Confronting darkness at Avaloch

I recently spent a lovely ten days at Avaloch Farm Music Institute in Hew Hampshire. I was invited there by the Brooklyn-based violin/piano duo aTonalHits to collaborate on a new project. Katha, Illya and I only met once when they did a concert in Vancouver back in 2014. Some post-concert beers and chance Facebook conversations about our outdoor adventures brought us to Avaloch. This private estate in the tiny farming town of Boscawen proved to be the ideal setting for us to get to know each other and get comfortable enough to try something which is new for all three of us. Our daily (or often twice-daily) walks through the orchard to dip in the lake, and the gorgeous hike to the summit of Mt. Lafayette forged the bonds of friendship; the cheap spirits amply supplied by New Hampshire’s tax-free liquor mega markets tempered them.

Avaloch Farm

In this summer paradise, we grappled with a rather dark concept. The project that I brought with me in very loosely sketched out form deals with a folksong I recorded in Perebrody, a village in northwestern Ukraine, when I travelled there on a Canada Council funded research trip in the Fall of 2012. It is a song about the abduction and presumable rape of a girl named Halya by travelling cossacks. When they are finished with her, they tie her to a pine with her own braids and set the tree on fire. The climactic stanza of the songs is:

Горить, горить сосна, горить не стухає.
Кричить, кричить Галя, кричить не стіхає.
Ех ти Галю, Галю молодая!
Кричить, кричить Галя, кричить не стіхає.

Burns, burns the pine and won’t go out.
Cries, cries Halya, cries and won’t quiet down.
O, Halya, young Halya!
Cries, cries Halya, cries and won’t quiet down.

In some versions of the song, Halya is saved by another young cossack who happens to hear her cries while walking through the woods. In the version I recorded, she is not so lucky and there is no salvation.

The subject matter was so horrible that it became inextricable lodged in my brain transforming into something entirely different (as I discovered to my great surprise when I finally extracted the song from the hours upon hours of recordings I made).

What made it even worse is that it is not, as I originally believed, just some obscure song I stumbled upon, dealing with some freak case that happened in the area in some distant past. The song is apparently extremely popular in Ukraine. It was used as a marching song by soldiers and cossacks themselves; it is sung during weddings and other celebratory gatherings; it exists in the most horrifyingly upbeat choral arrangements available all over YouTube.

A 1894 report of the Imperial Academy of Learning contains a whole sub-chapter on folksongs dealing with the “abduction and burning of maidens” found on the territory of the Russian Empire and the surrounding Eastern European countries.

There appears to be something about my Eastern European culture which keeps an almost cherished space for this horrible phenomenon. And what better way to illustrate this than the infamous case of Oksana Makar, which rocked the whole world in the spring of 2012, just a few months before I recorded this song. It is a real-life and very current case of a luring away, rape and burning of an 18-year-old girl, which took place just an hour north-west of where I was born. This case inspired major protests in Ukraine, not only because of its sheer horror, but because it is part of a larger phenomenon of brutal crimes against women which happen on a regular basis and go largely unpunished due to the corruption and ineffectiveness of the legal system.

As if all of this wasn’t revolting enough, there is also the moral of the story, the ultimate public response. After the initial indignation about the barbarism surrounding Oksana’s death died down, there was a strategic digging into her background which unearthed that she was a runaway from a broken home and was allegedly supporting herself through prostitution. As horrified as people were by the manner of her death, the ultimate public response was that had Oksana been a good girl, had she not gone home with men she didn’t know very well, better yet if she had stayed home, she would have been alive and well now. It’s her own fault.

And what is the lesson to be learned from Halya’s brutal story? Exactly the same.

Хто в бору ночує, нехай ете чує,
А хто дочки має, нехай навучає.

А хто дочки має, нехай навучає,
З вечору позненько гулять не пускає.

Those who sleep in the pine woods, let them hear.
And those who have daughters, let them teach them.

