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Robert Aitken, artistic director

The Ukrainian-Canadian Connection

Saturday April 4, 2015 at Betty Oliphant Theatre
Ilana Zarankin soprano | NMC Ensemble | Robert Aitken direction
Introduction 7:15 | Concert 8:00
Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis Street [MAP]
Reservations: 416.961.9594

Exploring the depths of our rich cultural heritage.

presented with the generous support of the Shevchenko Foundation, John Stanley and Helmut Reichenbächer

SF logo NS OCT 2013 copy



Valentin Silvestrov (Ukraine 1937) - Drei Postludien (1981-82)
Alex Pauk (Canada 1945) - Beyond (1980)
Anna Pidgorna (Ukraine/Canada 1985) - Weeping (2015) World premiere, NMC commission
Gary Kulesha (Canada 1954) - Pro et Contra (1995)
Karmella Tsepkolenko (Ukraine 1955) - Cantata: Three Autumn Elegies (2015) World premiere, NMC commission

Programme Notes

Valentin Silvestrov - Drei Postludien (1981-82)

Valentin Silvestrov was born on 30 September 1937 in Kiev. He came to music relatively late, at the age of fifteen, and was initially self taught. From 1955 to 1958 he took courses at an evening music school while training to become a civil engineer; from 1958 to 1964 he studied composition and counterpoint, respectively, with Boris Lyatoshinsky and Lev Revutsky at Kiev Conservatory. He then taught at a music studio for several years. He has been a freelance composer in Kiev since 1970.

Silvestrov is considered one of the leading representatives of the “Kiev avant-garde,” which came to public attention around 1960 and was violently criticized by the proponents of the conservative Soviet musical aesthetic. In the 1960s and 1970s his music was hardly played in his native city; premieres, if given at all, were heard only in Russia, primarily in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), or in the West. Despite these successful performances in the West (the composer himself was not allowed to attend them), Silvestrov’s music met with no response in his own country and tended to remain “sub rosa.” The avant-gardist tag created obstacles at every turn. For a long time his works were at least heard on the periphery of the official music scene, thanks to the enthusiasm of some performers.

Since the end of the 1980s the number of performances increased, even in Russia and Ukraine. Silvestrov’s music was celebrated in Moscow (1989, 1995), St. Petersburg, (1994), and at the Silvestrov 60th Birthday Festival in Kiev (1998). At the latter event, a scholarly conference devoted to Silvestrov was held at the Tchaikovsky National Academy of Music of Ukraine (formerly Kiev Conservatory). During the 1990s, Silvestrov's music was heard throughout Europe as well as in Japan and the United States. Both in his earlier avant-garde period and after his stylistic volte-face of the 1970s, Silvestrov has preserved his independence of outlook.

In recent decades he has dispensed with the conventional compositional devices of the avant-garde and discovered a style comparable to western “post-modernism.” The name he has given to this style is “metamusic,” a shortened form of “metaphorical music.” In a certain sense, "metamusic" is also a synonym for a universal style and a universal language. He understands it to mean “a general ‘lexicon’ that belongs to no one but can be used by anyone in his or her own way.” His work has affinities with the age of the "classical" fin-de-siecle, especially Gustav Mahler, with whom Silvestrov is often compared. The difference is that the lexicon of today is unlimited. This limitlessness forces composers to search for the lost ontological meaning of music as art. In Silvestrov’s view one of the crucial prerequisites for the continued existence of music resides in melody, which he also regards in an expanded sense of the term. This same approach also governs Silvestrov’s instrumental music, which is always richly infused with both logical and melodic tension. — Courtesy of Schott Music GmbH

Silvestrov believes that a coda is more than something which brings a work to an end. It is one of the most important parts of a composition, or at least just as important as the other sections. His cantatas and symphonies all have lengthy codas, and so do his songs, in which the postludes sometimes seem to take on a life of their own. These lingering “postludes” subsequently evolved to form a new genre. The process began with the chamber triptych Three Postludes. The first Postlude DSCH for violin, violoncello, piano and voice (1981) pays homage to Shostakovich in a deliberately subdued manner (which is in stark contrast to the monumental and not infrequently unoriginal works dedicated to Shostakovich by certain Soviet composers). The second Postlude for solo violin (1981) is based on the contrast between a cantabile baroque improvisation and a virtuoso toccata. The third Postlude for violoncello and piano (1982) is an elegiac miniature, which is similar to the “postludes” of Silvestrov’s songs.” — Tatiana Frumkis

