Violinist Gidon Kremer dedicates Hong Kong encore to suffering Ukraine

The situation last year between Russia and Ukraine can't leave anyone indifferent, says former Soviet artist

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 April, 2015, 6:28am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 April, 2015, 1:04pm

A top violinist has put Hong Kong on his global musical map with the premiere of an emotionally charged work to conclude a historic three-city tour with an Asian festival orchestra.

Gidon Kremer, considered one of the greatest living violinists, surprised the sell-out crowd at the Cultural Centre Concert Hall on Thursday with an encore dedicated to Ukraine.

"I would like to dedicate Requiem for Ukraine by Igor Loboda to the strong sufferings of the Ukraine people," the 67-year-old Latvian told the audience, which included Home Affairs Secretary Tsang Tak-sing and a number of top diplomats.

It was a surprise even for organisers of the Tongyeong Festival Orchestra - featuring musicians from the Hong Kong Sinfonietta and other ensembles from around the world. Kremer did not send a political message or make remarks on encores given at the two previous concerts of the tour, in Tongyeong, South Korea, and Kanazawa, Japan.

"Believe it or not it is the first time I played the seven-minute work in its entirety for the public," said Kremer in an exclusive interview with the Sunday Morning Post.

He said it was "the right time" to premiere it in Hong Kong because of a member of the orchestra he had come to know.

"The principal horn is a Ukrainian and when I played the piece I thought about him. He had tears in his eyes. Even if this little encore had moved only one person, it's enough for me to feel a certain satisfaction," he said.

"The situation last year between Russia and Ukraine can't leave anyone indifferent," he added, referring to the conflict in Ukraine's eastern regions.

"I am not a politician and will never become one, but I sympathise with friends, human rights and freedoms of expression and of language. When I see leaders lying day by day, that is very disturbing and I feel sorry for all the people suffering from it," said Kremer, who is a former Soviet artist.

He recalled how episodes of state violence in the past, such as the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956 and the Prague spring in 1968, had had a deep impact on his life. Adding to the list was China in 1989.

"It was on the eve of the events at Tiananmen Square that I was in Beijing. From the first to the third of June, I was there as a tourist. On the evening when the army headed towards the city, we were on our way to the airport and saw the military movement," he said.

"It's terrible to understand what politics can do to people and how inhuman politicians can become. It is part of my philosophy that you can only object to these things to a certain degree but you can't change the world. Yet you can smooth the pain by questioning it," Kremer said.

"I think I will play that encore again in Berlin next week, and it will be the opening work when I tour with my orchestra to Lithuania, Italy and, yes, Odessa in Ukraine later this month," the violinst said, smiling.