And those who have daughters, let them teach them,
And to go out walking late at night not allow them.

The project I am working on with aTonalHits is my attempt to process the horror that I feel when I confront this system of abuse and its ultimate acceptance through victim blaming. The piece is a song that weaves original material about Oksana Makar through the folksong about Halya. I will sing in folk style along with Katha Zinn playing a somewhat detuned violin and Illya Filshtinskiy exploring a piano prepared with various screws to sound like bells and coocoos. Singing in general and especially with pitched instruments is new to me and I had to work hard to be in tune and in time with the others. Though Illya is Ukrainian as well, this is the duo’s first encounter with Ukrainian folks music. Avaloch Farm provided the perfect atmosphere for us to get comfortable enough with each other to confront these new musical ideas as well as the darkness of this subject matter.

Anna, Katha and Illya at Avaloch Farm

Photo by Illya Filshtinskiy. 

Premiere at La Chapelle tomorrow!

Today I had the privilege of hearing Katelyn Clark rehearse my new piece for harpsichord …the obsessive circularity of thought… on the lovely harpsichord at La Chapelle in Montreal. The instrument is an original from 1772 and sags a little at the corner, but sounds absolutely gorgeous! We’ve had to make some adjustments to the piece because the upper manual is quite a bit higher on this particular instrument than I had anticipated and it is harder to play across manuals. And because it is an antique, we are not allowed to play under the lid. But, the sound is beautiful so I’m not complaining!

The concert, happening on February 11 at 8 pm, also features Luciane Cardassi performing on the Fazioli piano. The Rockeys Duo will perform music by Jimmie LeBlanc, Louis Andriessen, Linda Catlin Smith, Isaiah Ceccarelli and Antonio Celso Ribeiro, as well as my new work for solo harpsichord. More info here.

Harpsichord at La Chapelle in MontrealLa Chapelle in Montreal

Two concerts and a journal

It seems that I just got back from my last four-week-long trip to Europe (my suitcase was still in the middle of my bedroom until very recently), and already I’m getting ready to fly off for another five weeks. While the first trip was purely pleasure, this one has some work sprinkled in.

After a quick stopover in Toronto for a performance of my cello piece (see below), I’m heading over to Slovakia and Austria for the ISCM World New Music Days 2013 festival to hear my solo accordion piece, Light-play through curtain holes, in Vienna. To cap off the trip, I’ll spend a few weeks in Ukraine to do some more village recordings. Most of this is generously funded by the Canada Council for the Arts and the British Columbia Arts Council. I love my life!

First stop: Toronto. My piece for solo cello, The Child, Bringer of Light, which I originally composed for a Carnegie Hall workshop with Kaija Saariaho and Anssi Karttunen, will be performed by Rachel Mercer as part of Toronto’s New Music Concerts Series on November 1st. Check out more info here. Rachel will be amplified and I will diffuse her sound through eight speakers surrounding the audience. I haven’t tried this before with this piece, so I am super excited!


Also, check out excerpts of this piece in the current issue (No. 7) of Manor House Quarterly, which is available online or at Chapters. The score excerpts are accompanied by a very insightful artistic analysis by Cooper Troxell, and remarkably fitting photographs by Lissy Elle. The whole issue looks gorgeous!

My piece, "The Child, Bringer of Light," in Manor House Quarterly

Check back for further updates about my travels.


Soundstreams post-mortem

It’s been about a month since I returned from Toronto and I’m just waking up from my post-masters hibernation. I’ve done no composing since the Soundstreams workshop, and after deadening my brain with hundred-year-old dust and pain fumes at a heritage house reno over the last four weeks, I feel ready to jump back into creative activities.

I had a fantastic time at the Soundstreams Emerging Composers’ Workshop with the Gryphon Trio, and our mentors R. Murray Schafer and Juliet Palmer (see this entry and this one). As mentioned earlier, we were to bring sketches for a new piece for piano trio to be completed after the workshop. I am primarily working with combining fragments from a folksong I recorded in Ukraine with the more timbral ideas and extended techniques I started exploring in The Child, Bringer of Light.