Karmella Tsepkolenko - Cantata: Three Autumn Elegies (2015)

Karmella Tsepkolenko was born in 1955 (Odessa, Ukraine). She graduated from the Odessa State Special Secondary Music School as a pianist and composer. She continued her education at the Odessa State A.V. Nezhdanova Conservatoire (now the National Music Academy) as a composer under Prof. O. Krasotov and as a pianist with Prof. L. Ginzburg (1979). She received her PhD at the Moscow Pedagogical Institute with Prof. G. Tsypin. Tsepkolenko attended composition master-classes in Germany (Darmstadt, 1992, 1994; Bayreuth, 1993) and has been awarded diplomas and prizes at Soviet All-Union and international composers’ competitions. She is the author of more than 100 music works, most of which have been produced on 12 CDs and broadcast in many countries. Tsepkolenko is the founder and Artistic Director of the annual International Festival of Modern Art Two Days and Two Nights of New Music in Odessa. She is the founder and chair of the Ukrainian Section of International Society of Contemporary Music/ISCM, a professor of composition at Odessa National A. V. Nezhdanova Music Academy and, since 2005, Secretary of the Board of the National Ukrainian Composers’ Union.

The cantata Three Autumn Elegies on poems of Oksana Zabuzhko for soprano and ensemble (Odessa, 2014) consists of three parts: September, October, November. Each month represents a certain state. September – a state of nature, which goes into a state of mind. October – the movement, all the changes taking place in October. November – a symbol of cool, coming cold, fading life, stop time. Three Autumn Elegies was commissioned by renowned Canadian composer, flutist, and artistic director Robert Aitken for New Music Concerts with the financial support of the Shevchenko Foundation, John Stanley and Helmut Reichenbächer. — Karmella Tsepkolenko

Anna Pidgorna - Weeping (2015)

Anna Pidgorna (b. 1985) is a Ukrainian-born, Canadian-raised composer and media artist who combines sound, visual arts, writing and carpentry to create works that are dramatic and picturesque. Her part-time work on a heritage house renovation in Vancouver inspired Through closed doors, a violin duo inscribed on a restored antique door, which was premiered by the Thin Edge New Music Collective in Toronto in September 2014. Her fascination with Ukrainian folksong took her on a journey through Ukrainian villages in the fall of 2012, with generous funding from the Canada Council for the Arts. The songs she collected inspired several works, including the chamber opera On the Eve of Ivan Kupalo, which was awarded the BMO Mainstage Award in Boston Metro Opera’s Contempo Festival Competition in 2014. Ms. Pidgorna is a recipient of two SOCAN Foundation Emerging Composers’ awards and has taken part in composition workshops at Carnegie Hall with Kaija Saariaho, Ottawa’s National Arts Centre with Gary Kulesha and Chen Yi, and Toronto’s Soundstreams with R. Murray Schafer and Juliet Palmer. Her Light-play through curtain holes represented Canada at the ISCM World New Music Days 2013 festival in Vienna. Ms. Pidgorna holds an MMus from the University of Calgary, where she studied with David Eagle, and a BA from Mount Allison University. She is currently pursuing doctoral studies at Princeton University.

Weeping is my emotional and musical response to the death and suffering happening in Ukraine during its fight for independence and a better way of life. I was born in Ukraine and still have many relatives there, so my connection to the Revolution of Dignity and the ensuing conflict in the eastern and southern parts of the country is painfully personal. This work is a way for me to channel my emotions and mourn the lives lost or broken in the fight. I have drawn much of the musical material from traditional weeping songs, which women sing at funerals and cemeteries to mourn the dead. They are half-sung, half-chanted dirges made up of repetitive and somewhat formulaic phrases infused with crying and grief. The effect is both emotionally devastating and soothingly meditative. Though I recorded hours of singing in villages throughout the country, I was not able to experience the weeping songs firsthand. Understandably, people do not grieve on command in front of strangers. This is also a dying and rare tradition, which if difficult to come by in the 21st century. I was lucky to find a small collection of recordings in archives and private collections of ethnographers, and have endeavoured to capture the timbral and expressive qualities of each voice using the idiosyncrasies of the instruments to imitate the unintended vocal cracks and hiccups of the singers. The structure of the piece, with each instrument moving largely independently to create an occasionally cacophonous texture, was inspired by a recording of women grieving at a cemetery on a designated day of mourning. — Anna Pidgorna

