A flashmob of 200 classical musicians led by a renowned Russian-British pianist played a trio of Ukrainian compositions in Trafalgar Square on Sunday to protest against the Russian invasion.
The pianist Petr Limonov directed the orchestra – which starred the violinist Jennifer Pike and the composer Gabriel Prokofiev on the French horn – in front of hundreds of spectators who had gathered around the makeshift stage at the foot of the National Gallery in central London.
“There are so many people right now in Russia who don’t mind being jailed to protest against this war,” Limonov said.
“I am getting all these messages from Russians saying, ‘Thank you for doing this,’ as I am someone who was born there who actually has some kind of a chance to put out a message now.
“They truly have been silenced by a totalitarian machine. It is so powerful and so awful, their voices will be heard less and less and less. But this isn’t about Russians, it is to show support to Ukraine. So many of my friends are Ukrainians and have family still in Kyiv, and what they are going through now is hell. We stand with them.”
“At this time we are trying to do all we can for a horrific situation, and musicians only really know one way, which is to play,” Pike said. “Today it is all about solidarity with Ukrainians and all people suffering at the moment. We are trying to show that our hearts are with them. And we play with all our hearts today.”
Musicians from as far afield as Canada signed up to be part of Music for Peace, organised by the classical music fan Juliet Barclay, 63, in just five days.
The group of volunteers crowdfunded to buy the rights to perform Hymn 2001 by the Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov, who is believed to be in Kyiv as it remains under attack. They also performed the Ukrainian national anthem and Mykola Lysenko’s Prayer for Ukraine, which was originally a choral piece and was accompanied by singing by members of the crowd.
The Ukrainian-British clarinetist Anastasia Gould, 16, was one of many amateur musicians who played in the orchestra alongside the professionals at the event.
She said: “It is terrible what is happening to my people, to my country, and just to see everyone, not just eastern Europeans and Ukrainians, but everyone coming together, it is very heart-warming, it is very nice to see.
“Most of my Mum’s side of the family were in [Ukraine]. Most of them have already fled to Poland. I’ve got some uncles who right now are training to go to war. Some are still staying in their home cities.
“It is quite scary to watch from the sidelines when we’re here, we’re safe, we have our own warm houses, warm beds, and seeing these people that are scared for their lives.”
Barclay came up with the idea for Music for Peace after feeling helpless about the mounting humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and on the surrounding borders. According to the latest UN figures, 1.5 million refugees have fled the country since the war started.
“I started off contacting a niche group of friends, then putting word out to all the orchestras in London and the music schools to see if we could pull it off,” she said.
“There was some unnerving silence for a while, and then all hell broke loose. Petr [Limonov] volunteered to conduct within an hour, and then Jennifer Pike came on board. Then we became utterly, utterly swamped. We could really only cope with organising 200 musicians, and we ended up turning down around 500 more.”
Not a single rehearsal was held before the performance, which instead relied on “very detailed conducting notes” written on the music by Limonov.
“[The musicians] have been beyond extraordinary,” Barclay said. “The passion for the cause they have shown and also towards each other.
“We had people with disabilities, people with other barriers to taking part come down, helping each other in different ways. It’s been incredibly moving.”