There is a loose narrative in this piece inspired by a group of folksongs dealing with the subject of young women growing old prematurely from hard labour and abusive marriages. One of these songs explores a beautiful metaphor for this idea. A lonely young woman throws a flower into a river hoping that it will reach her people. When her mother finds it floating in a still pool, she wonders why it has wilted despite being in water, why her daughter has aged before her time. My piece will follow the progression of this flower on the river starting with the woman’s excited anticipation of a new marriage, going through the rapids of all the hardships she encounters, and ending in that dark and still pool.

Soundstreams: Piano Trio, Sketch 1

The rough beginning exploring the nervous excitement of a new marriage.

Soundstreams: Piano Trio, Sketch 2

The rough ending, the wilted flower arriving in the still pool. I am exploring ideas similar to the opening, but cast in a darker light.

Soundstreams: Piano Trio, Sketch 3

This material was meant to go in the middle section of the piece, but it became apparent that the overall feel of the sketch doesn’t really fit in the soundworld I am exploring in Sketch 1 and 2. I will probably extract certain gestures from this sketch and reshape them into something more consistent with the opening and closing of the piece. 

During the first two sessions I had with the trio, I started to suspect that the traditional notational system was not really doing a great job capturing the feel I was looking for in this piece. It was too confining. I figured out that the performers needed more room for spontaneous reactions to each other and time to engage all the timbral effects I was asking them to perform. The music needed room for stretching. After rewriting one of the sketches without measures and will less rhythmic precision, I was amazed at how the music magically locked into itself. Considering the freedom that my notation implied, it was remarkable how close the performers’ interpretation came to what I had imagined. I felt like I tapped into their natural tendencies and allowed them to simply play.

Thank you so much to the Gryphon Trio for being so amazing to work with and to the workshop organizers for creating this amazing opportunity.

The first six days of Soundstreams

It’s been a crazy week here at the Soundstreams Emerging Composers’ Workshop in Toronto. The days have been packed with composing seminars with R. Murray Schafer and Juliet Palmer, reading sessions with the Gryphon Trio, various professional development talks, and reunions with many friends. My jetlag combined with overexcited insomnia means that I have mostly been running on adrenalin and copious amounts if tea.

Despite the sleep deprivation, I’ve been having a really wonderful time. I am really enjoying working with the Gryphon Trio. Jamie, Roman and Annalee have been extremely supportive and patient as we try to communicate and explore our ideas. They have a great sense of humour, which makes the whole process fun rather than stressful. It turns out that scordatura (funky tuning) can be a little annoying (to put it lightly) for string players with perfect pitch; they expect to hear a certain note and something else comes out. Annalee is being a very good sport about it though (thank you!). I am enjoying the pulsating, shimmering textures I’m getting from the strings, but finding that I need to go even further into that world, away from the very solid sound of traditional playing. I’m still struggling with fitting the piano into this soundworld.

There has been no drama among the participants, but, since everything is being recorded, we feel like we are on reality radio of some sort (or should I say podcast?). It would be a pretty borring reality show for the average viewer since we all get along…We all have very different aesthetics, so it’s an interesting learning experience. Adam Scime has these crazy dense textures and very detailed string writing. Gabriel Dharmoo is working with Carnatic material from India, with lots of heterophonic unison playing and quiet noisy textures in the strings. Caitlin Smith is incorporating jazz and Turkish traditions. Graham Flett is doing some trippy things with Schumann and string harmonics. Emilie LeBel is combining her gradual, shimmering textures with very broad melodic lines.

Juliet has already asked us what we are planning to steal from each other (Adam Scime, I WILL have your trilly-glissy figures!). I am very curious to see where these pieces will end up. Will there be any cross influences creeping in?

