Christmas in Ukraine is “a breath of life”

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

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