Skip to main content

Turning to the Power of Music at the Lviv Organ Hall

Blair A. Ruble
Organ pipes in a church
Lviv, Ukraine—January 21, 2022: Lviv Organ Hall

The Lviv Organ Hall has continued a full schedule of performances despite all the disruptions of war. An April performance of Mykhailo Verbytsky’s “Pidhiryany” by the Luhansk Regional Philharmonic and the Gomin Men’s Choir represented just such an effort. Verbytsky is considered among the first professional Ukrainian composers and is best known for composing the music for Ukraine’s national anthem.

The son of a Greek Catholic priest, he grew up during the 1810s and 1820s in the home of his uncle, Bishop Ivan Snihurskyi. Snihurskyi is remembered today for founding Peremyshl’s first Ukrainian language press and for publishing compilations of folklore. Young Mykhailo entered the Theological Seminary in Lviv and became a parish priest. Along the way, he mastered the guitar and began composing music. He would write several large-scale secular and sacred choral works, art songs, nine symphonies, and more than a dozen works for various instruments before his death in 1870.

Verbytsky’s stage works based on popular folk genre have been seen as laying the foundation for modern Ukrainian music. He enjoyed particular success with his operettas written for the Lviv stage. Many of these works—such as “Pidhiryany”—were lost in the following decades. The Lviv Organ Hall performances recover an important building block for what has become a distinctive Ukrainian musical sound.

Closer to home, the Organ Hall managers invited composer Eugene Filatov to reveal what Lviv sounds like. Filatov organized an excursion around the city highlighting public and secret spaces in search of Lviv’s unique sounds. The tour ended with the screening of a video combining these various sounds into a unified presentation.

The past year or so has been an especially vital time for the concert hall. Closed by COVID and then war, the Hall’s remarkable leadership committed itself to reopening as soon as possible. As reported in this blog in July, wunderkind organist Lukas Hasler became one of the first of many international artists to perform at the historic venue last June. By autumn, electricity was becoming less dependable, even though Lviv is relatively far from the fighting. The Hall’s management secured generators and started holding regular concerts in semi-darkness and by candlelight.

The Organ Hall is located in the 17th-century former Church of St. Mary Magdalene. It opened for concerts in 1988, after having served as a sports venue and dance hall during the Soviet period. Its massive Rieger-Kloss organ regularly attracts organists from around the world. For more than three decades, the Hall has featured stunning performances of music heard in Lviv nearly two centuries ago, when Wolfgang Amadeus and Constanza’s youngest son, Franz Xaver, taught in the city, nurturing an impressive music scene that has remained vibrant ever since.

The commitment to offering world-class performances continued even on the city’s darkest days. The organizers, for example, went ahead with a scheduled evening concert following a day of unrelenting Russian rocket attacks on the city. They decided to offer music to anyone who might show up. In spite of concerns that no one would attend, a couple dozen Lviv residents proved them wrong. An evening of beautiful music seemed just the right remedy for a frightening day in an air raid shelter.

The Organ Hall now offers a full schedule of concerts—more than 40 during April alone—featuring organ recitals, choral music, and chamber orchestra performances by Ukrainian and international artists. These concerts are regularly available to global audiences via the internet. Some performances draw from the classical repertoire featuring works by Bach, Beethoven, Copeland, Mozart, Sibelius, and Wagner. Other concerts feature Ukrainian folk music. Most ambitiously, the programmers seek works by long overlooked Ukrainian composers whose choral and operatic compositions deserve fresh attention.

In October 2022, the Organ Hall’s Facebook page declared: “the enemy is raging, trying to kill us from the normal rhythm of life, depriving us of the most valuable: light. But we are an unbreakable nation; even in the dark we take the flashlights and continue to fight for victory.” The Organ Hall then invited its Facebook followers “to fill up with the energy of art.” That energy emanates from a concert venue which explores a distinctive national past, honors the achievements of the international music community, and constantly looks for new ways to express the power of music.

The opinions expressed in this article are those solely of the author and do not reflect the views of the Kennan Institute.

About the Author

Blair A. Ruble

Blair A. Ruble

Distinguished Fellow;
Former Wilson Center Vice President for Programs (2014-2017); Director of the Comparative Urban Studies Program/Urban Sustainability Laboratory (1992-2017); Director of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies (1989-2012) and Director of the Program on Global Sustainability and Resilience (2012-2014)
Read More

Kennan Institute

The Kennan Institute is the premier US center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the surrounding region though research and exchange.  Read more