On Feb. 24, 2022, Alexey Botvinov was between Switzerland and Germany with his wife and daughter. He had recorded the second CD with his South African violinist friend Daniel Hope for Deutsche Grammophon. On Feb. 26, he was the first Ukrainian classical musician to hold a benefit concert for Ukraine. Then he raised almost a million euros in charitable contributions for Ukraine in a month of concerts with Daniel Hope. Proceeds from the sale of the Deutsche Grammophon record also went to Ukraine. The German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier attended the concert at the Frauenkirche in Dresden. While the former German president, Joachim Gauck, also came to the show at the Gedechtniskirche in Berlin.

Botvinov is one of the many Ukrainians born in the Soviet Union, who were able to enjoy the excellent musical education offered at that time. He was born into a musical family in Odesa, where he studied at the Conservatory. In 1987-1989, he was a student at the renowned Moscow Conservatory with the renowned professor Vera Gornostayeva.

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With the independence of Ukraine, he did not think that his generation would witness such a disaster. On Aug. 24, 2021, he was present at the ceremony of the 30th anniversary of independence, celebrated in the geographical center of Ukraine, the village of Maryanovka, Cherkasy region. Among the six people with President Volodymyr Zelensky, next to the flagpole with the Ukrainian flag, there was also him.

Italy Donates Musical Instruments to Music Schools in Odesa
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Italy Donates Musical Instruments to Music Schools in Odesa

With many transplanted students having had to leave their musical instruments behind in frontline areas, the donation allows them to keep honing their talents.

Today, Alexey performs around the world under the Ukrainian flag. At the beginning of the invasion, he thought the war would last no more than six months. But the war continued, and in two years he gave 35 concerts in Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Greece. It was also thanks to the solidarity offered by the many musicians who performed in Odesa in recent years. For example, 12 concerts were organized in Tallinn using private donations of friends and volunteers. And Greece provided government funding as a gesture of solidarity with Ukraine.

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Alexey Botvinov is the founder and president of the annual “Odessa Classics” music festival (of which his wife Elena is the general director), which since 2015 had become in just a few years one of the of top classical music gatherings in Europe, according to Crescendo, Reise und Kultur, and other publications.

Several world-class musicians consider that in the 20th century Pyotr Stolyarsky’s music school in Odesa was the best in the world, especially for violin. And the pianists remember Emil Gilels and the Richter family, both linked to Odesa. Thanks to these personalities it was fashionable in the city to go to classical music concerts. And this also attracted foreign artists to perform at “Odessa Classics.” The city seemed created for festivals: a beautiful old town, the Opera House, the scenery of the Black Sea. In recent years the festival has brought Ukrainian musicians and audiences into contact with the world musical environment. In just seven years, Odesa and Ukraine have been put on the European musical map.

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Despite Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, the festival is still alive. In 2024, the 10th International Music Festival, “Odessa Classics 2024,” will be held in a travelling form. The festival opened on March 28 in Vilnius. Then from April 4 to 9 there were concerts in Zurich. On June 10, he will be in Estonia at the Kontserdisaal in Tallinn. On June 25, at the Kultur und Kongresszentrum in Lucerne, there will be a concert with the Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin, a great supporter of Ukraine, who sends funds to the Ukrainian defenders on a weekly basis. The final stage will be held in Germany, from Sept. 24 to 29 (location yet to be defined).

For Alexey Botvinov, attending concerts is an act of support for both the festival and Ukraine. He said: “the music of the great composers tells of man’s love for freedom and life, resists totalitarianism and war.”

Over the years, he has won many international music competitions and is considered one of the world’s leading Rachmaninov and Bach specialists.

In November 2015, Alexey Botvinov was awarded the title of People’s Artist of Ukraine, the highest artistic award in Ukraine. In 2020, he became a Knight of the Order of the Star of Italy from the President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella. From Switzerland he received the William Tell Prize.

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In addition, Botvinov is a member of the presidential council of the World Club of Odesites, created by Mikhail Zhvanetsky, Odesa’s greatest contemporary writer, who died in 2020. When Zhvanetsky was still alive, the Club connected the Odesites who had migrated abroad and was the place where the city’s cultural elite, represented by artists, writers, painters, poets and musicians, could meet.

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