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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 October, 2004, 14:43 GMT 15:43 UK
Underground debut for Ukraine orchestra
A new orchestra in Ukraine has performed its first public concert at an underground venue. The BBC's Helen Fawkes was among a couple of hundred concert-goers who ventured into a salt mine for an unusual experience.

Salt mine chamber
Ukraine has a strong mining history

"Here's your hard hat and protective overcoat."

It's not what you expect to hear when you turn up to a classical music performance.

But then most orchestras don't perform more than 200 metres underground.

The Donbass symphony orchestra has just made its debut in a salt mine in eastern Ukraine.

This is a first for the former Soviet republic - and the setting is spectacular.

The walls and ceiling sparkle with white salt crystals. It's almost as if they have been carved out of ice.

Magical setting

Salt covers the entire floor, but it looks more a blanket of snow.

The notes floated up to the ceiling and then came down slowly like a cloud
Conductor Kurt Schmid

"I enjoy every second that I am in here" says Dimitry Tretyachenko who works at the mine in Soledar.

"The beauty comes from its history. This salt is the deposit of the ancient oceans that swept across this land 230 million years ago."

The venue - 100 kilometres from the city of Donetsk - was chosen by conductor Kurt Schmid.

"I was astounded when I heard the first few notes; they floated up to the ceiling and then came down slowly like a cloud. It was a great experience," the professor says.

For two hours, shaft chamber number 41 was filled with music.

The programme included Mozart, Strauss and Grieg's 'In the Cave of the Mountain King.'

Opera star and 'People's Artist of Ukraine', Victoria Loukianetz also performed.

No cocktail dresses

According to some experts, this chamber has better acoustics than many concert halls.

Concert-goers travel down in the lift
It was a slow process getting everyone in place for the concert

Instead of cocktail dresses and dinner jackets, most of the audience were dressed in winter coats.

The temperature underground was a chilly 14 degrees Celsius.

One of the aims of this unusual event is to create international interest in the Donbass Symphony Orchestra.

It is also a fitting venue as this part of Ukraine is famous for mining.

But it was a challenge logistically.

The lift painted in the Ukrainian colours of blue and yellow can only carry 22 people down the mineshaft at a time.

It made me feel I was close to heaven
Yelena Babkina
The orchestra, their instruments and the 200 members of the audience, meant it took hours to get everyone in place.

This isn't the first inventive event in the mine which is run by State Enterprise Association Artemsil.

Last year, a hot air balloon was flown through the chamber which is 30 metres high and 120 metres long.

Although this is no longer a working mine, millions of tonnes of salt is extracted from nearby pits.

Many of the 13,000 people who live in Soledar rely on this industry.

"It was so wonderful, I was so impressed by the concert," says Yelena Babkina who lives in the town.

"It made me feel like I was close to heaven."

Country profile: Ukraine
28 Sep 04  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Ukraine
28 Sep 04  |  Country profiles


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