Christmas in Ukraine

Christmas in Ukraine

Khïstos razhdayetsia! Slavite yeho! Christ is born! Praise Him!

When Cappella Romana invited me to prepare this concert “Christmas in Ukraine,” a wealth of musical memories came into my imagination. Since I am of Ukrainian descent, I felt instant inspiration and also a sense of responsibility. How can I represent the many centuries of Ukraine’s sacred and secular Christmas repertoire in one concert? Our current era of re-emerging nationalist jingoism around the globe also poses a challenge. How can we as a chorus convey this culture not as monochromatic but in all its rich complexity? 

Many of us living west of the Carpathian Mountains have little familiarity with Ukraine as a nation and culture. For generations, Ukraine was regarded as a colony of Russia, and the Ukrainian language called a dialect of Russian. Even today, news about Ukraine is often filtered through the lens of Russia. The New York Times and NPR, when covering the Maidan protests, the referendum in Crimea, or the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine, typically consult correspondents based in Moscow rather than Kyiv. If we have an image of Ukraine or Ukrainians at all, it is perhaps a vague blur. 

Music can speak a thousand words, and I hope the sonic and poetic images of this concert will more clearly acquaint you with the colorful country that is Ukraine and its cultural sensibility. 

Dr. Marika Kuzma
Dr. Marika Kuzma

Ukrainians are a singing people: their appreciation of singers and vocal music runs deep. Even in the 18th century, Western European travelers commented on constant singing in Ukraine’s fields and villages. Famous for its fertile land, Ukraine is highly agrarian, and its songs often express a reverence for nature. The choral music of Ukraine, as you will hear, is unabashedly melodic and triadic, its lyrics sentimental. Because Ukraine adopted Christianity (in the 10th Century) rather precipitously, its carols flow between pagan and Christian expression without contradiction. Ukrainians venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary: their ancient worship of an earth-mother perhaps transferred to the Christian Theotokos (Mother of God). In carols, they express wonder at the virgin birth and the Star in the East, and a fascination with the angelic chorus, shepherds, animals, and even flowers surrounding Jesus in the manger. Many of the pieces you will hear—the carols as well as the Bortniansky Choral Concerto—describe the celestial and the terrestrial realms as a continuum: a continuum made possible with God’s descent to earth in the form of the Christ-child accompanied by angels touching down to the manger. 

In Ukraine, carols are sung between Christmas Eve, called Sviatiy Vechir or “Holy Night” (December 24 in the new calendar and January 6 in the Julian calendar), and Epiphany—called Shchedriy Vechir or “Bountiful Eve” (January 6 new calendar or January 19 in the Julian calendar). There are generally two types of carols. Although there is some overlap, in general koliadky are associated with Christmas and refer to the story of Christ’s birth; shchedrivky are associated with the feast of the Epiphany or Theophany. In earlier centuries and an ancient calendar, Schedriy Vechir fell in springtime. Thus, many ancient shchedrivky refer to bird migration, the birth of livestock, and future harvest. The famous carol that most Americans know in its English version as “Carol of the Bells” is one such shchedrivka. In the original Ukrainian, it mentions the return of a swallow, harvest, and sheep multiplying—no bells at all. The carol “Pavochka khodït” has only a tenuous relation to the Christmas season through its refrain.

Christmas in Ukraine

21 & 22 Dec, 2018, 5 Jan 2019

Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco

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In Ukraine, Christmas music-making does occur in churches and concert halls, but rather than being focused on lengthy oratorios or cantatas, its repertoire centers in a cappella miniatures. Even the categories of Ukrainian carols have diminutive names: koliadky and shchedrivky—little carols, little epiphany songs. There are hundreds of them! and they are ubiquitous. Whether sung by professional choirs in many vocal parts, by concert soloists, old women in their babushka-scarves together with the church congregation, family members of all ages sitting around a table, a young child on the way home from school, by itinerant groups of carolers improvising harmonies as they go door-to-door, or by pop artists on you tube, these koliadky and shchedrivky are sung with gusto and sung annually. Contemporary Ukrainian composers and arrangers honor the carol aesthetic as well. The pieces by Alzhniev, Dychko, Yakovchuk, and Yakymets you will hear tonight are rooted in folk oral tradition and manage to evoke intimacy, familiarity, and grandeur all at once. 

