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Eastman violin professor, and Saturday concert, search for hope in midst of Ukraine’s tragedy

Oleh Krysa 2.jpg
Max Schulte
Oleh Krysa, professor of violin at the Eastman School of Music, grew up in Lviv, Ukraine, studied violin in Moscow, Russia and now calls Rochester home.

How deep do the roots of Ukrainian classical music run?

Oleh Krysa points out that going back to the 19th century, one of the founders of an early version of the Lviv Conservatory was a son of Mozart.

Some 2½ centuries after Mozart, history matters here. At the Eastman School of Music, and in Eastern Europe.

Sitting in his third-floor office at the Eastman on Wednesday afternoon, with the gentle rainfall of student piano notes drifting down the hall, the professor of violin was at first hesitant to talk about the history we’re watching today on television: the Russian invasion of Krysa’s native Ukraine. It is clearly painful.

“Maybe another question,” he says. As a teacher one time himself at the Lviv Conservatory in Ukraine, Krysa still speaks in the clipped, yet elegant, accent of Eastern Europe.

But with some prodding, the words come.

“I have spent a lot of time in Moscow. And it doesn’t matter. Russian, Jewish, Polish, whatever. We were friends, we made music together. We drink together, enjoying life together.

“Now it’s war.”

Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. concert at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre will raise money for critical medical supplies and humanitarian aid. The proceeds will be collected through ROC Maidan, a nonprofit that is part of the Ukrainian Cultural Center of Rochester.

Krysa, who came to teach at Eastman in 1989, will play on the U.S. premiere of Yevhen Stankovych’s violin concerto No. 5. Led by RPO Music Director Andreas Delfs, the program also features works by Ukrainian composers Mykola Lysenko, Levko Revutsky and Myroslav Skoryk, as well as a smattering of Howard Hanson and Beethoven.

Ukraine and Russia are intertwined throughout Krysa’s 79 years. His music education, music competitions and teaching, and his solo recitals and performances with a handful of quartets, mind no boundaries. He estimates he’s played in 60 countries, and on 60 recordings. The Oleh Krysa International Violin Competitions have been conducted in his honor since 2013 in Lviv, a western Ukrainian city the world has come to know over the past two weeks. It is one of the gateways for the country’s citizens fleeing to safety.

Oleh Krysa 1.jpg
Max Schulte
Oleh Krysa, professor of violin at the Eastman School of Music, points out the posters on his wall for the violin competition named after him in his hometown of Lviv, Ukraine.

Krysa scoffs at the Russian insistence that the invaders come in search of peace.

“What kind of peace is that?” Krysa asks. “With bombs, and shooting the civilians, it is nightmare.”

The Stankovych concerto to be premiered Saturday was composed especially for Krysa, when he was 75 years old. It opens slowly, Krysa says, suggesting drama, and even tragedy.

The concerto is called “Question Without Answer.”

“Sometimes you feel hopeless because you cannot help, you can’t send them money,” Krysa says of the Ukrainian people.

“We can only protest. Or stay with music. And express our feeling.”

And that feeling cast by “Question Without Answer” soon evolves. “It’s a tango,” Krysa says. Upbeat. Filled with hope.

Tickets are available online at, by phone at (585) 454-2100, and in person, one hour prior to the concert at the Eastman Theatre Box Office, 433 E. Main St. There is a suggested donation of $20 or more.

The RPO is requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination and photo ID to attend.

Jeff Spevak has been a Rochester arts reporter for nearly three decades, with seven first-place finishes in the Associated Press New York State Features Writing Awards while working for the Democrat and Chronicle.
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