Christmas in Ukraine is “a breath of life”

Cappella Romana - Dec. 22 at St. Mary's Cathedral in Portland

Oregon ArtsWatch‘s Friderike Heuer reviewed the Portland performance of Christmas in Ukraine. See a video from the performance along with the review and get your January 5th San Francisco tickets while you can!

“The superb vocal ensemble’s ‘Christmas in Ukraine’ was ancient and modern and a breath of life… Cappella Romana opened its 2018/19 season announcement with the words, “Prepare to be engaged, moved, and inspired.” Consider it done. You could add an occasional “made breathless” by the sheer beauty of the singing. One of the main themes of the glorious vocal ensemble’s Saturday concert Christmas in Ukraine at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Portland was the notion of breath. Breath as the source of life handed down from above, and breath as the source of praise sent back up. … It was as exuberant as one would wish when the music demanded it. It was as solemn as one would hope when the message was grave, with precise, energetic, and fluid conducting throughout. And this is not where the dichotomies end. Kuzma devised a terrific program that included music from both pagan and sacral realms, as they both capture a typical repertoire for the Ukrainian nation of devoted (and devout) singers, carols and motets. Many of the pieces had never been published before in the United States and were transcribed by the director or provided by her colleagues in Kiev. The theme of nature as a source of inspiration and adulation at the birth of Christ ran through the concert. Added to that were occasional spoken passages, reading of prose-poetry by the singers, and childhood reminiscences by the conductor, as is Ukrainian custom. On the one hand it provided an introduction to the culture, helped us understand the value of recitation to a nation exposed to ever-changing circumstances, preserving heritage. … Harmonic simplicity and bell-like acoustic color tempted not a few listeners to chime in with soft humming on occasion. No match to the full-bodied voices and clear articulation by the choir, I hasten to add. Not a huge disturbance either, though, because it captured the communal spirit inherent to these a cappella pieces. And talking about bell-like: the chorus managed to breathe new life even into an old chestnut, Scedrik, known to us as Carol of the Bells, which is really not about bells at all, or even a Christmas carol, but a song about swallows returning and bringing good tidings for Epiphany. The most impressive bell incantation came in Yerusalimsky dzvoni, where a full range of octaves pealed and boomed across the hall in tempi that made you want to dance. That rousing carol was paired, in one of the most heartrending contrasts of the evening, with a wistful lullaby, Spi, Isuse, Spi. Call me moved!”

—Friderike Heuer, ArtsWatch

See the full review on OrArtsWatch.org

Final performance – Saturday, 5 January at St. Ignatius Parish in San Francisco! Tickets still available.

Christmas in Ukraine Opening Weekend

Cappella Romana sings

What a wonderful weekend celebrating “Christmas in Ukraine” with sold-out, packed halls in Seattle and Portland. ✨ Khïstos razhdayetsia! Slavite yeho!

Merry Christmas from all of us at Cappella Romana!

Christmas in Ukraine

A Video Christmas Card for you:

Thank you for your support of Cappella Romana!

Christ is born!   Χριστὸς γεννᾶται!   Христос рождається!

Christmas in Ukraine

5 Jan 2019

San Francisco

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Ukrainian-American Artist Mary Chomenko Hinckley to Display Artworks at Portland Concert

Mary Chomenko Hinckley, a first generation Ukranian-American, works in bronze, resin, glass, paint and photography.  Her investigations create a colorful dialogue between nature and civilization and time and place.  She is Portland-based.

At the Portland concert of Christmas in Ukraine, you’ll have the chance to see three of her works up-close, including life-size urban coyotes in coated bronze.

Learn more at marychomenkohinckley.com


Pasadena/Portland Pacific Blue Coyote  1992/2017 Nickel-plated bronze, 30 x 35-1/2 x 10 in. Edition of 9 AP #2/3
©Mary Chomenko Hinckley
Pasadena/Portland Coyote  1992/2017 Nickel-plated bronze, 30 x 35-1/2 x 10 in. Edition of 9/9
©Mary Chomenko Hinckley
Venice Gate – Black on Boogie-Woogie 2013. Fused glass, 16 3/4 x 19 5/8 in. ©Mary Chomenko Hinckley 

Christmas in Ukraine

21 & 22 Dec, 2018, 5 Jan 2019

Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco

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Christmas in Ukraine

Christmas in Ukraine

Khrïstos razhdayetsia! Slavite yeho! Christ is born! Glorify 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 Nariman Asanov, 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 BOGO Recording Sale

Give the gift of music with Cappella Romana’s acclaimed recordings. With every CD you’ll receive full texts and translations, biographies, and program notes to deepen your understanding and enjoyment of the music.

Now through December 16, buy one CD and get the second CD FREE!

Offer Ends December 16, 2018 at 11:59pm – so ORDER NOW!
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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!

Thank you for your support!

Mark Powell, Executive Director

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