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The Sound of Ukraine

Composer Tymur Polianskyi sets two immersive exhibits to live Ukrainian music

WORDS BY LILIIA SMICHENKO | Lighthouse ArtSpace Toronto

APR 15, 2023 | COMMUNITY

Tymur Polianskyi

When it comes to defending their home and their life, Ukrainian soldiers and artists alike have been uniting to stand guard. Among them is the acclaimed Ukrainian pianist and composer, Tymur Polianskyi, who stayed in Kyiv during the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine and did all in his power to maintain and protect his country’s culture and heritage. One of those important cultural landmarks in Kyiv is Theatre on Podil — where Poliansky works — was under the threat of destruction, so he and his colleagues stood their ground and turned the venue into a home. Today the theatre continues to operate in full power.

Polianskyi has made immense contributions to Ukrainian culture through jazz festivals, original music for film, television, and immersive exhibits─winning awards like the GOLDEN DZYGA (The Ukrainian Oscar). Now working beyond the borders of his home country, Poliansky arrives in Canada with a one-of-a-kind immersive concert, The Sound Of Ukraine. For this special occasion, he has created an improvised musical accompaniment for two immersive exhibits: Immersive Shevchenko: Soul of Ukraine and Immersive World of Maria Prymachenko. Speaking on his vision for this project, Polianskyi joins smART Magazine to discuss how The Sound of Ukraine unveils Ukraine’s rich culture and expands the viewer’s understanding of some of his country’s most celebrated paintings.

sM | How did preparing Theatre on Podil against a possible attack bring you and your colleagues closer together as an ensemble?

TP ── Well, I’d prefer that there weren’t such experiences at all. What happened happened and we couldn’t change anything. We were only sitting, watching, and reading. Some people were leaving, and some were staying. I stayed because of my parents and also my grandmother who is 97 years old. At first, the theatre didn’t work because people were leaving, but it was left without protection so we had to do something. We invited the Territorial Defense Units to help, and they kindly accepted our invitation and guarded the theatre for some time. We were staying there, spending the nights so that at least someone was there. You have to understand, our theatre is very small, just about 250 people all in all, so we lived like a family there, we were pretty close by that time.

sM | The Sound of Ukraine will feature live performance, which is a fairly new component of immersive exhibits as we've had them in Canada. As a composer, what elements of the exhibit experience are you hoping to accentuate with a live ensemble?

TP ── Actually, for me, this is just as new, because all the exhibits usually have a pre-recorded soundtrack and video material which is projected onto the walls and the floor. However, this time I will perform live on the piano, and then there will also be vocalists supporting me. We decided to do this because I am the composer for these two exhibits and I know the material well. The point of live music is improvisation, it anticipates that you can play and create something new while looking at the people and their reaction to the exhibit. When music is recorded, it doesn’t change because someone likes it and or not, but here you look at the people as you play. Just the way other artists look at a person and they improvise, that is what I’m going to do as well. this will be the first one for me, though I also realize that no one’s ever done that before.

sM | How do you think these two exhibits, and their artists, complement each other in the same context?

TP ── The first exhibit is Immersive Shevchenko: Soul of Ukraine, so we all started to learn more about who Shevchenko was, because we usually see him as an old man with a tortured fate. He wasn’t like that, he was a completely different person. When he was young he was very attractive, he painted, read his poems, and played the piano. The Prymachenko exhibit was the last one that we did just a few months ago, and it's a completely different world of paintings and a completely different worldview. While Shevchenko was a person who got an education as an artist, Prymachenko was a person who didn’t know what painting was. Then you look at her art and understand the kind of vivid world this person had inside of her. I liked working on it very much because it is just so beautiful, and there are also so many of her paintings. Some of them are alike, and yet you look at them and they are just so mesmerizing.