After reading gruesome news headlines of the Russia-Ukraine war overseas, inspiration to foster hope and find a way to help them out struck for University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance masters student Valentin Kovalev. 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.” 

“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.

The duo’s performance was part of a larger Ukraine Benefit Concert hosted April 10 by First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor, and organized by Kovalev, featuring students and faculty members of the University of Michigan School of Music Theater and Dance. The benefit concert raised $17,000 to support Razom, who purchased life-saving medical backpacks that were shipped to Ukraine, and to Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County, who is working to help resettle Ukrainian refugees settling in Michigan.

“I think one of our biggest goals is to accept the refugees,” Kovalev said, “to make them feel very comfortable and to have them welcomed.”

Sasha Gusikhin Russian American vocalist and University of Michigan music student Sasha Gusikhin, also performed at the Ukraine benefit concert. She’s supporting Ukraine through the concert because she has extended family in Ukraine and Russia. “I think as a musician it’s our responsibility to use our music to unite others,” she said. “I believe our music can bind us together in the darkest of times.”

After the concert, One Detroit Arts & Culture Producer Sarah Smith caught up with Kovalev and Gusikhin to hear how the benefit concert helped support Ukrainians and about their goal to unite people through music.

Watch Ukraine Benefit Concert:


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