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The Russian Chamber Chorus of New York (RCCNY) has become one of America's best ambassadors of the Russian creative spirit. The chorus's December 2010 concert program, "The Spirit of Old Russia," is a fascinating musical journey through Russian choral music history. RCCNY creates living musical pictures of ancient ascetic contemplation, lingering sadness and charming carols. The Russian choral classics are presented in their unforgettably touching beauty, from ancient sacred chants to immortal creations of Russian classical music. The program features works by some of Russia's best-loved composers, including Pavel Chesnokov and Sergei Rachmaninoff, as well as the glorious eight-part cantata, Ode, by a Siberian composer, Yuri Shibanov.
The Russian Chamber Chorus of New York is known for its a cappella programs. In "The Spirit of Old Russia," the chorus will be joined by wind and percussion instruments. Men's voices open the concert with early Russian church chants, joined by the women singing the folk song Dawn Upon Moscow. The collage of early chants and folk song genres symbolically provides the musical atmosphere that surrounded ordinary Russians. Based on the ancient chant Cherubic Hymn heard in the beginning of the concert, the distinguished Russian church composer Pavel Chesnokov (1877-1944) composed a Cherubic Hymn in which he used the intonations of the chant, interspersing them with elements of folk style tunes. This piece is considered a jewel and has since been widely used in Russian church repertoire.
The Muscovite composer Valery Kalistratov (b. 1942) also drew upon the folk sound for his Russian Concerto, from which two carols for mixed voices will be heard: The New Moon Passed By and Kolyada. The first half of the concert concludes with the very rarely performed Six Choruses for Women's Voices by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943), a cycle of choral miniatures with piano. In this composition, written by the 20-year-old Rachmaninoff, one can unmistakably recognize a future lyrical genius. A combination of subtle interwoven female voices and a very developed piano palette creates a masterpiece, in its depth and tenderness. The piano part will be played by the Russian virtuoso pianist and composer, Michael Zeiger.
The second half of the program brings the sounds of the time of Tsar Peter the Great. In this era, a new, secular genre was born. Patriotic songs glorifying the victories of Peter the Great were the most popular. Noblemen began playing music in their homes, learned new European dances, and started to create orchestras. I have arranged three chants (kanty) into a cycle; two are patriotic and one of contemplative nature. The first piece in the style of a march, with drum and flute; the second imagines a group of noblemen gathered to sing around a harpsichord, lit by candles; the third expresses glorification, with two trumpets and a trombone.
As a grand finale to this abbreviated history of Russian choral music, RCCNY presents Ode by Yury Shibanov (b. 1939). Its eight movements are a setting of text by Alexander Sumarokov (1718-1777). Deeply affected by the moral imperfections of his contemporaries, this poet is still relevant today. His poetic world calls for people to serve Beauty and summons the 18th century Russians to "drink your fill, ye sons of Russia, of those sweet streams from which Greece drank." The soloists are Frank Barr, bass, and sopranos Hanna Golodinskii and Jennifer Rose Parker-Sparks.
"The Spirit of Old Russia" will be performed on Saturday, December 4 at 8:00 PM at the Church of St. Ignatius at Antioch (552 West End Avenue at 87th Street) and Sunday, December 5 at 3:30 PM at St. Joseph's Church (371 Sixth Avenue between Waverly Place and Washington Place). To purchase tickets and for further information about RCCNY, visit www.rccny.org/ConcertSchedule.html.
Nikolai Kachanov is the founder and artistic director of The Russian Chamber Chorus of New York.