The title of Music Encore Concert Society’s latest series of White Rock Sunday afternoon concerts tells it all: International Music Festival – To Ukraine with Love.
The concerts – all at Mount Olive Lutheran Church (2350 148 St.) – are an opportunity to hear world-class concert musicians perform music by well-known classical composers, and also receive an introduction to some of the great works in the classical repertoire by Ukrainian composers.
They also provide a practical opportunity for Semiahmoo Peninsula residents to show support for the people of Ukraine – and raise funds for humanitarian aid inside the war-ravaged country.
Both causes are close to the heart of the series’ organizer and performer, White Rock resident Eugene Skovorodnikov, born in Luhansk, a city in the eastern part of Ukraine, currently annexed by Russia.
First concert in the series was Feb. 12, when Italian pianist Pasquale Iannone played a concert of works by Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt.
This coming Sunday (Feb. 26) at 3 p.m., Ukrainian pianist Anna Sagalova, accompanied by members of the Harmonia String Ensemble, will play works by Mendelssohn, Kosenko and Maliy.
On March 12 at 3 p.m., Skovorodnikov, also accompanied by a chamber group from the Harmonia String Ensemble, will play works by Mozart, Schubert, Liszt and Lysenko; while on April 2 at 3 p.m., Polish pianist Joanna Trzeciak will play works by Beethoven, Hummel and Chopin.
In organizing the comeback series, Music Encore’s first in close to three years since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, Skovordnikov credits the contributions of Tom Lee Music, including providing, and moving, the Steinway pianos used by the performers.
Co-operation of all the artists involved in the concert series has been unstinting, particularly considering the cause, Skovorodnikov said.
He added he is delighted to present Sagalova in her first local concert (although she has done numerous concerts including two in Toronto and one at UBC since first coming to Canada in June of last year).
“She is an honoured artist of Ukraine – a brilliant pianist and a wonderful teacher,” he said.
Although some who see Sagalova play will find it hard to credit, less than a year ago she and her family spent some 10 days in an improvised bomb shelter – the basement of their apartment building – in Kharkiv, where, until war came, she was the piano professor at the city’s University of the Arts.
“Kharkiv has been particularly heavily-hit, by bombs, by rockets, by artillery,” Skovorodnikov said. “If there had been a direct hit, the apartment building would have collapsed and they would have been crushed.”
Skovordnikov said he has known Sagalova for close to 20 years, since he first returned to Ukraine to perform concerts and teach and she took one of his master classes.
“I loved her playing,” he said. “She’s very sensitive, with a perfect sense of style and sound quality, and a great vitality.”
Skovorodnikov said he was so impressed he introduced Sagalova to his friend, Prof. Gerlinde Otto, piano instructor at the Franz Liszt College of Music in Weimar, Germany.
“Anna took a year-long course with her that was instrumental in starting her concert career,” Skovorodnikov said, adding that he has kept a close watch on her progress ever since.
“When the trouble happened with the war in Ukraine, I gave several fundraising performances and money went to the charitable organizations giving humanitarian aid there,” he said.
“But I realized that, while I couldn’t help everybody there, I could help particular people.”
One of those was Sagalova, with whom he could still communicate in person through webcalls.
Understanding the heavy bombardment Kharkiv was under, first Skovorodnikov and then Otto began to plead with her to consider leaving Ukraine and seek refugee status in either Western Europe or Canada.
“At first she said she didn’t want to go, she wanted to stay with her husband, Denis Panchenko, a guitarist, arranger and composer and their 11-year-old son, Lev.”
Ultimately, Skovorodnikov said, Panchenko was able to persuade her that she could do nothing to help him there, and that it was more important that she and Lev go somewhere where it was safe.
After travelling through Western Ukraine, Poland and Germany, Sagalova and Lev finally were granted visas to come to Canada.
“They arrived last June and my wife and I put them up in a suite in my home for some eight months,” Skovorodnikov said.
“And just recently they have been able to find a home of their own, as she has been working with us at the Vancouver International School of Music and has some other students of her own.”
Skovorodnikov said his own commitment to the series, and other pro-Ukraine projects is unwavering.
“I’ve lived in Canada for 32 years – the best part of my life. I consider myself Canadian. When I was young I went to Russia, studied there, had a lot of Russian friends and colleagues.
“But after Russia annexed areas of Ukraine in 2014, I felt I was becoming more and more a Ukrainian. And then, since the invasion in February of last year, I am saying I am Ukrainian. I love being here, and the freedom we have here. But I feel outraged by what has happened. These are my roots and, in my heart, I am Ukrainian still.”
Tickets for each concert are $40. They are available at the door, or can be reserved through vtixonline.com