Malden Catholic hosts benefit concert for Ukrainian musicians

MALDEN -- Music can express powerful emotions in ways that words cannot. Knowing this from experience, Susanna Ogata thought it fitting to use music to show support and raise funds for musicians in Ukraine as they experience the "unspeakable" tragedies of Russia's invasion of their country.

Ogata, a professional violinist and music teacher, organized a string benefit concert that took place at Malden Catholic High School on June 3. In the school's new McDonough Performing Arts Center, local professional musicians donated their time to play in the concert, which featured music from Ukraine and its surrounding areas.

Ogata had the idea after talking with another music teacher, Ukrainian-American violist Alexander Vavilov. He had recently initiated the Relief Fund for Ukrainian Musicians, through the Lisa Batiashvili Foundation, to send direct financial support to musicians in some of the hardest-hit areas of Ukraine, such as Mariupol, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, and Severodonetsk -- all cultural centers where musicians are likely to be active.

"Through a concert, and music, we could experience the feelings that are difficult to express sometimes in words, especially on a level of tragedy like in Ukraine. And the concert could honor the musicians who have suffered so much, and also have the added benefit of potentially raising money to help these people," Ogata said in an interview with The Pilot.

Malden Catholic High School (MCHS), where Ogata's son is a freshman, agreed to host the concert.

First, MCHS performing arts chair Dr. Lora Tamagini conducted the Malden Catholic Choir in singing "The Prayer," while Ogata accompanied them on the violin. The students had finished classes for the school year earlier that day but returned to participate in the concert.

Next, Vavilov played an arrangement of a traditional Ukrainian folk song, "Oy u Luzi Chervona Kalyna," or "Red Viburnum in the Meadow." This song gained wider recognition after Pink Floyd recorded a version of it to raise money for Ukrainian relief.

Vavilov later also read aloud the accounts of musicians in Ukraine who have received aid from his fund. He noted that it was the 100th day of the war, which began when Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

The string orchestra was conducted by Ogata's husband, George Ogata, who is the music director of the Reading Symphony Orchestra. The program included the Ukrainian national anthem and other pieces by composers from Ukraine or nearby regions. Ukrainian violinist Olga Patramanska-Bell performed a solo for "Melody" by Myroslav Skoryk.

One of those who attended the concert was Sarah Harkness, a cellist in the Reading Symphony Orchestra.

"The sheer beauty of the music brought tears to my eyes. The whole experience was very enveloping," she said afterwards.

Her husband, Charlie, said the music "moved me closer to Ukraine."

"Even never having been to Ukraine, (hearing) some of those tunes, I felt more connected," he said.

Speaking to The Pilot after the concert, Patramanska-Bell said it was "a treat" to play with "such amazing musicians."

"It was such a great group of incredible players. I really felt honored to be invited to play with them, and (to) play a solo and be part of this orchestra was really special to me," she said.

Patramanska-Bell said her parents are in Kyiv, and her sister and niece had to flee their home, leaving behind her sister's violin. She said also she knows a cellist who had to try to organize a ride for her cello out of Kyiv. Though it sounds like an amusing anecdote, it is a serious complication for professional musicians, who depend on their musical instruments for their livelihood.

"When you're leaving with a child in one hand, a suitcase in another, and a cello on your back, it might not be an option," Patramanska-Bell said.

According to Vavilov, the relief fund has provided aid to over 70 musicians in Ukraine. However, they have hundreds on their waiting list, which he said is bound to grow. While they are now offering one-time 500-euro grants, they hope to be able to offer sustained support in the future.

Vavilov said he is "incredibly grateful every time musicians show such initiative and show compassion to their colleagues in Ukraine and put so much of their time and resources towards creating an event like that."

"It really warms my heart to see that people are compassionate and people create beauty at a time of so much destruction," Vavilov said. He added that he believes doing so will help them all "to get through these times, to heal, and to make a positive difference. That's what I strongly believe in, that you counteract evil and destruction by making a positive difference."

More information about the Relief Fund for Ukrainian Musicians is available at