Volodymyr Solianyk

In 1987, with the Cold War still raging, Dean Evenson met Ukrainian jazz virtuoso Volodymyr Solianyk during a visit to Kyiv as part of a Citizen Diplomacy artist tour to the former Soviet Union. When Volodymyr came to the United States a few years ago, he and Dean rekindled their musical friendship laying down piano and flute tracks in the Soundings of the Planet studio. Since the war in Ukraine, they have reconnected again and are now releasing their collaborative album Seeds of Peace. Here’s the story of how they met.


Dean and his wife Dudley had organized a group of artists to travel to the Soviet Union as citizen diplomats with the express purpose of meeting musicians and dancers and collaborating with them. This foray into the camp of our cold war enemy was a perfect complement to their mission of sharing Peace Through Music. Their Artist Ambassadors group included musicians, dancers, singers, actors, a video artist, a poet, and even a skateboard artist.


The premise of being a citizen diplomat was to go with an open mind and refrain from making judgments and comparisons of our way and someone else’s way, thus avoiding the us and them syndrome. In fact, they went with completely positive projections and recognized that this attitude might have had something to do with the incredibly positive experience they encountered. They were very eager to connect with Soviet musicians and dancers and allow the international language of the arts to be their communication and carry a message of peace and friendship.


Seeking Solace rom War

With the war in Ukraine, Volodymyr has relocated to Norway seeking refuge. This means a lot to Dean with his strong Norwegian roots, knowing that his family’s homeland would welcome asylum seekers fleeing the ravages of war.

Citizen Diplomacy Tour

From the day of their arrival in Kyiv, barely recovering from jet lag and lack of sleep after three days of intercontinental travel, they experienced the first miracles of connection that were to become a pattern for the entire trip. At the time, no one knew much about Kyiv, the capital and major city in Ukraine, which is only a short distance from Chernobyl, site of the previous year’s tragic nuclear accident. Then, however, things, were somewhat back to normal, and on that first evening, the Soundings of the Planet musicians were scheduled to open for a Russian rock concert at the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute. As the auditorium was not quite filled by the starting time, the concert was delayed for 15 minutes to wait for more students to arrive.


During that time, a local pianist began to play in a rather free-form, improvisational style. Standing in the wings, the Evensons looked at each other and realized that this Ukrainian man was playing their style of peaceful music. Their mikes were already set up so without ever having met him, Dean and cellist Jonathan Kramer walked out onto the stage just as a Soviet drummer and bass player set up and they had an instant band. The music flowed forth as if rehearsed. Dudley joined with my hand harp, and they had their spontaneous debut in the USSR. The crowd went wild with bravos and foot stomping. The high point was getting to know Volodymyr Solianyk, the pianist, and to begin the first of several performances and recordings with him.


The next day they visited one of the oldest music colleges in Ukraine, Glière Academy. It turned out, they were the first Americans to ever visit, and it also happened that Volodymyr was a teacher there. Dean and Dudley played their music and answered many questions. Then they were thrilled with a women’s choir singing deeply moving and harmonious Ukrainian folk songs. The next day, on a magical autumn afternoon with the sunlight streaming through tall windows, they first recorded with Volodymyr on grand piano.


The next night they had their debut at the Kyiv Jazz Club. Mykola Chepovetsky, writer for ‘News from the Ukraine’ and spokesman for the group, expressed their understanding that these Americans had come, not only as musicians, but as envoys of goodwill, friendship, and peace. He said, “Since you play such an important genre of music which is encouraged by the natural resources of the earth, the importance of your visit here is doubled, because for us, the preservation of this planet is a primary responsibility.”


Their recordings and performances in Ukraine and Russia continued and the following year Soundings of the Planet released the album Music Makes the Snow Melt Down featuring Soundings and Soviet musicians including avant-garde performer Sergey Kuryokhin. Many years later they were delighted when Volodymyr was able to visit the United States and continue the piano and flute collaborations which have now become the album Seeds of Peace.