Bringing Down Walls in Greater Europe with Music: The Greater Europe Peace Orchestra

Helen Borodina

I first encountered the Greater Europe Peace Orchestra last year in Berlin where they played a series of Advent Concerts. Whilst there, I met Benoit Odille, the founder of the Orchestra, and Anastasia Lebedeva, the President of the Youth Association for a Greater Europe. I watched the Paris-based conductor Reta Kazarian work her magic as I attended the orchestra’s concerts and rehearsals, talked to the young professional musicians from different European countries, and was fascinated to know their story. When I found out about their upcoming tour to London and the fundraising they are currently doing to make it happen, I thought I’d catch up, share their story, and help spread the word.

Benoit Odille

“I brought my idea of an international orchestra to the Greater Europe Meetings in Paris in 2014”, said Benoit, a Paris-based French engineer. “Basically, the idea was for an orchestra that would play concerts around Europe and promote peace. The project won a prize and had the Association’s support. It then took us a year to bring the musicians together.”

The Youth Association for Greater Europe has enjoyed UNESCO patronage for 4 years, and was created to bring students and young professionals from the EU, the CIS and the Balkans together with the aim of erasing stereotypes and promoting win-win solutions and effective collaborations.

The Association that holds the annual Greater Europe Meetings in UNESCO headquarters in Paris serves as an umbrella for cultural, scientific and social projects and has volunteer members from over 20 countries. All of them are highly talented students and young professionals speaking at least 3 European languages.“The Orchestra is one of our favourite projects today”, said Anastasia Lebedeva who is a Russian doing her Master’s in Paderborn Germany. “I would even call it the Association’s face, its spirit.”


Anastasia Lebedeva

“I was shocked by the crisis in Ukraine, I thought it was an unnatural conflict”, Benoit continued. “I wanted the people to see that fighting wasn’t the way, that we needed to cooperate. I admired the example of Daniel Barenboim who brought musicians from Israel and Palestine together. A friend of mine – a Georgian pianist – introduced me to the Paris-based Georgian-Armenian conductor Reta Kazarian. She became excited about the project immediately, and gave us her full support. Then I went to Russia, to Moscow, for two weeks. I went to the Conservatory and some other music schools. I learned some Russian for that. I would begin with, “Ya frantzus”(“I’m French”), and the people there gave me their time and attention. Musicians and music students were impressed by the project and its concept. Many of them later played with us in Paris at our first concert at UNESCO. Later, I got hold of the only Ukrainian violinist in the Paris Conservatory, who wasn’t available, but put me in touch with three Odessa-based and one Berlin-based Ukrainian musicians who joined us. I believe that when you have a good idea, a good project, you have to just go out and do it.”

The first concerts – at UNESCO and at a church in Paris – proved that the idea was indeed a good one. The musicians who had flown in from Russia, Ukraine, Germany and other countries rehearsed Tchaikovsky, Mozart and Mendelssohn for 4 days. Through music, they expressed their civil positions.“There were full houses, and there was wonderful feedback,” said the organizers. “We knew this was a start of something great.”

The Paris concerts were followed by a series of concerts in Moscow, Dubna and Berlin in 2015 and 2016. Every tour was a testimony. New collaborations developed as more and more people got involved with the Orchestra and the Association.

“it keeps us really busy. We deal with visas and other issues. Benoit finds new musicians, arranges the venues and accommodation. We at the Association help with fundraising. Usually we try to raise about 10,000 Euros per project, but it depends on the country. This time, we still need to raise about 5,000 Euros to provide for our 20 musicians’ one-week stay in London,” – said Anastasia. “Fundraising has been the most difficult part of the game,” Benoit explained. “Now that we have connections and are better known, things are easier in every way. People respond with enthusiasm, many believe in our project and want to keep it alive. We’ve had support from companies, from other musicians… “

Today, the Greater Europe Peace Orchestra are an orchestra conducted by Reta Kazarian that brings together young benevolent musicians from Russia, France, Ukraine, Germany, Kosovo and Albany.

If you would like to support the orchestra’s London tour, learn more about and join, the Youth Association for Greater Europe and Greater Europe Peace Orchestra, feel free to contact the author of the article, Benoit Odille and Anastasia Lebedeva

To support the orchestra’s London tour:

To learn more about the Youth Association for a Greater Europe

To learn more about the Greater Europe Peace Orchestra

Music videos:

Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois Church, Paris

Flashmob Gare Montparnasse Video, Paris

Concert in MGIMO, Moscow

Aria “Erbarme Dich”, (Matthäus Passion, J.C.Bach) sung by Reta Kazarian; Berlin

Concert for Refugees, Berlin