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Nikolai Kachanov, Artistic Director and Conductor of the Russian Chamber Chorus of New York, has created a new concert series entitled "Russia and Beyond: Music from Former Soviet Republics." Acclaimed for its performances of well-known and rarely-performed Russian choral works, RCCNY will demonstrate its broader musical range with music from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Tuva and Russia on May 11 and 15, 2011.
In varying ways the three Baltic composers use elements of their respective traditional musics, combined with 20th-century compositional techniques. They each had to deal with the contradictory criteria imposed by the Soviet regime to gain its approval for artistic creations: on the one hand it encouraged use of folk music in the many Republics; on the other hand it criticized them for being nationalistic. All three of our Baltic composers were highly esteemed throughout the Soviet Union, but not until the independence of their countries was it possible for their music to become known in the West.
Born in 1934 in Alytus, Lithuania, Feliksas Bajoras was educated in Kaunas and Vilnius and wrote works in all the musical genres. He has held many prominent posts, including being Music Director of the Lithuanian National Drama Theater. Bajoras has written about the work performed in the current RCCNY concert: "In The Great Mystery pauses are very important: phrases, words, even syllables should be sung separately, in order to give greater justification to the word. It is like the voice of a person who speaks with God, which would be interrupted because of his inner turmoil."
To the left of Lithuania, geographically speaking, Latvia's capital city, Riga, is the birthplace of Pauls Dambis (b. 1936). Active as a teacher, conductor, and composer, New Yorkers may be interested to know that late in his professional life Dambis studied arts management at CUNY. With all the important positions he has held it may be surprising that he has also been able to create a large number of compositions. RCCNY sings his three Songs of the Sea in which he paints a tragic picture from Latvia's seafaring history.
The northernmost of the three Baltic countries is Estonia; the composer most frequently cited as having helped to maintain its people's national identity is Veljo Tormis, born in 1930 near Tallinn. The magnum opus of Tormis's 500 choral songs is his series of six cycles, Forgotten Peoples, in which he pays tribute to six Baltic cultures on the verge of extinction. RCCNY performs the first of these cycles, Livonian Heritage. The music of its final song, "Sang the Father, Sang the Son" is a rollicking drinking song which fades into the distance, like the Livonian people, who have all but ceased to exist.
The second half of the May 2011 concerts presents two New York premieres. The first is a folk song from the Tuvan Republic, Handagaity, arranged by Alexei Chyrgal-Ool (1924-1989). This performance will be enhanced by the playing of the khomus, a traditional Tuvan instrument, and by the throat style of overtone singing. The second New York premiere is a major work by Alexander Kholminov, born in Moscow in 1925. It is his three-movement Concerto for Cello and Chamber Choir, in which the usual role of the orchestra is taken by the chorus. The virtuoso solo part is played by the gifted young cellist Adrian Daurov.
The first performance is Wednesday, May 11 at 8:00 PM at St. Joseph's Church, 371 Sixth Avenue, between Waverly and Washington Place; tickets are $25 ($15 for students and seniors) and may be purchased online
at www.rccny.org at a 20% discount, up to May 9.
The second performance is Sunday, May 15 at 3:00 PM at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church (921 Madison Avenue at 73rd Street); tickets available only at the door.
Mimi S. Daitz is a choral conductor in New York City who is currently singing with the Russian Chamber Chorus of New York.