The Ukrainian chief conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra felt he had to justify performing the music of Russian composers after the invasion of his country in February.

And Kirill Karabits believes “no orchestra in the world” has been more dedicated to playing Ukrainian music than the BSO.

He was talking to the Echo as this season’s programme ended, but he was already looking ahead with anticipation to the next, which opens in October.

That first night will be very special occasion, featuring his homeland composer Feodor Akimenko’s forgotten Cello Concerto, written in 1922.

It’s part of the BSO long-standing ‘Voices from the East’ series, a passion project of the conductor who said the war had been a huge cultural shock as well as in every other way.

“When I conduct Russian music I have to find an argument as to why I am doing it. I have to justify it as to why I am conducting Shostakovich or Rachmaninov.

“People wonder, how can I do that as a Ukrainian conductor because of the conflict with Russia.

“Some orchestras have refused to invite Russian artists or have excluded Russian music from their programmes, but I do not believe this is the right way.

“I do not believe by cancelling Russian culture, one can achieve peace in Ukraine. I really don’t. I can only see the conflict going deeper and deeper if people choose this direction.

“Of course I understand the other point of view but I hope this will soon disappear as an issue.”

Karabits said Russian music was a shared heritage with Ukraine.

“In the early part of the 19th a large part of Russia empire was Ukraine and we can’t just forget it. All cultural heritage of the Russian empire also belongs to Ukraine.”

Karabits said it had sometimes been difficult to concentrate on music because “morning to evening you are following the news but I have said to myself this is the new reality and I am not going to stop what I am doing.

“The only thing that can help is support from the people in front of you, the musicians, of course always the musicians, and the audience and then you don’t feel alone anymore.”

The maestro has been touched by the huge outpouring of support and emotion from the home audience at Lighthouse and the players with whom he has always enjoyed a close and special relationship since joining the BSO 13 years ago.

“Everybody is so sensitive and helpful emotionally and has helped me feel part of the family and I will always be grateful for that.”

Ukrainian music and pieces from the wider former Soviet empire have been an important part of BSO programming in Karabits’ time.

“Now you don’t have to justify it, people understand and I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for Ukraine to promote its culture. We have some sensational performances planned for next season.”

He said the war would end at some time, “there is no doubt about that, but what will Ukraine be like? None of us know."

Karabits admitted it would be ‘amazing’ and a ‘dream’ to perform with the BSO in Ukraine one day.

“There is no orchestra in the world that has been so dedicated to performing Ukrainian music. The BSO should have a medal for that.”

Akimenko’s Cello Concerto opens the Poole season with Karabits at the podium.

Its premiere was to have taken place in Kharkiv where the composer was born but the conflict dashed hopes of that, so Poole now has that honour.

Akimenko was a student of Rimsky-Korsakov and the first composition teacher of Stravinsky, though his own works are largely undiscovered.

Later in the season, Karabits conducts the world premiere of a new work by Ukrainian composer and sound artist Anna Korsun which has been commissioned by the BSO. Originally from the Donbass, Korsun becomes the BSO’s Composer-in-Residence in 2023.

As ever the new season features a vast range of works including Mahler Symphony No.5, Beethoven Violin Concerto, Dvorak’s Symphony No.7 and No.9, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, Handel’s Messiah plus Mozart, Brahms, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Elgar, Walton, Bruch, Ravel, Debussy and Rimsky-Korsakov.

For the full programme, see