Lucerne Music Center a welcome refuge for young musicians from war-torn Ukraine


LAC DES LUZERNES – Students have arrived at the Luzerne Music Center from Ukraine, Poland, Hungary and France after fleeing the war that drove many budding musicians with only their instruments.

Warren County Music Camp brings together many international prodigies each summer, to learn from the best and perform together. This year, just getting to Lac Luzerne was a triumph.

Mykyta Seleznov, who lived in Kharkiv, Ukraine, had to flee before completing her application to attend the prestigious summer program. Once he and his mother arrived in France, the 13-year-old recorded himself playing the clarinet. He had to submit two recordings. Luckily he had a recital just before the war broke out, so he was able to submit that recording as well.

“As for what it means to Ukrainians right now, it adds a completely different layer to the meaning (of the program),” said Sergiy Dvornichenko, who teaches clarinet at the center and is also from Ukraine. “It’s so precious to them at this difficult time.”

He tried to keep in touch with all the exceptional young people, to ensure that they completed their auditions for the program despite the upheaval in their lives. But he added that he was not surprised to learn that students like Seleznov remembered their instruments and found ways to audition despite the war.

“I was running away the same way. I was in Ukraine when it happened. One of the first and only things I grabbed was my clarinets,” he said. “He’s trying to be a professional musician, of course he grabbed his clarinet.”

About 16 students arrived in the United States.

Artistic director and CEO Elizabeth Pitcairn had to turn to social media to find a promising child, a 12-year-old girl she had met after a show in Ukraine.

“I handed her my Stradivarius (violin) and she performed in front of a thousand people,” Pitcairn said. “It’s a miracle. She is quite excellent.

The girl was accepted into the summer program, but then disappeared when war broke out.

Pitcairn eventually released a photo of the girl to find out what had happened to her. It worked; it turned out that the girl and her mother had fled to Germany.

“She’s fine, but she needed a laptop so she could do school homework in Germany, so I sent her my laptop,” Pitcairn said.

And although a sponsor was willing to cover the costs of her trip to Lake Lucerne, it became clear that she could not come this year.

“For her to be 12 and fly alone and be displaced, and they have next to nothing – we had the sponsors, but we’ll postpone until next year,” Pitcairn said. “It’s so long. Our two little Polish boys, they were able to travel together.

They are 11 and 13 and flew to the United States together and navigated the Amtrak system to Rensselaer, where Pitcairn picked them up. This year, getting the kids together for the trip worked well whenever the center could manage it.

“We really needed extra support – people really came forward because we wanted to be able to bring these students in and it just wasn’t possible for them to come – there are people who don’t know how they manage to make ends meet. Some families make maybe $50 a month,” she said. “We had a board member who had several hundred thousand miles with an airline and gave it to camp. Everyone participated as they could.

Pitcairn also spearheaded a fundraising effort to bring the Ukrainian Youth Academic Orchestra of Kharkiv to safety. She knew many young musicians and had played with the orchestra on several occasions. But as many of the 50 players were between the ages of 18 and 20, the young men were initially not allowed to leave Ukraine as they had to stay to help the war effort. However, after long negotiations and $10,000 raised to help them, they were allowed to cross the border into Poland together, as an orchestra. They are now on tour.

Before the orchestra members could leave Ukraine, their daily existence was precarious.

“Many of them didn’t have access to food or money,” Dvornichenko said. “So they spent a month and a half in Ukraine, all over the country. Some were with their parents, others had no instruments.

Some of them gathered in the subway to protect themselves from the bombs.

“They lived in the subways, the few of them who could get together. They gave a few chamber concerts in the subway,” he said.

When they crossed the border on May 15, Pitcairn was there to meet them.

“I joined them as a soloist for their first concert. Then I had to go back to the States immediately and open the Luzerne Music Center for the summer,” she said.

The center has always been a welcoming refuge.

“They play music all day. They are all focused on their music and they are all highly skilled,” she said. “There is a sense of community.”

But this year is special.

“It’s a healing and bonding feeling,” Pitcairn said.


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