We had a very special treat today: a visit to Murray Schafer’s farm! We got a tour of his current work in progress – a massive theatrical, musical and spatial experience – that’s being erected on his property. He also very generously gave us some of his scores and books as gifts after showing us his publishing house located in his basement. I am now the happy owner of two of his beautifully hand-drawn scores: a chamber opera Loving, and The Black Theatre of Hermes Trismegistos from the Patria cycle. He even gave me the LP recording of the opera! I am very pleased and excited.

Excerpts from the score The Black Theatre of Hermes Trismegistos by R. Murray Schafer

Excerpt from "The Black Theatre of Hermes Trismegistos" by R. Murray Schafer

Excerpt from "The Black Theatre of Hermes Trismegistos" by R. Murray SchaferI love how the lines of the staves turn into waves in the second one. If you like what you see here, get yourself to your nearest CMC library and check out these gorgeous scores. You can also buy them from Arcana, Schafer’s very own publishing label.

Off to Toronto!

After successfully defending my masters thesis a couple of weeks ago, I’m happily on my way to the next adventure. I’m off to Toronto for the Soundstreams emerging composers’ workshop, which starts tomorrow. I am super excited about this opportunity to work with R. Murray Schafer, Juliet Palmer and the Gryphon Trio, and to meet the other participants. In addition to composing and reading sessions, there will also be some professional development seminars covering topics such as “From emerging to emerged,” “The art of artistic directing” and “Marketing and PR.” There will also be a visit to Mr. Schafer’s farm!

The format of this workshop will be a little different from the other two I’ve participated in (Carnegie Hall and NAC). Instead of coming in with a completed piece to rehearse and tweak, we were asked to bring sketches to try out with the ensemble. The piece will be completed after the workshop.

I’ve spent the last four weeks trying to wrap my brain around a new tuning on both violin and cello. I tried to keep the tuning unchanged at first, but the open strings are so familiar and predictable. And, with the strings being turned in open fifths, the harmonics pretty much form a D major scale.

The moment I started fidgeting with the tuning pegs, the sound assumed a new darkness and mystery. The new tuning also opened up some interesting possibilities for natural harmonics and double stops. I think the pain of keeping track of how everything is notated vs. how it really sounds is well worth the effect. We’ll see what the ensemble has to say.

My primary goal for this piece is to fuse several directions in my composing, which up to now have mostly be confined to different pieces. I am trying to integrate my fascination with Ukrainian folksong with the kind of colour manipulations I was exploring in my solo cello piece, The child, bringer of light. I am taking snippets of a folksong I recorded in the village Kozats’ke, Kalyna Malyna, which has really touched me both in terms of its musical content and meaning, and making them emerge out of and dissolve into various harmonic trills.

A sketch for an upcoming piano trio

I rented a cello and a violin to experiment with these ideas and get a feel for the tuning, but the challenge has been imagining what it will all sound like together. Being so preoccupied with the strings, I’ve also been a little neglectful of the piano, a shortcoming I am hoping to fix by and by. Anyway, I’m excited to hear it all at my first session on Tuesday. Keep tuned for further updates!

Ukrainian Polesia: Zalav’ja

After spending three nights in Perebrody, we were off to our second destination, Zalav’ja. Upon arrival, our instructions were to find a particular store and ask for Galja. This Galja would take care of everything. And she did.

Galja turned out to be a somewhat hung-over, but incredibly energetic businesswoman who runs a successful store/bar and hosts most of the visiting folklore enthusiasts. As soon as we arrived, she handed us two plastic cups of steaming instant coffee and started gathering all the singing women. All her phone conversations went something like this: “Does your head hurt? ‘Cause mine does…Drop the mushrooms and get yourself over here fast…Two girls from Canada! No joke!” And then she would pass the phone to me to convince whoever it was that I was in fact real and not just an excuse to have another drink-or-ten together.

