Richard Gere helps Carnegie Hall raise money for Ukraine

This image released by Carnegie Hall shows a performance fundraiser at Carnegie Hall in New York on Monday, May 23, 2022, that raised $350,000 for Ukrainian relief efforts. (Chris Lee/Carnegie Hall via AP) (Chris Lee, ©2022 Chris Lee)

NEW YORK – Actor Richard Gere hosted a benefit concert for Ukraine at Carnegie Hall that raised $360,000 for Direct Relief, a humanitarian organization providing medical aid.

Soprano Angel Blue, mezzo-sopranos Denyce Graves and Isabel Leonard, pianist Evgeny Kissin, violinists Midori and Itzhak Perlman, Tony Award-winner Adrienne Warren, singer Michael Feinstein, jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, mandolinist Chris Thile and Broadway actress Jessica Vosk were among the performers Monday night during a program whose themes included prayer and dreams.

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“We recognize their fight as our fight for the right to self-determination, for freedom, for a more just and more secure world based on wisdom and love,” Gere said from the stage. He quoted Leonard Bernstein, the conductor who led more than 400 performances at Carnegie: “Lenny said: ‘This will be our reply to violence. To make music more intensively, more beautifully, more devoted than ever before.’”

Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, spoke in a recorded video and Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, spoke in person.

Graves choked up as she told the audience about her husband, Dr. Robert Montgomery, going to Ukraine to assist aid efforts and returning a day earlier.

The audience included Jamala, a Ukrainian singer whose “1944” won the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest. The Ukrainian Chorus Dumka of New York sang Ukraine’s national anthem and filled the aisles for the closing number, “Somewhere” from Bernstein’s “West Side Story.” Many of the performers joined in a rare moment when Kissin and Midori sang in performance.

“All of us at Carnegie Hall felt that we had to do everything in our power to bring together as many people as possible in support of the Ukrainian people,” Carnegie Hall executive director Clive Gillinson said.

“They’re also fighting for every single nation in the world that dares to question the right of a powerful nation to abuse its power by seeking to decide their future for them and, if they refuse, doing what they can to destroy them.”

The performance was preceded by about 30 minutes of speeches about the war and the efforts of Ukraine to fend off Russian’s invasion.

“We will do everything, and when I say everything, I mean everything in our power, to defend Ukraine, to defends its people and to defend its culture,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield. U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Carnegie Hall intends to raise additional money from a web stream of the performances.

Before a backdrop in blue and yellow, the colors of Ukraine’s flag, Graves and McLorin Salvant wore yellow dresses, and Leonard wore a blue dress with a sunflower in her hair. Four pots of sunflowers were arranged on the stage.

Highlights included Warren’s soaring “The Impossible Dream (The Quest)” from Mitch Leigh’s “The Man of La Mancha,” Warren and Vosk performing Carole Bayer Sager’s “Prayer,” Perlman and Kissin performing John Williams' theme from “Schindler’s List,” and Kissin’s impassioned rendition of Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor.

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