Ukrainians also treasure the spoken word: the recitation of poetry is promoted from an early age and is part of traditional Christmas and Epiphany celebrations. The custom of caroling door-to-door includes vinchuvannia, a practice of exclaiming a blessing to each household. These blessings, addressed to the master or mistress of the house, are delivered at a quick pace, typically in rhythmic, rhyming couplets. Sometimes the blessings are polite, sometimes irreverent, often comic. Our concert will include a few folk vinchuvannia, poetry recitations, and vignettes by celebrated Ukrainian writers. 

Overall, our program spans several centuries, urban and rural regions, liturgical and folk music. It groups short pieces somewhat thematically to allow continuity of singing and thought. It includes ancient liturgical chant; a concerto by Bortniansky, perhaps the most famous composer of Ukrainian descent; and a piece by Lesia Dychko, among the most esteemed composers of present-day Ukraine. It also features arrangements by the ethnographer Stetsenko and by the choral conductor Koshetz whose concert tours in the 1920s first brought his colleague Leontovich’s “Carol of the Bells” to world-wide attention. We present pieces from the diaspora as well: Hurko, Kuzma, Kytasty, and Lepkiy. The history of Ukraine includes the stories of artists who were exiled or displaced but who themselves (and their offspring) never forgot their homeland. 

We begin our journey with the oldest known Ukrainian folksong, invoking a Creator-God to “breathe life” onto the earth. We continue with an Old Testament psalm verse that is sung as part of the Christmas Day matins liturgy: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” Breath is understood to be both the source of all creation and the power through which humans can sing in praise of their Creator. In Ukrainian, the very word “dukh” means both breath and spirit. At Christmas, Ukrainians adore the earth and heavens and worship the Christ-Child in the same breath. Whether in church, seated around a family table, or walking door-to-door in the winter air, Ukrainians share an innate understanding that the act of singing brings them closer to each other as a people and closer to their Creator-God: a God that is everywhere and at all times “with us.” 

Z namy Boh!

—Marika Kuzma

I am grateful to Phil Bodrock, Daniel Galadza, Melanie Kuzma, the Kyiv Chamber Choir, Ihor Stasiuk, and the Yara Arts Group for contributing materials and consultation for this concert. 

Christmas in Ukraine

21 & 22 Dec, 2018, 5 Jan 2019

Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco

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Cappella Romana Joins PBO for Handel’s Messiah

December 7-10, 2018, Cappella Romana joins Portland Baroque Orchestra in Portland’s only annual production of Handel’s Messiah on period instruments. The performance will feature guest-director and harpsichordist Desmond Earley, soprano Miriam Allan, mezzo-soprano Laura Beckel Thoreson, tenor Nils Neubert, and bass-baritone William Gaunt. Learn more at PBO.org

On #GivingTuesday, your gift will be doubled!

Cappella Romana in performance with Giving Tuesday logo at the top
Cappella Romana in performance with Giving Tuesday logo at the top

It’s #GivingTuesday, and we know all will be receiving many appeals to support the great work non-profits do in our communities.

NEWS FLASH: Today we received word that the Maybelle Clark Macdonald Fund will match your gift made before Dec. 31. Your gift will be doubled!

At Cappella Romana, giving is a year-round activity, and we appreciate your support of music that touches you deeply.

a truly spiritual experience

a beautiful evening of breathtaking music

the sound was spellbinding

Cappella Romana is a gift to the community and to the world of sacred music

—Cappella Romana patrons in 2018

With your generous support, Cappella Romana will continue its mission to bring you the transcendent music of the Christian East and West.

Give today and your gift will be matched!

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The SunBreak Reviews “They Are At Rest”

Cappella Romana: They Are At Rest at St. Mark's Cathedral in Seattle
Cappella Romana: They Are At Rest at St. Mark's Cathedral in Seattle

Portland’s Cappella Romana stepped away from its usual programming of Orthodox chant Friday night to sing a concert of music remembering the Armistice of 1918 and what it meant to the survivors. This was not by any means a rejoicing for the Armistice, but nor was it one of sorrow and anguish for the dead and wounded…Rather it was a somber one of consolation and also of hope for the resurrection of the dead.

