspired to foster hope and find a way to help Ukrainians. Kovalev, a Russian saxophonist, immediately called his Ukrainian friend, and pianist, Alexander Polyakov.  In a sign of solidarity, the two came together to perform one of composer Modest Mussorgsky’s most famous works, “The Great Gate of Kyiv.”

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“I think I really changed my mind about how I feel about this music after the 24th of February,” Kovalev said, “I see this music completely in a different way as it is a sign of hope for me and lots of other people.” The saxophone/piano arrangement played by Kovalev and Plyakov was created by Japanese composer Jun Nagao. One Detroit’s Bill Kubota caught up with Kovalev to hear how he hoped the music would make a difference.

Full Transcript:

Valentin Kovalev, Saxophone Alexander Polyakov, Piano: I’m studying here for my master’s degree at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theater and Dance. I’m a Russian saxophonist with deep Ukrainian roots, and for me, it’s very important to show, as a sign of solidarity with Ukraine, that we are, as Russian citizens, we are against of this war. And it’s not our decision to invade this beautiful country, which I visited many times before.

And the whole idea of me doing something about this came to me when at first I read the news online. I was so terrified and so frustrated about the situation, so I called my friend, Ukrainian friend pianist, who was studying here for conducting, and together we decided to play something and record it.

Valentin Kovalev: So, it was, “Great Gate of Kyiv”, at the last movement of pictures at an exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky. So together we recorded that piece as a sign of kind of a friendship between Russians and Ukrainians, that we used to, and we will make music together, not war.

This is one of the most famous works by Modest Mussorgsky, and this is the last movement of the piece. This piece has lots of imitations of bells, and those bells, for me, represent hope for a brighter future for all of us.

But the fact that we are playing it together, Russian and Ukrainian citizens, and he was actually born in Kiev, my friend pianist, so we have a lot of connection towards this piece and we feel this very important to bring it to life.

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