On March 3, acclaimed Ukrainian pianist Anna Fedorova returns to Symphony Hall to perform with the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. After blowing away local audiences with her performance of Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto in 2018, and then a tour through Brazil with the Boston Youth Philharmonic in 2019, this is a long-awaited return. On the program is Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto.

Throughout the last two years, Fedorova has also been an activist for victims of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, raising money for humanitarian organizations and performing with the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra. She spoke about her work and upcoming performance with GBH's All Things Considered host Arun Rath. What follows is a lightly edited transcript.

Arun Rath: So first off, I can imagine how difficult the last two years must have been for you since Russia's invasion of Ukraine . Can you tell us about the impact on you and also the work you've done with the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra since then?

Anna Fedorova: Well, yes, of course the last two years were really, really out of normal life — and really, really scary as well. Especially the beginning was really hard because of the shock of everything happening. And my parents moved to the Netherlands right around that time, when the war had started.

But just a week before the war started, they were in Ukraine, and I had to kind of urgently — together with Nicky, my husband — we were looking into the tickets on the February 13. I just got the first available ticket for my parents to leave on that day and I called them up and told that, "Okay, you have a plane in three hours. You have to go now." And then they came with almost nothing, just one small carry-on bag. And they've stayed in the Netherlands up until now. They still haven't returned to Ukraine. So, of course that was a real shock.

Around that time, also, we were preparing to open the Davidsbündler Academy, which we opened in The Hague. It was scheduled to be opened in September 2022 but because of the war — because so many Ukrainian young musicians and some of my parents' students at that time were also trying to run away and were escaping Ukraine, and came to the Netherlands following my parents — we basically had to start the functions of the academy from March in 2022.

We had to raise a lot of funds, not only for Ukraine, which also I was very active with, organizing benefit concerts for humanitarian organizations, but also for raising funds for the scholarships for the young Ukrainian musicians who had to run away from Ukraine and started studying in the Netherlands in our academy.

It was an insane year in many ways, both because we started the academy, but also I participated in probably over 50 benefit concerts for Ukraine. And then in the summer there was a tour with Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, an amazing initiative. We had 13 concerts all over Europe and in the United States, and in the end, every concert was sold out and raised also quite a substantial amount of money for Ukraine, I think.

To say a little bit about the orchestra, basically the musicians in the orchestra, they were all Ukrainian musicians — which were playing normally in the leading Ukrainian orchestras. And some of them were musicians which were refugees in Poland or some other places. But basically it was all Ukrainian musicians, and some of the best of the best ones. It was incredibly emotional tour. We felt basically that our purpose as musicians, the purpose of music, was really at its highest in those moments.

“We felt basically that our purpose as musicians, the purpose of music, was really at its highest in those moments.”
Anna Fedorova, on playing with the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra

Rath: What an extraordinary couple of years. I can't even imagine the emotion. My head is sort of spinning from everything you just said. With that as the background, what is it like to return to work with the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra?

Fedorova: That's something I was looking forward to for a long time because my first experience with Ben Zander and with the Philharmonic Youth Orchestra in 2018 was so wonderful. And in general, the musician connection which we have with Ben — the incredible insight into the music which he brings and shares — is incredibly inspiring.

And the tour we had in Brazil in 2019, it was also something out of this world. I think they had 10 or 11 concerts. We traveled through all of Brazil, the energy and atmosphere in the orchestra with all the young and extremely talented players, which were playing better and more inspired with every next concert. It was really something very special, the way Ben can inspire and bring out of the young musicians really special and emotional and individual wonderful qualities. That was really fantastic to watch.

Rath: And then this weekend you'll be performing Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto. I didn't realize until I was sitting down to get ready for this interview that that was actually first premiered in Boston. Not the U.S. premiere, the premiere premiere — the world premiere was here — right?

Fedorova: Yes. That's actually wonderful coincidence. I'll get to play it in Boston in Symphony Hall, that's a really incredible place to play. I love playing there, so I'm very much looking forward.

I'm also looking forward to working with Ben on this concerto. We are going to have a meeting soon and go through it and share our views, and I'm sure it will be a really, really inspiring experience.

“This concerto sometimes is used almost like a Russian anthem and so on. But I think it's really a misusing of the music.”
Anna Fedorova, on Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto

Rath: What does the work mean for you, in this context?

Fedorova: It's actually an interesting question because, especially since the beginning of the war, this concerto was very often mistreated as the symbol of Russia. Because also in Russia, this concerto sometimes is used almost like a Russian anthem and so on. But I think it's really a misusing of the music because the way Tchaikovsky wrote it and also the way how you can perform this music can be very different.

In general, it's very intimate, very beautiful, very personal concerto, which is more speaking to humanity and human qualities and values. Not to mention that the third movement of this concerto is actually based on a Ukrainian folk song. So for me to perform this concerto is very special. And Tchaikovsky has Ukrainian roots. So I think we really need to try to detach from some kind of wrong associations of the music and try to look further and deeper.

Rath: Brilliant. Anna, it's been a great pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

Fedorova: Thank you. It was great pleasure for me, too.

Anna Fedorova performs with the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra at 3 p.m. this Sunday, March 3 at Symphony Hall.