Hearing this music exquisitely and expressively sung in the ambiance and acoustics of St. Mark’s Cathedral was already an emotional experience.…The result here was intensely eloquent, perhaps even more so for those of us who grew up in Europe right after WWII with losses surrounding us. The sound of Cappella Romana in [Vaughan Williams’ ‘My Soul, there is a country…’] could have come from King’s College, Cambridge.”

—Philippa Kiraly, The SunBreak

See the full review on TheSunBreak.com

Oregon Arts Watch Review for “A Song of Creation”

Cappella Romana performing Heaven and Earth: A Song of Creation at St. Mary's in Portland.
Cappella Romana performing Heaven and Earth: A Song of Creation at St. Mary's in Portland.

Cappella Romana’s performance…was an electrifying, bristlingly intense superabundance of laser-beam monody and…florid counterpoint in the Eastern Orthodox style. … Here, the modern music was a vivid variety of sacred choral music by contemporary composers Matthew Arndt, John Michael Boyer, Alexander Khalil, Kurt Sander, Richard Toensing, and Tikey Zes. The six composers, according to the program, “found common musical language in their experience as practicing liturgical musicians in the Orthodox Church.” Let’s pause right there: these are all Orthodox Christian composers who work as church musicians, meaning these guys have the same basic professional profile as Johann Sebastian Bach—and there are a half dozen of them, all working together. It shows. … After intermission, Boyer—not just a composer but also a singer in the group and its newly anointed Associate Music Director—led the singers in his own music… I was immediately taken with Boyer’s compositional voice (his physical voice, too). And it’s always extra fun to discover a whole crew of composers all at once. Les Six. The Second Viennese School. The Original Minimalists. But like those schools—and happily for listeners who appreciate variety—this group isn’t interested in imposing its orthodoxy, only sharing it through music.”

Read the full review on OrArtsWatch.org

The Oregonian Features “They Are At Rest”


The Oregonian interviews Cappella Romana executive director Mark Powell for a feature on our They Are At Rest series:

Cappella Romana appears to be the only professional artistic organization in Portland giving a performance commemorating the 100th anniversary of World War I’s end.

“This is the right thing for us to do,” Mark Powell, Cappella Romana’s executive director, said. “The poetry and the texts in these pieces really cause one to reflect on the reality of war and what the real cost is. We’ve (become) very desensitized, I think, particularly with technology and drone warfare and all these things.”

Read the piece on OregonLive.com

They are at Rest

9 & 11 Nov, 2018

Seattle and Portland

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They Are At Rest – Program Notes

Guy Protheroe

They are at Rest: A Remembrance of the 1918 Armistice

Guy Protheroe

Guy Protheroe

At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, an armistice was signed which brought to a close the greatest human conflict so far known to man. What had begun as a border dispute in the Balkan States of South-Eastern Europe in 1914, expected to last but a few weeks, had engulfed not only all the great powers of Europe but had also drawn into the conflict the United States, the British self-governing colonies of Canada and Australia, Japan, China and even South American states such as Brazil and Peru. Four years of trench warfare fought on the fields of Europe had practically wiped out a generation of young men with scenes of carnage scarcely believable to those waiting at home for news of their loved ones.

The Armistice was signed by representatives of Germany on one side, and Allies represented by France and Britain on the other. However, one of the prime movers in the negotiations to end the war was President Wilson of the USA. It will be for historians rather than musicians to debate whether the punitive conditions imposed on Germany in the subsequent Treaty of Versailles sowed the seeds for the Nationalistic ideals which brought to power Hitler in Germany and Mussolini in Italy, and led to the catastrophic events of the Second World War.

