Jakez and I have been in Kiev this week, the first time either of us had been to the Ukraine! And it was an inaugural day for the Ukrainian harp world, for we were attending the first International Ukrainian Conference, and the official founding of the Ukrainian Harp Society. The conference was the brainchild of Natalia Kmeth, professor at the Tchaikovsky National Academy of Music in Kiev, and Alexandra Gumen, professor at the Kiev Music School which hosted the conference. The first part of the day consisted of several fascinating lectures which, thanks to our excellent translators, we were also able to enjoy.
Jakez and Helen by the Great Gate of Kiev
The conference was dedicated to the Ukraine's most famous harpist, Victoria Poltareva., who would have been ninety this year. Poltareva's son, Petr Poltarev, now Director of the Kiev Jazz Academy and President of the Artliga cultural association, led the moving tributes to Poltareva's tireless development of the harp throughout her native land.
Having survived the terrible Holodomor famine of the 1930s, Poltareva went to study in St Petersburg with Xenia Erdely (who also taught Vera Dulova). Poltareva played the piano and accordion as well as the harp, and even some jazz, for all jazz was not really allowed at the time. Her first teaching job was in Lviv in 1944, where, having no harp of her own, she had to run from her house to the music academy to practise, dodging wartime gunfire. As well as teaching classical harp, she joined the Lviv Academy professors' jazz band - and many other bands; she gave many public performances to supplement her income. Six months' worth of her teaching salary was only enough for about a kilo of butter.