Swedish conductor: Ukraine fights to be a free country with free art, not Russia

Swedish conductor Daniel Hansson. Photo: Gastroli.ua 

Culture of Ukraine

Article by: Diana Kolomoyets
Edited by: Christine Chraibi
Swedish conductor Daniel Hansson is coming to Lviv to lead the orchestra of Russian-occupied Luhansk. The Luhansk Symphony Orchestra will play a concert of Swedish music in solidarity with Ukraine. Ahead of the concert, Daniel Hansson shares his favorite Ukrainian composer, explains Swedish mythology, and clarifies why he no longer conducts Tchaikovsky.

In war, the “frontline” generally refers to the combat zone. But, in any war, there are other “fronts” to consider – the sports front, the cultural front, the economic front, etc.

In Ukraine, culture has been under attack for over centuries, in imperial Russia and during the Soviet era. In the early 1930s, the Soviets launched a new initiative – Russification – ultimately banning the Ukrainian language and the promotion of a unique, independent Ukrainian culture. Between 1933 and 1941, almost all Ukrainian artists and intellectuals were executed, as they were considered a threat to the Soviet regime.

Today, in the Russian-Ukrainian war, not only are civilian and military lives at stake, but also the past, present, and future of Ukrainian culture.

Lviv Organ Hall Swedish concert

Lviv Organ Hall. Photo: Eugene Chervony

On 29 January, 2023, in a strong display of solidarity, Swedish conductor Daniel Hansson will lead the Luhansk Symphony Orchestra in the Lviv Organ Hall. Beautiful Swedish music will sound in a live concert as a symbol of support for Ukraine. We spoke with Daniel Hansson, a great friend of Ukraine, about music, cultural, his journey to Ukraine, cultural resilience and his interest in Ukrainian music.

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– Your concert program revolves around Swedish legends and storytellers. We know that Swedish mythology is vibrant and original. Tell us more about your exciting heroes.

– Actually, there aren’t so many heroes In Swedish mythology. Most of the stories are about normal people who meet saga creatures. For instance, a common theme is a young girl, a shepherdess, who takes care of animals. She calls the animals by singing a Kula, a herding call. These are common themes in our music, and you’ll hear them in this repertoire.

Lviv Organ Hall

Swedish conductor Daniel Hansson

Dalarapsodi could be interpreted as a dream. A young shepherdess falls asleep and dreams that she visits these different forest creatures.

Näcken is a strange magical male creature that can be found near rivers and lakes. He plays the violin so beautifully that most listeners are hypnotized. But, he’s also dangerous, because he tries to drown his victims. His violin music makes people dance. Näcken is always naked, so it creates an erotic atmosphere.

Symphonic Variations includes a folk dance called Näcken’s Polka. Gunnar de Frumerie composed a variation on this theme. It’s a little scary, but also funny, and the music is about different aspects of Näcken.

We begin our concert with Värmlandsrapsodi. Värmland is a county in west central Sweden. Composer Kurt Atterberg wrote this piece as a tribute to Selma Lagerlöf, one of Sweden’s greatest storytellers. For example, Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige (The Wonderful Adventures of Nils Holgersson), a story about a boy who shrinks and travels through Sweden on the back of a goose. Atterberg wrote this piece as a tribute to Selma Lagerlöf on her 80th birthday. You can hear different themes of Swedish folklore that seem to paraphrase Selma Lagerlöf’s stories.

I really wanted to conduct this Swedish program here in Ukraine. You also have a lot of folk tales and romantic stories; this is something that we have in common. In this way, we are very connected.

Lviv organ hall Swedish concert

Legends of Sweden. Program: Kurt Atterberg, Värmlandsrapsodi op 36 2; Hugo Alfvén, Dalarapsodi op 48 3; Gunnar de Frumerie, Symphonic Variations

– Were all the pieces in this program written in the Romantic Period?

– Not all of them. Hugo Alfvén is one of our greatest romantics. This year we celebrate his 150th birthday. Gunnar de Frumerie is a bit more modern. Their music is very pleasant, well written and quite brilliant.

– Do modern Swedish composers use folk themes in their music?

– Some do, but it’s not a big influence in contemporary music. In some choral music perhaps, but not so much in orchestra music.

– In Ukraine, we see a surge in neofolk music both in popular and classical culture because of the Russian-Ukrainian war and growing national consciousness.

– I think that when your country is at war, you want to concentrate on national themes through music. This year’s Eurovision winner – Kalush’s Stefania – is super popular in Sweden. It’s a new song, but it was influenced by folk music, wasn’t it?

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– Yes, especially the part with the sopilka… Do you know any Ukrainian pieces that could be similar to Dalarapsodi or other Swedish music?

