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“Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor”


Lidiya Yankovskaya
Lidiya Yankovskaya

Conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya watched the news and was ready to scream. As the refugee crisis mounts globally, but especially in the Middle East and Europe right now, American politicians and pundits voice xenophobic, anti-immigrant rhetoric with increasing volume. What she heard did not mesh with her own experience as a refugee to this country. As she discussed this with friends and colleagues, she realized many did not know her own history of being born in St. Petersburg and seeking asylum in the United States. She could not find herself in these loudly voiced portraits of refugees. From her frustration grew the Refugee Orchestra Project, which comes to First Church, Cambridge at 8:00 on Tuesday.

“I decided to organize the event as a way to demonstrate, through music, the critical role that these individuals play in our cultural landscape,” says Yankovskaya. “American culture and society have been shaped by those who fled to this country to seek a better life. In light of the negative rhetoric we regularly read and hear in the news today, I felt it was important for all of us to once again be reminded of the essential role that refugees play in making American culture vibrant and strong.”

On May 10th, dozens of musicians will come together in Cambridge to raise support for refugees worldwide. This large-scale performance loudly proclaims these individuals’ importance to our cultural wealth. Instrumentalists and singers whose families have fled to the U.S. to escape violence and persecution will perform works by composers who were themselves refugees, and music that thematizes the refugee experience. A concert highlight will be “God Bless America.” This iconic song was written in 1918 by Irving Berlin, a Jewish and Russian refugee and composer, performed by the entire orchestra and chorus, joined by Koleinu, Boston’s Jewish Community Chorus.

Featured soloists include Yelena Dudochkin, Ukrainian-American soprano and principal with New Opera NYC; Lubana Al Quntar, acclaimed soprano awarded the title of Syria’s first Opera Singer; Barbara Quintiliani, award-winning soprano from Quincy, MA and the first American woman in 25 years to win the prestigious Francisco Viñas Singing Competition in Barcelona; and Sammy Andonian, Boston-based 17-year-old Armenian violinist, winner of New England Philharmonic’s 19th Annual Young Artist Competition, and 2015 Boston Pops Orchestra soloist.

Admission to the concerts is free, with all proceeds from suggested donations given to International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) in support of asylum seekers abroad. In addition to raising funds for organizations supporting refugees worldwide, the Refugee Orchestra Project gives voice to refugees in the U.S. Our concert builds support, human connections, and understanding within the larger community.

Lidiya asks that we stand with refugees worldwide, come to the concert at First Church Cambridge, 11 Garden Street on May 10th at 8:00PM, and tell our friends about a soon-to-be-announced one in New York City.

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  1. Brava, Lydia! I hope your efforts wake up a populace who seem to forget or ignore the fact that we are a nation of immigrants and the richer for it.

    Comment by jaylyn — May 10, 2016 at 8:20 am

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