Yale Russian Chorus Alumni Will Perform Rarely Heard Russian Choral Repertoire

Yale Russian Chorus Alumni Will Perform Rarely Heard Russian Choral Repertoire in Concert on April 18 at St. Mary’s Episcopal, Philadelphia

More than 40 singers of the Yale Russian Chorus Alumni, the oldest continuously performing Russian choral group in the Americas, will perform in concert at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 18, 2015, at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Hamilton Village, 3916 Locust Walk, in the University City area of Philadelphia.

The public is cordially invited. Admission is $15 for adults at the door, $10 for students, with a maximum of $30 per family.

The full-length concert will comprise a wide range of traditional Russian folk, liturgical, and composed songs, under the direction of co-conductors Brock Holmes and Bruce Lieberman. The assistance of St. Mary’s and that of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Pennsylvania is gratefully acknowledged.

Hear Authentic Performances of Rarely Sung Repertoire by a Male Chorus Steeped in Slavic Musical Traditions

Much of this Russian and Eastern European male choral repertoire is seldom performed in America. The concert offers a rare opportunity to hear top-quality singers who have mastered the musical and cultural dimensions of Orthodox liturgical and Slavic folk music. The Yale Russian Chorus Alumni perform a cappella, unaccompanied by musical instruments. The chorus’s combined vocal range spans four octaves, from the highest notes of the first tenors to the lowest basso profundo notes of rumbling basses who sing an octave below typical bass voices. These low bass singers, known as “oktavisty” in Russian, are an unforgettable phenomenon of Russian choral music.

Background of the Yale Russian Chorus

The Yale Russian Chorus Alumni include singers and conductors from many different eras. The group’s age range is as wide as its vocal range, from recent Yale graduates to some who have performed since its 1953 establishment by founding conductor Denis Mickiewicz. The Chorus most recently performed in November 2014 at the Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts. In 2013, more than 130 Yale Russian Chorus Alumni sang a gala concert in Yale’s Woolsey Hall to mark the group’s 60th anniversary, under the joint direction of several former conductors. An October 2015 joint concert in Boston will include the Yale Russian Chorus Alumni and its West Coast offshoot, Slavyanka, based in San Francisco.

The Yale Russian Chorus was founded in 1953 during the height of the Cold War between the United States and the USSR, and the group continues today its mission to bridge cultural differences among diverse peoples through the medium of music. The Chorus has made 16 tours of the USSR and Eastern Europe, won international choral competitions, released 18 recordings and CDs, serenaded Presidents Clinton of the United States, de Gaulle of France, and Gorbachev and Yeltsin of Russia, and performed in the world’s leading concert halls.

Yale Russian Chorus Alumni Repertoire

Liturgical and Composed Songs. Centuries of Russian musical tradition are embodied in the liturgical music the Yale Russian Chorus Alumni perform. The text settings of many of the songs will be familiar to Western audiences. Among liturgical pieces the group performs are settings of:

  • “Blessed Is the Man [Blazhen muzh],” based on centuries-old versions of Psalms 1 and 2 that originated in the Kievo-Pechersky Monastery at Kiev, the cradle of Russian Orthodoxy;
  • an antiphonal version of “Bless the Lord, O My Soul [Blagoslovi dushe moya, Gospoda],” based on Greek chants;
  • “The Lord’s Prayer [Otche nash],” a beloved arrangement by N. Kedrov; and
  • the soaring “Praise the Name of the Lord [Khvalit’e imya Gospodn’e]” and the anguished “With My Voice I Cried Out to the Lord [Glasom moyim ko Gospodu vozzvakh],” both set by A. Arkhangelsky.
  • A Slavonic setting of the Latin “Te Deum Laudamus” (“We Praise Thee, O Lord” [Teb’e Boga khval’im]) by Ukrainian-born composer Dmitry Bortniansky figures prominently in the group’s repertoire.

Non-Liturgical Composed Songs include:

  • an elegant three-part setting of “The Little Golden Cloud [Nochevala tuchka zolotaya]” by N. Rimsky-Korsakov, from the poem by M. Lermontov; and
  • the stirring “Borodino,” a soldiers’ march-song commemorating the defeat of Napoleon’s invading army in the town of Borodino, near Moscow, in 1812. Lermontov may have been the poet and composer for this song.
  • “It Is Not the Wind [To n’e v’et’er or Luchina],” a lament about lost love from the popular “romances [romansy]” genre, and “The Snowstorm [M’et’el’itsa],” portraying a young man pursuing his love through swirling snow, were both set by renowned tenor-composer A. Varlamov.

Folk-Song Repertoire. Folk songs abound in the YRCA repertoire—Russian, Latvian, Bulgarian, Georgian, and others. On the first trip by the Yale Russian Chorus to Russia in 1958, the young Yale students interested in Russian music and culture would gather on a town square or street corner, singing American spirituals from the Yale Songbook. Songs such as “Steal Away” and “I’m Gonna Ride the Chariot” would draw crowds of eager Russian listeners before the choristers burst into rousing Russian renditions of “Kalinka” or “Va kuznits’e [At the Smithy],” to the delight and astonishment of those present.

  • The flirtatious love song “Kalinka” is among the most instantly recognizable Russian folk songs, a minor-key tune set against ever-faster rhythms.
  • A song about a Russian bargehauler, “O You Wide Steppe [Akh ty, st’ep]” portrays the bleak, limitless Russian steppe and the “burlak” who longs to break his chains and soar like an eagle.
  • “On the Seas [Po moryam],” a humorous traditional Russian dance tune, is part sea chanty, part love song.
  • The Macedonian song “Don’t Sit There, Djemo [Ne sedi Djemo],” tells of lazy Djemo’s sister, who has been abducted by Turks.
  • In “Oh, on the Hill [Oi, na hori],” Ukrainian Cossacks pledge to defend their village from the enemy.
  • The “Lezgi Dance [Lezginka]” is a warlike song from native Muslim areas of Central Asia, originally performed by the Don Cossack Choir under Serge Jaroff, transcribed for the YRCA by our co-conductor Bruce Lieberman.
  • “The Legend of the Twelve Brigands [Zhilo dv’enatsat’ razboin’ikov],” based on N. Nekrasov’s poem, narrates the redemption of robber-brigand Kudear, who pillaged and murdered innocent Christians with his band of marauders. One day God awoke his conscience; he entered a monastery “to serve God and man.”

More Information

YouTube Songs: Performances on YouTube include “Kas tie tadi” in Latvian (“Who are they who sing at sunset? They are orphans, servants of a cruel master”), “O You Wide Steppe [Akh ty, st’ep]” “Borodino,” “Oh, the Maiden’s Heart [Akh, ty s’erdtse],” “Blessed Is the Man [Blazhen muzh],” and “The Legend of the Twelve Brigands [Zhilo dv’enatsat’ razboin’ikov].”

YouTube History: Video trailer for KHORISTORIA: Story of the Yale Russian Chorus, documentary by Catherine Mattingly.

Web: www.yrcalums.org

CD: CD recordings will be available for sale at the concert

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