– Earlier, only some Ukrainian music was influenced by folk themes. But, that time, it was problematic to use folk motifs. Borys Liatoshynskyi didn’t want to write folk music, because Stalin had ordered composers to integrate folk melodies in their works. In this way, he wanted to brand Ukraine as a rural country of villages and peasants, playing and singing folk melodies only. I think that was a negative approach.

– You will conduct the Luhansk Symphony Orchestra. Will this be your first collaboration with this orchestra? What do you know about these musicians? What do you expect?

Lviv Organ Hall Swedish concert

Photo: Roksolana Trush

– Yes, I’m very excited and very proud of this opportunity. I’m looking forward to working with them. I’ve heard many good things about these musicians. It’s an orchestra of heroes and it’s sad that they can no longer work in a free city and perform in their concert hall. Once again, Lviv Organ Hall has made a wonderful thing happen, helping Luhansk musicians play and perform. They are not in Luhansk physically, but their hearts and souls are there.

I’m so glad to return to Lviv, even in these difficult times, and to show our loyalty to Ukraine. My heart is always in Lviv. For me, you are heroes and your work in the Organ Hall is amazing! This is not a saga; this is reality. In this terrible moscovite war against the peaceful nation of Ukraine, you continue to make music happen; you work hard on the cultural front. I’m talking about your work with the Ukrainian Live Project and the concerts in Lviv Organ Hall. This is an inspiration for the rest of the world. The least I could do was to travel to Lviv and conduct this concert. It`s a great honour to come to your city and take part in your work.

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– We’d like to say that you’re a very brave man… coming to Lviv during this war. How will you get to Lviv? Will it be difficult? What does your family think about your journey to Ukraine?

– Firstly, I’d love to be little Nils Holgersson and fly to Lviv on the back of a goose. But no, all jokes aside, I plan to fly to Poland and then take the train from Peremyshl to Lviv. I’ve talked with my family. My children aren’t very happy about it, but my wife encourages me. She knows how I feel about Ukraine and she knows I need to go. But, you’re the brave ones, not me. Ukrainians are the real heroes. So, it’s a small thing for me to come and visit you. Of course, I think about safety. There’s more risk in Lviv than in Malmo. But, I must stay positive. My goal is to keep the music playing; it’s so important. This is why you’re fighting: you don’t want to be Russia; you want to be Ukraine, a free country with free art. That’s the whole purpose of this war – fighting against the monster.

Swedish music by Luhansk Sympony Orchestra

Photo: Roksolana Trush

– Thank you very much for your support, and please thank Sweden for its support in our struggle. Do you see anything common between Ukraine and Sweden in history, mentality, culture, etc?

– Absolutely, I see a lot of similarities in Ukrainian culture. Of course, many things are different too.

We have a mutual history with wars against Russia. We’ve always been loyal, I think. We have the same colours in our flags. I think that’s a symbol of mutual sympathy. Ukrainian flags are everywhere in Sweden. In my town, a Swedish flag and a Ukrainian flag hang in front of the town hall. I believe there are strong feelings of loyalty to Ukraine in Sweden. I also find it amazing to work with Ukrainians. We have mutual interests. Our nations have been friends for a very long time.

– Has this war affected your country?

–Yes, the prices for energy are very high. Electric bills are ten times higher now, and for many families it’s a daily struggle. But, everyone says it’s a small price to pay, because our sons and daughters aren’t being killed at the front. You’re paying a very high price. We cannot compare ourselves to Ukraine.

We had a Christmas concert recently. Our choir sang Shchedryk to remind everyone of our friends in Ukraine. Every Christmas we sing songs about peace and love, but this year we sang for your people who have neither peace nor warmth. It was very moving and afterwards, we received a lot of support for Ukraine.

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– So, you performed Shchedryk… What do Swedish people think about Ukrainian music?

– In my opinion, there’s a big interest in Ukrainian music. As for myself, I stopped conducting Russian music. I don’t mind Tchaikovsky, but this is neither the time nor place for his music, because Russia uses Tchaikovsky to promote its imperialistic ideology and I don’t want to do this. So, I think conductors have an option – to look for good Ukrainian music.

I enjoy Borys Liatoshynskyi very much; his music is fantastic. To be honest, I can’t get enough of Liatoshynskyi. I recently conducted his Shevchenko Suite from the film. Fantastic music! I’ve also conducted his wonderful symphonies.

It’s a good time to listen to and promote Ukrainian music. People are more and more interested in the cultural aspect of Ukraine, and music is not an exception. I think people around the world are amazed by the quality and wealth of Ukrainian music. And once again, the Ukrainian Live Project is doing a fantastic job to make it possible for people around the world to explore and get to know Ukrainian music.

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Edited by: Christine Chraibi
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