While the women were gathering, we were sent to one of the neighbors’ to fill our stomachs and get warm. As soon as lunch was on the table, a jar of samohon (home-made vodka) appeared and so the day of plenty began.

Already feeling a little tipsy, we marched back to the store/bar where the rest of the crowd was gathering with a supply of food and alcohol sufficient for a western wedding. There were some women in their seventies, who still sing the old way, as well as their children, who sing loudly and with a lot of enthusiasm. The sound was absolutely deafening. My ears were ringing within minutes. The singers laughed at bawdy jokes told by the particularly feisty 70-year-old, Antonina, and shed bitter tears at their favorite sorrowful tunes. Our table was like a black hole that would suck in anyone who came too close. People entering the store to make purchases would join the party for a few songs and as many drinks, and the crowd grew steadily.

Zalav’ja – Oj na stavu na stavochku (“Ой на ставу на ставочку”)

A very long and sorrowful song that had people crying. Also note our very first male singer, the one-armed Ivan, in the bass. Galja, performing the highest voice, sings in parallel octaves with him.

Zalav’ja – Pryletila halka (“Прилетіла галка”)

This humorous song caused some debate. The villagers were reluctant to sing it at first because one of the words, which repeats often, apparently sounds like a swear word. They didn’t want to make a bad impression on Canadian audiences. But after reassurances that most Canadians don’t speak Ukrainian anyway, they sang it with gusto. Antonina astonished us with her virtuoso whistling skills.

Several hours later, when the singing session transitioned to drunken debauchery, Galja’s mother quietly untangled us from the jolly crowd and took us home. After heating up their little house to an oven-like temperature, the 80-year-old Ustyma told us many fascinating and sometimes-stupefying stories from her own life. She told us how she gave birth to her six children, (completely alone and unassisted, untangling umbilical chords with her own hands), how she climbed trees as a child while herding cattle and sang above the treetops, how she played jokes on drunkards and laughed at funerals. She is a woman with an iron will and a great sense of humor, the local matriarch presiding over her large family and the whole village.

Zalav’ja – Bila bereza jarko horila (“Біла береза ярко горіла”)

A song about an evil mother-in-law, a popular theme, performed by Ustyma Andrejevna Krepec’ (b. 1932).

We left Zalav’ja with a gift of several kilos of wild mushrooms, provisions for several-days-worth of travel, and an invitation to a wedding (more on that later). The hospitality in these regions is truly remarkable.

Ukrainian Polesia: first dip in Perebrody

Dear Lord, what can I say about Northwestern Ukraine…if vodka doesn’t kill you, diabetes will. In Polesia, the swampy land that was under Polish control until 1939, vodka flows freely from dawn to dusk, and tea is so sweet it should really be classified as syrup.

Our first trip to this hauntingly beautiful region of foggy mornings and cranberry-filled marshes involved a 5-hour bus ride to Rivne, where our Polesian contact, Oleksiy, shoved a map and some CDs into our hands and placed us on yet another bus. Four hours later we were nearing our final destination, Perebrody (Переброди), a smallish village right on the Belarusian border. In pitch-black darkness some kindly local, whom we met on the bus, led us to the tiny house of our hostess, Anastasija Musijivna Chmunevych.

78-year-old Nastja, the energetic little woman known as “the one to whom the Polish come for songs,” is a regular host to folksong seekers like ourselves. “They only sleep at my house,” she proudly tells us. She remembers countless songs and tells stories in that curious Ukrainian manner, which caused my mouth to drop in stupefied disbelief countless times (check out Maria’s post on that subject). After a good sleep, she feeds us buckwheat with onions and eggs baked with salo, and we set out on a tour of the village to collect “the girls.”

