Bach, jazz and Ukraine – you know you are in for a rare musical treat if these forces come together in a single performance. The Two Violins duo, featuring prodigious 12 year olds Illia Bondarenko and Tetyana Zhmendak, is part of the Puzzles of Eternity charity project in support of rare baroque heritage in Ukraine: Bach’s sheet music archive and 18th century baroque sculptures. This unique performance in collaboration with jazz pianist extraordinaire Natalia Lebedeva took place at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in London and was presented by the First Lady of Ukraine, Mrs Maryna Poroshenko. With Bach’s immortal pieces premiered in Natalia Lebedeva’s jazz arrangements, one was sure to relate to baroque and its most prominent improviser, Bach, in a whole new way.
As Ukraine remains caught up in Maidan militant turmoil, it’s important to throw light on its world culture, which escapes media headlines. This baroque heritage does not take sides in the conflict and is of truly international significance. The two particular treasures taken up by the Puzzles of Eternity charity project are the long lost archive of Johannes Sebastian Bach’s notes in Kiev and the spectacular 3D frescoes from Lviv. Of these, the latter are particularly striking. These wooden sculptures – made by the 18th century Lviv-based sculptor Johann Georg Pinzel – are claimed to be the only baroque sculptures in the world so detailed that they even have eyelashes, as well as teeth and tongues, hidden from the observer’s eye. There are sixty of these sculptures overall, scattered in churches and archives of western Ukraine. These composite structures are craftily engineered – in the words of project-organiser Katya Kot – out of baroque wooden “lego” pieces, and it’s these wooden elements, or puzzles, that give the project its name.
Worryingly, two thirds of these 18th century treasures literally went to ashes as they were caught being used for firewood. Only a third of these works were saved by Boris Voznitsky, an art gallery director in Ukraine. Many remain in Lviv’s Pinzel Museum, a 17th century architectural monument which today is a very poor, and even flammable museum space. Although the western Ukrainian city of Lviv is now safeguarded by UNESCO, buildings like Pinzel’s Museum continue to deteriorate along with the baroque gems inside it. The sculptures are today valued at US $13 000 000 –$18 000 000 each, but many have already been lost to neglect.
The aim of the current initiative is to attract international attention to this spectacular and unique heritage in the heart of Eastern Europe, formerly a part of the mighty Austro-Hungarian Empire. By running a series of similar charity concerts, producing merchandise and organising auctions, the project hopes to attract philanthropists, musicians and researchers to form the crucial “puzzles” in the project’s cause. The aim is then to restore the museum into a suitable climate-controlled space for Pinzel’s works and make Bach’s archive available to musicians worldwide.
You might be wondering why, at such a critical time for Ukraine, anyone should look to Bach, to Pinzel. Yet, let’s not forget the fate of the Great Library of Alexandria, the Amber room and, might I add, the Buddhas of Bamiyan, destroyed by the Taliban.Who knows what threats these antique treasures too may face in the future? The London charity concert was launched under the initiative of “Master Class”, the House of Education and Culture (Kyiv, Ukraine), and the Embassy of Ukraine in Great Britain. This second performance of its kind, following its debut in New York, might have been a hasty last minute event for its organisers, but it’s one that results in a stylish cultural imprint and a hope for Ukraine’s future.
‘Puzzles of Eternity’ was organised by “Master Klass”, the House of Education and Culture (Kyiv, Ukraine), with support of the Embassy of Ukraine in Great Britain.