In contrast, the early years of the 20th century, up to 1914, saw a flowering of artistic creativity in a Europe which is now regarded as the end of an era. As the British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey commented in August 1914: “the lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”

They are at Rest

9 & 11 Nov, 2018

Seattle and Portland

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In Britain, in the period before 1914, there was something of a resurgence of musical talent, with composers such as Elgar, Parry and Stanford, supported by an affluent society enjoying a thriving economy and in a position to provide patronage. The same sort of thing was going on in France and elsewhere in Europe. And it was not confined to music: the visual arts too were enjoying something of a boom, and the decorative arts were giving us Art Nouveau houses and furniture, and the most wonderful textiles and fashions which had, in England at least, blossomed after the period of mourning for the passing of Queen Victoria (when everything had to be black!). One can only speculate on what our predecessors might have enjoyed if the lights had not gone out.

While the USA played a hugely important part in both World Wars, as allies of the Western European powers, being geographically situated across the Ocean its population did not experience the same degree of deprivation and destruction as did its European neighbours.

When planning tonight’s programme we looked first, unsurprisingly, at works written in Britain to commemorate the Armistice and the bringing of peace. In fact, there seems to be very little directly composed in celebration of the Armistice. After four years of such bloody conflict it appears there was little appetite for anything that could be described as celebratory. And of course armistices generally happen at short notice so you do not have lots of composers gearing up to write something, as you might have for a Royal Wedding!

Edward Elgar, who was Master of the King’s Music at the time, spent most of 1918 writing wonderfully introspective chamber music (possibly also being clinically depressed) and apparently decided not to attend the victory celebrations in London but instead retired to his cottage in Sussex.

What we do have is some wonderful music written either during the war years, or shortly before and afterwards, which reflects the response of composers to the changing times in which they were living. The pieces we include which were written beforehand were still being regularly performed during the war years, and those written later were inspired by the tragic circumstances of the war years.

—By Guy Protheroe & Ann Manly Protheroe

They are at Rest

9 & 11 Nov, 2018

Seattle and Portland

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KING FM Northwest Focus features They Are At Rest

They are at Rest: A Remembrance of the 1918 Armistice

They are at Rest: A Remembrance of the 1918 Armistice
In the lead up to our They Are At Rest series, Seattle’s KING FM will be previewing the performance on the Northwest Focus program Monday-Thursday of next week (11/5-8/2018).

Date

Time

Music

Monday, November 5
8:08pm
Parry: Songs of Farewell – There is an old belief

 

Tuesday, November 6
8:02pm
Parry: Songs of Farewell – I know my soul hath power

 

Wednesday, November 7
9:14pm
Parry: Songs of Farewell – My soul, there is a country

 

Thursday, November 8
8:22pm
Parry: Songs of Farewell – Never, weather-beaten sail

 

They are at Rest

9 & 11 Nov, 2018

Seattle and Portland

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The History of the Remembrance Poppy

They are at Rest: A Remembrance of the 1918 Armistice

During Cappella Romana’s They Are At Rest performances in Seattle (Nov. 9) and Portland (Nov. 11), the singers will be wearing poppies supplied by the American Legion – and will make them available to audience members – so we thought we’d look back at the “History of the Poppy” as set out by the Royal British Legion:

“During the First World War (1914–1918) much of the fighting took place in Western Europe. Previously beautiful countryside was blasted, bombed and fought over, again and again. The landscape swiftly turned to fields of mud: bleak and barren scenes where little or nothing could grow.

Bright red Flanders poppies (Papaver rhoeas) however, were delicate but resilient flowers and grew in their thousands, flourishing even in the middle of chaos and destruction. In early May 1915, shortly after losing a friend in Ypres, a Canadian doctor, Lt Col John McCrae was inspired by the sight of poppies to write a now-famous poem called In Flanders Fields.

McCrae’s poem inspired an American academic, Moina Michael, to make and sell red silk poppies which were brought to England by a French woman, Anna Guérin. The (Royal) British Legion, formed in 1921, ordered 9 million of these poppies and sold them on 11 November that year. The poppies sold out almost immediately and that first ever ‘Poppy Appeal’ raised over £106,000; a considerable amount of money at the time. This was used to help WW1 veterans with employment and housing.”

Read more about the history at BritishLegion.org.uk

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders’ fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders’ fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high,
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders’ Fields.

They are at Rest

9 & 11 Nov, 2018

Seattle and Portland

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