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Rise interim choir director helped purchase grand piano for Ukrainian girl two decades ago

PMG PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Members of Tigards Rise Church practice for Sundays performance, which features organist Jonas Nordall. Rise choir and orchestra wil perform No Greater Love by Lloyd Larson.For Charline Gebhardt, Rise Church's interim choir director, Sunday's benefit concert for victims of the Russian invasion of Ukraine will hold special meaning.

That's because 20 years ago, Gebhardt and other members of the Tigard church, formerly known as Calvin Presbyterian Church, hosted a portion of the 135 members of Music Mission Kyiv in area homestays. The touring orchestra and chorus' mission at the time was to support orphans and widows in Ukraine.

The benefit concert begins at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 10. While admission is free, there will be a freewill offering with that money sent to the Presbyterian Relief Refugee Fund, which is aiding those Ukrainians suffering during the Russian invasion of their country.

Featured organist for the evening will be Jonas Nordwall, a renowned musician who has performed throughout the world and has recorded more than 30 highly acclaimed albums.

In 2000, Gebhardt, a Hillsboro resident, hosted a young Ukrainian piano player prodigy named Natacha Kudritskaya along with her parents.

"The piano soloist with the group was looking for a homestay that had a piano, and we have a daughter who was studying serious piano, so we had a grand piano," said Gebhardt. "When she came that time, she was 17 years old and was just an amazing talent."

A music teacher who has taught in Hillsboro, Cornelius and other schools, Gebhardt said she remembered the night Kudritskaya soloed with a Rachmaninoff concerto and recalled thinking what a phenomenal young pianist she was.

When Kudritskaya and her parents returned to the Gebhardt's home that night, the young girl continued to play until the wee hours of the morning. Future homestays by the Kudritskayas at the Gebhardt's home included sitting around the piano and singing.

About a year after Kuritskaya and her parents visited the Tigard area, Roger McMurrin, then-director and founder of Music Mission Kyiv, tried to find a piano for the talented teen, who won first place in the 2000 Rachmaninoff competition for young pianists in Novgorod, Russia.

The idea was to find a grand piano to replace the one she owned, which was missing some of its ivories. Gebhardt said both she and her husband Chuck donated significantly to the quest, and McMurrin eventually found a beautiful grand piano in Ukraine.

While Kudritskaya's parents continued to live in Kyiv, the pianist moved to Paris in 2003.

Gebhardt said she has kept the piano donation to herself all these years but recalled that during one concert, Kudritskaya acknowledged there was a couple in the audience who had help purchase the piano.

Gebhardt said she was recently reminded how much the instrument meant to the family through correspondence with Natacha Kudritskaya's mother, Ludmila Kudritskaya, who also spoke about the terror of remaining in Kyiv as Russian troops advanced on the capital, blasting it and other population centers with missiles and artillery strikes.PMG PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Charline Gebhardt, Rise Church interim choir director, leads the group through a recent practice. The group had been on almost a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic but began practicing again just before Thanksgiving.

"She said, 'Dearest friends, thank you that you are thinking about us. It's already the fifth day we are in the shelter. The family of my son is with us too,'" Gebhardt read from a Feb. 28 letter. "'Natacha is worried about us, and she is ready to meet us anywhere on the border.'"

Ludmila Kudritskaya also told Gebhardt that the piano she helped purchased had served not only her daughter but also herself, saying she gave private lessons on the instrument over the years while living in Kyiv.

Gebhardt said Ludmila Kudritskaya wrote that she's not sure if anyone will want to take private lessons after the war is over, something that "really just made me choke up."

"You just can't realize how that would touch a family like that," said Gebhardt.

Ludmila Kudritskaya told Gebhardt she cries when she watches videos or sees photos of destroyed Ukrainian cities.COURTESY PHOTO - Natacha Kudritskaya has stayed at the home of Charline Gebhardt, a Hillsboro resident and school music teacher, numerous times. She now lives and performs in Paris.

Russia's brutality in Ukraine has sparked international condemnation, with President Joe Biden calling Russian strongman Vladimir Putin a "war criminal." Among other incidents documented by international media and watchdog groups, Russian aircraft bombed both a maternity hospital and a theater house in Mariupol where civilians were sheltering, and Russian soldiers allegedly executed dozens of civilians in Bucha and other Kyiv suburbs, leaving their bodies in the streets as they retreated. Russian troops have also been accused of rape and torture during the invasion, which has been ongoing for more than a month.

While Russia's assault continues, Ludmila Kudritskaya is no longer in harm's way. Natacha Kudritskaya wrote on her Facebook account that Ludmila made it to Paris, where mother and daughter were reunited.

Natacha Kudritskaya also recently created a "Music Chain for Ukraine" which featured live performances by noted pianists. The event offered Ukrainian musicians who were fleeing the Russian invasion a chance to pursue their music in Belgium.

COURTESY PHOTO - Featured organist for Ukrainian Benefit Concert set for April 10 at Rise Church will be Jonas Nordwall, a renowned musician who has performed throughout the world and has recorded more than 30 highly-acclaimed albums.

Rise choir and orchestra

After almost two years apart due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 30-member Rise Church Choir began practicing again just before Thanksgiving. The choir's accompaniment, its orchestra, is made up of a variety of sources including members of the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra and the Jewish Community Orchestra. It includes the daughter of Charline Gebhardt, Rise Church's interim choir director, who is a violinist in the 14-member ensemble.

On April 10, the choir and orchestra will perform "No Greater Love" by Lloyd Larson.

— Ray Pitz

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