The girls turn out to be three more women in their 70s. They are well known in folklore circles, have sung all over Ukraine and Poland, and are featured on this DVD. We gather in Nadja’s kitchen and spend the next six hours absorbing their voices and personalities as they sing, gossip and bicker over forgotten song texts in their curious local dialect*. To make sure the vocal chords don’t dry out, we finish off a bottle of vodka in the process. The next day we gather for another six hours in a different kitchen and eat our way through an enormous heap of traditional food, which Lesya keeps bringing out from the bottomless void of her huge wood-burning oven. Over these two days, my stomach almost burst from overeating.

Perebrody – O, shcho heto za verba (“О що гето за верба”)

Nastja quickly interrupts her singing with “Don’t pour so much!” to which Nadja replies, “Well…just a little…so it doesn’t dry out.”

Perebrody – Oj ty holube (“Ой ти голубе”)

This song caused the most controversy. The first performance erupted into a heated debate over the text. How could the dove be first shot to death and then engaged? But why would a bird be engaged in the first place?? The girls eventually agreed on something and managed to sing the song all the way through before dispersing for the day.

“Oj, when we were young, we would be coming home from the club and there would be a group singing here, and another there, and a third a little further away. We sang all the time. Our daughters don’t sing. No one sings anymore.”

“Polesia is a modern-day matriarchy,” Oleksij tells me later. These women truly are remarkable. They lived through war, collectivization, the breakup of the Soviet Union and a million family traumas. Now in their 70s they live alone, digging their own potatoes, feeding a host of pigs, chickens and geese, and gathering berries and mushrooms in the marshes. And they still sing. They are the last generation that sings.

* Their dialect uses many Polish and Belarusian words and has an interesting, almost Russian pronunciation. “В гетом году було вельме багато слів.”

Travel back in time

In the last days of September, Maria and I visited two villages in the Bobrovyts’kyi district of Chernihivs’ka region to collect songs, stories and memories. A bus ride shaky enough to break teeth or induce labour took us to Kozats’ke (Козацьке), where a welcoming party of babushka-clad old ladies was awaiting us by the village club*. After a series of kisses and a debate about whether it was still sinful to sing softly on a fasting day**, the old ladies hopped on their bikes and rode off to the hut that would serve as our recording studio for the day.

The eight ladies who gathered in the humble, but beautifully decorated home of our host, Maria Andrijivna Vakulenko, form the well-known ensemble Berehynja. They tour all over Ukraine on a little bus that belongs to the former village kolhoz (communal farm). We ate delicious steamed pirogues and spent several hours listening to their stories and songs. Afterwards, Maria Andrijivna showed us some very old articles of traditional garb and gave us a tour of her little farm.

Village Kozats’ke, Ensemble Berehynja: “Kalyna malyna” (“Калина малина”)

Village Kozats’ke, Ensemble Berehynja: “Pryjizhaje mij mylen’kyj z polja” (“Приїзжає мій миленький з поля”)

From left to right: Hanna Oleksandrivna Chubovs’ka (1937), Oleksandra Stepanivna Hereles'(1938), Ljubov Mykolajivna Soroka (1943), Kateryna Ivanivna Burzak (1938), Maria Andrijivna Vakulenko (1945), Ljubov Petrovna Mojsejenko (1942), Natalka Hrehorivna Samson (1936) and Hanna Mykolajivna Chubovs’ka (1937)

The next morning we arose bright and early to catch a little bus to the neighbouring village, Vepryk (Веприк, which translates to “little pig”). There was no welcoming committee here. Iryna, our guide, had a list of names obtained earlier from the village head and we went door-to-door looking for the old ladies known to sing. Once we got two of them in one place, I was given an ancient bike and sent to look for the third.

Soon enough we were gathered in the summer kitchen of Nina Myhajlovna Borovik, who was preparing potatoes and constantly shooing the countless cats living in her yard. These three women are not part of an ensemble like Berehynja and rarely sing together anymore, but managed to remember quite a few beautiful songs. After several hours of singing, gossiping and eating, one of the women, Hanna Ivanovna Jermenok, took us to her home and showed us around her farm, even demonstrating how she reaps grass with an old scythe. She happily showed off old family photos, embroidered shirts and aprons, and hand-woven cloths.

