Combat Abroad Touches Hearts at the Colorado Springs Philharmonic
By Kristian DePue
In the early hours of February 24, Vladmir Putin launched a large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine and took control of Chernobyl later that day. With the eyes of the world watching, the invasion has resulted in fear, destruction, death, and heartbreak.
Ukraine is the second largest country on the continent of Europe. Formerly part of Russia and then the USSR, it became independent in 1991, when the Soviet Union dissolved after the Cold War. Tension has existed between the two countries ever since and Ukraine’s sovereignty has been in contention for decades.
Despite being in the spotlight for devastating news, Ukraine is rich with creative culture. Locally, here in the Pikes Peak Region, the Colorado Springs Philharmonic features a Ukrainian native and professional, performing clarinetist, Sergei Vassiliev.
Vassiliev has been making news across Colorado for his impressive, intentional efforts to support his war-torn homeland of “sky over rich land”, represented by the stark visual of the official Ukrainian flag, a horizontal juxtaposition of bright blue over yellow, a beautiful horizon of clear sky over fields of gold.
Vassiliev was born and raised in Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine. The son of musicians, he studied at Kharkiv Special Secondary Music Boarding School, afterward traveling to the United States at age thirteen to attend the
Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan where he played clarinet. That was in the mid-90s, not long after the fall of the Soviet Union. Eventually, he went to the University of Michigan for his undergrad and completed graduate work at Rice
University and the University of Southern California. Vassiliev then auditioned for the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, where he was accepted, and has proudly remained with the impressive institution since then.
“The music of Sergei is always interesting … it takes great musicianship to do what he does,” says Azi Vieira, a performer in the first violin section of the Philharmonic. “Sergei and his wife are people who, if they know you’re going through a tough time, will bring you a home-made dinner.”
Shortly after the Russian invasion, Vassiliev started a fundraiser on behalf of the basic needs of Ukrainians, which has caught the attention of nearly every news avenue throughout the Pikes Peak region. Thanks to the generosity of friends near and far, Vassiliev’s fund is approaching $50,000 raised to date. “The Ukraine still needs money and support more than ever,” emphasizes Vassiliev. “I know it’s hard to understand here in the States, an entire ocean away, but help is still needed. All this money being collected is, or will be, used.” Vassiliev’s brother has his feet on the ground in Ukraine, directing money to people in need. “My brother remains in Kharkiv and has refused to leave,” says Vassiliev. “He’s supporting the fund in tremendous ways.”
Beyond the music, Ukraine is known for its culture, including its hearty cuisine, which Vassiliev describes ecstatically, “Our national food is borscht, which is a great beet soup with meat, and I love it — it’s my favorite. I also love varenyky which is a boiled dumpling, similar to pierogi but often made with fruit — it’s a meal, but a dessert, too.”
The musician has a cultural heritage as deep as his affection for rich culinary delights. One of Vassiliev’s most prominent musical influences was Mykola Vitaliyovych Lysenko (1842 – 1912), a Ukrainian composer, pianist and conductor.
The incredibly talented, thoughtful Vassiliev is continuing, growing, and progressing the melodic landscapes of Lysenko’s laid foundation. He’s also been laying significant foundations here in the Springs.
Vassiliev praises the fighting nature of Ukrainians, citing the country’s history and statements made by President Zelensky, who recently was profiled in an opinion piece in The New York Times titled, “Why We Admire Zelensky.” The Ukrainian leader is an unlikely hero, a comedian who now draws comparisons to Winston Churchill. Zelensky has even paraphrased the World War II British Prime Minister in a defiant speech: “We will fight to the end, at sea, in the air. We will continue fighting for our land, whatever the cost. We will fight in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets,” he told his government, which rose in a standing ovation. As Zelensky continues to fight Putin’s deadly invasion, Vassiliev wages his own battle here at the base of Pikes Peak, raising money for supplies to send to his war-torn country and people.
Sláva Ukrayíni is a Ukrainian national salute, a statement of sovereignty and resistance — and means “Glory to Ukraine!” The first known mention of the slogan was in the late 19th century. A similar phrase, “Glory of Ukraine” has been used since the time of Ukrainian patriotic writer Taras Shevchenko. In his poem “To Osnovyanenko,” Shevchenko wrote:
Our epic and our ancient song
Forever shall remain,
And that is where our glory lies,
The glory of Ukraine
To donate to Sergei Vassiliev’s effort to support the
people of Ukraine, visit his webpage here:www.sergeiclarinet.info/ukraine