In an effort to highlight “cultural diplomacy” with the embattled nation, the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine invited jazz musicians Christian Howes and Douglas Droste to perform in Lviv. The Lviv Philharmonic Hall in Ukraine played host for workshops, rehearsals and performances infusing American jazz with classical music featuring violinist Howes and conducted by Droste.
Howes and Droste are both from Ohio and are childhood friends who both went on to graduate from Ohio State University. After catching a YouTube video of a performance of Concerto for Jazz Violin by composer, Scott Routenberg featuring Howes and the Muncie Symphony Orchestra the U.S. Embassy reached out to Howes and Droste to extend the invitation to perform in Ukraine. The musicians were excited at the opportunity and Howes noted that it was nearly serendipitous that composer, Scott Routenberg, who was a colleague of Droste’s and professor of music at Ball State University, had roots in Ukraine. The composer’s wife even has family living in the same area where the performance took place.
The performance hosted by Ukraine on June 21 was one of three, and featured both the INSO-Lviv Academic Symphony Orchestra and the American jazz violinist and was a unique collaboration. While Routenberg’s piece calls for extensive improvisation for Howes, there is none for the rest of the orchestra, however timing is essential. Droste has to carefully bring the orchestra back into the performance right as Howes completes a solo. Howes and Dtroste both saw the opportunity to work with the Ukrainian musicians as a wonderful opportunity to share thoughts and even train them in styles more familiar to the Americans. In addition to the Concerto for Jazz, the performance also included Dvorak’s New World Symphony and Bernstein’s Candide Overture. The unique combination of styles was part of an overall “New World” theme.
Concerts and workshops were held by both Howes and Droste in both Kyiv and Lviv during their stay as well, and Howes expressed they were honored to take part in the cultural exchange. “It was a tremendous thrill,” he said, to have the opportunity to work with Ukrainian musicians and audiences. The feeling, it seems, was mutual. Howes took time to teach techniques of improvisation for string musicians and Droste held a class for a few conductors.
Both Droste and Howes expressed a hope that the experience in Ukraine would generate opportunities for education and cultural exchange and both appear to be satisfied with the results. They are also very thankful for the Muncie Symphony Orchestra, since it was Howes’ performance with them that gained them the attention required to create the opportunity. Droste was also happy to be “promoting U.S. goodwill.”
In his opening remarks on June 21, Andrew Paul, the U.S. Embassy’s Cultural Attache, reflected on the importance of “cultural diplomacy” during this difficult period. It is refreshing to see that in spite of all the turmoil they face, Ukraine has maintained its appreciation for art enough to host these performances and even engage in workshops for jazz and other American musical styles from both the conductor and violinist.
By David Morris