Village Vepryk: “Oj u poli zhyto” (“Ой у полі жито”)

These women can usually sing all the voices in any given song, deciding almost instinctively who will take which line. Here, the top voice switches partway because the first woman was having trouble reaching so high.

Village Vepryk: “Nagljadajsja moja maty” (“Наглядайся моя мати”)

The whole experience was like traveling back in time. Life in these villages couldn’t have been much different 100 years ago, except that maybe people were younger, fresher. Rural communities are dying in Ukraine and this traditional folk culture is disappearing quickly.

For a writer’s perspective on this little expedition, check out Maria Reva’s “Expedition log: songs and sins.”

From left to right: Nina Myhajlovna Borovyk (1952), Hanna Tryhonivna Hajduk (19??), Hanna Ivanovna Jermenok (1949)

* Clubs were set up in villages during Soviet times to promote communist culture and ideals. This is where people would gather to sing and dance.
** One officially can’t sing during fasts, but they made an exception for us.

Art Music in Kiev

Upon arriving in Kiev, Maria and I discovered to our great joy that one can see an opera here for as little as $1.25 or as much as $25. Without losing any time, we booked superb tickets to see several Ukrainian works, which are very hard to find in Canada.

The highlight of our three-day cultural weekend was the ballet Night before Christmas (Ніч перед різдвом, 1990) by Yevhen Stankovych (or Stankovich), which took place at the Kiev Opera House. The music explored a lot of folk material and was a little Stravinskyesque at times. The whole first scene was a very clever layering of what is known as the “Carol of the bells”. It even makes an appearance in the tom-toms. The sets and costumes were gorgeous, and so was the hall itself. It’s obvious that this is the place you are meant to bring your foreign business partners – everything is beautifully restored and the programs have English translation. The following night we saw a Ukrainian classic, the opera Natalka Poltavka (1889) by Mykola Lysenko. The music was nothing special and was sadly overshadowed by the glamourous costumes and sets.

I was particularly looking forward to Monday night, though it ended up being a rather frustrating event in terms of local bureaucracy. But more on that some other time. The event was a state-funded celebration of Stankovych’s 70th birthday, with a concert presentation of his folk opera When the fern blooms (Коли цвіте папороть, 1979) at the Ukrainian National Philharmonic. I read about this work some months ago and had little hope of every finding it. And lo and behold! It turns out that it was being performed in Kiev, now, for free! I call it fate.

The event was full of speeches by various government and cultural officials and the gifting of countless grotesquely large bouquets. I hope the composer had a bucket or two in front of him. There was even a letter from President Yanukovych, the reading of which was greeted by dissatisfied murmurs and quiet booing. The music in this so-called folk “opera” was extremely loud and full-bodied, with a whole lot of choir. It sounded more like an oratorio. I will have to do some thorough listening to the CD, which I quite literally found in the hall, before I decide what I really think of it.

For those of you itching to check out some contemporary Ukrainian piano music, find something by Alexander Shchetynsky (or Shchetinsky). Maria and I got to see a full concert of his solo piano works performed at the Archive Museum on the grounds of the St. Sophia Cathedral in central Kiev. Most of the pieces were serial, each with a very unique soundworld. My favorite were the Four Preludes (1977-78). They had lots of character. Glorify the name of the Lord (Хваліте імя Господнє,1987) was radically different from the other works. It was largely made up of long, simple, chant-like melodies, which very slowly built up into a dense polyphonic texture over the course of 25 minutes. The flowing lines were frequently interrupted by a repeating bell-like chord. The work was very meditative.

Tomorrow we are off to our first village with a large bag of candy, a bunch of chocolate bars and several bottles of sweet wine (the old ladies have a sweet tooth). Check back for updates, and in the meantime check out Maria’s photo tour featuring the Kiev suburbs.