Canadian Composer’s Vespers Premiered in Kyiv

By Myroslaw Kohut

A new sacred-music choral work by Canadian composer Roman Hurko received its world premiere on September 24 in Ukraine. The Vydubychi Church Chorus sang Hurko’s Vechirnia (Vespers), under the direction of conductor Volodymyr Viniar, at the Sviato-Uspensky Sobor as part of the International Kyiv Music Fest.

The concert was supported by the Canadian Embassy in Ukraine.

The Kyiv Music Fest is an annual festival, now in its 16th year. It took place from September 24 to October 1. The festival is conducted under the aegis of Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the National Association of Composers of Ukraine, and the Centre of Musical Information. Other important sponsors are the General Directorate of Culture and the Arts, City of Kyiv Administration; The National Philharmonia; and The Tchaikovsky National Music Academy of Ukraine. It is organised by a committee of well-known Ukrainian composers, this year headed  by Yevhen Stankovych, Myroslav Skoryk, Lesia Dychko and others.

The Fest features choral, orchestral, instrumental and vocal chamber-music performances by a range of groups and artists from Ukraine. The music ranges from sacred choral works and established and contemporary classical music to jazz and experimental compositions, performed by Ukrainian and international artists.

This year, two programs, “Musical Dialogues of Ukraine-Estonia and Ukraine-USA”, explored contemporary offerings from these countries. A chamber group from Seattle comprising a string trio augmented by  flute, clarinet and percussion, presented contemporary sounds. Master classes and scholarly music conferences brought composers, academics, performers and audiences together at the event notable for the degree of participation by youth.

The performance of the Vydubychi Church Chorus opened the 2005 Fest. Founded in 1990, the choir consists of professional singers and graduates of music conservatories and institutes.

Under the artistic direction of Volodymyr Viniar, who obtained his degree in musical education at the M. Drahomanov Pedagogical University of Kyiv, the choir has gained international recognition and has performed on stages and in churches in Belgium, Holland, Germany and Australia.

The choir's performance of Vechirnia was magical because Hurko’s work is infused with spirituality. Melodious, yet with a hint of modernism, it has the ability to lift the listener to worship.

The 24 voices of the choir deeply touched the audience who came to hear them in the majestic, yet small, Sviato-Uspensky Sobor of the Kyiv Pecherska Lavra. The 80-plus audience, consisting of professional musicians, music scholars and members of the public, continued their applause long after it might have been expected to stop.

Lesia Dychko, the well-known Ukrainian composer and energetic motor behind the Kyiv Music Fest, offered moving, sincere words of praise to the composer and the choir after the completion of the one-hour performance. When the choir sang "Bozhe Velykiy Yedyniy" as an encore, the air was electric.

Vechirnia was recorded last May and is being currently mastered for production. The CD is scheduled to be released in early 2006. A DVD of the Kyiv performance is also in production.

Vechirnia's composer, Toronto-born Roman Hurko, has written several other compositions of Ukrainian sacred choral music, including Liturgy 2000, Requiem for the Victims of Chornobyl and Liturgy No. 2. He was accepted last year as a member of the National Association of Composers of Ukraine.

The performance of Vechirnia was historic for two reasons. Firstly, it marked the premiere of this work by Hurko. Secondly, the church the choir usually sings in, the Vydubytsky Monastery, is under the jurisdiction of the Kyiv Patriarchate. On September 24, the choir sang in a holy place that is under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate, and did so with the blessing of the Metropolitan of the latter church. The soloist performing with the choir was a Ukrainian Catholic priest from Drohobych, dressed in a pidryznyk (vestment) with a cross of St. George.

The premiere of Vechirnia was truly memorable. Beautiful music was performed and majestically served to bring all together to praise the Lord as one.