Gary Kulesha - Pro et Contra (1995)

Gary Kulesha is one of Canada’s most active and most respected musicians. He is principally a composer, but is also active as a conductor, pianist, and teacher. Mr. Kulesha’s music has been commissioned, performed, and recorded by musicians and ensembles internationally. His work spans more than 40 years, and several of his works have entered the repertoire of performers all over the world. His music is extensively recorded and broadcast. From 1988 to 1992, he was Composer In Residence with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra. From 1993 to 1995, he was Composer In Residence with the Canadian Opera Company. He has been the Composer Advisor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra since 1995, has written several works for the orchestra, and has conducted them frequently. Mr. Kulesha has guest conducted many of the most important orchestras in Canada. He has premiered hundreds of new works, and has conducted standard repertoire extensively. He has also been active as a recording artist in a wide variety of repertoire. Mr. Kulesha is also on staff at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, where he teaches composition and performance. He has worked with young composers throughout his career, and many of his students and the composers he has worked with are now important professionals throughout the world.

The title Pro et Contra (“for and against”) has no meaning beyond the obvious musical qualities it mirrors in the piece. The basic material of each section is presented jointly, and roles are then reversed. Each instrument “argues” a point of view about the material, sometimes very similar to what has just been said, sometimes rather different. Overall, the two parts seem to be in agreement about most things, but many ideas are repeated upside down or backwards as they are passed to the next instrument. There is a great deal of canon throughout the work, much of it very close canon. Jagged pointillistic lines are often stated in not-quite unison, with slight variations of rhythm and octave displacement between the instruments. Pro et Contra was written for David Stewart and Bryan Epperson. The Ontario Arts Council provided half the funds for this commission. — Gary Kulesha

Alex Pauk - Beyond (1980)

Alex Pauk has had much to do with revitalizing the Canadian orchestral music scene for audiences and Canadian composers alike. By founding Esprit Orchestra in 1983, he has provided Canada’s leading home and performance platform for new orchestral music. In addition to conducting an outstanding annual series of concerts in Koerner Hall, one of Canada’s finest performing venues, he has led the Orchestra on several Canadian and European tours and has created innovative performances in alternative locations such as night clubs, art galleries and the outdoors. He has conducted the CBC Vancouver Orchestra, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Québec Symphony Orchestra, Vancouver New Music Society, Days Months and Years to Come, the Hannaford Street Silver Band and the Toronto Symphony. As a composer he has composed more than sixty works and has a wide range of experience with works for every kind of performing ensemble in the concert hall and for theatre, film, television and dance companies. In 2007, Alex Pauk was awarded the prestigious Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize, and in 1999 was named Musician of the Year by peers at the Toronto Musicians’ Association. He has also been a recipient of The Louis Applebaum Award for Film Score Composition as well as the Golden Sheaf Award for Best Film Score at The Yorkton Film Festival. In 2014, in recognition for his significant lifetime contribution to Canadian orchestral music, Alex Pauk was appointed to the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest civilian honour.

Beyond was composed for the Vancouver new music group Days, Months, and Years to Come. As conductor and keyboard player, I helped found the group and led it during the 1970s. The ensemble was known for its ability to play everything from really difficult, hard edge new music, to conceptual or performance art pieces involving bits of theatre. During that time I was also writing for theatre, conducting pit orchestras at the Vancouver Playhouse and working with jazz elements in my music. This wide range of experience came into play when I composed Beyond. As an alternative to compositional trends that were increasingly alienating audiences, the piece embraced new music techniques but was free of the orthodoxies of that period’s schools of thought in contemporary music. The work aimed to move beyond being strictly new music, old music, pop music or jazz. It was my way of creating more accessible new music during a time when some other composers were doing this by writing in post-modern, neo-Romantic styles. The work has a floating form, sometimes creating states of suspension, sometimes diving into jazzy licks. In some instances, improvisation is required from the performers, at other times, they must play layers of complex, strictly notated rhythms. Parts of the piece ask for utmost simplicity in playing while other sections indicate dense, complex improvised textures. Beyond is in five connected movements, each named to suggest a feeling, space or image. — Alex Pauk