Chorovaya Akademia, a much-acclaimed 16-voice a cappella male choir from Moscow, will make its first Vancouver appearance this coming week. The ensemble has made several recordings, including the 1995 best-seller, Ancient Echoes. The concert, presented by the Friends of Chamber Music, will take place at Holy Rosary Cathedral February 20, at 8 pm.
The first half of the scheduled program consists of the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, composed in 1913 by Pavel Chesnokov (1877-1944). The work was suppressed for decades under the Soviet regime; the choir is giving this composition its first performances outside of Russia.
The text is the most commonly-used eucharistic liturgy in Eastern Orthodoxy; it has been set to music by some of the all-time great composers, including Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov. Perhaps its most exalted section is ‘The Cherubic Hymn,’ which declares: “Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim, and who sing the thrice-holy hymn to the life-creating Trinity, now lay aside all earthly cares — that we may raise on high the King of all, invisibly up-borne by the Angelic Hosts. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”
Chesnokov is considered one of the most important 20th century Russian composers of sacred choral music. In addition to two Liturgies, one Vespers and two Requiems, he wrote more than 350 other choral pieces for church use — a remarkable achievement, considering that more than half of his life as a composer was spent under Communist rule.
While he was evidently not severely punished for such works, the Soviet authorities nevertheless refused to acknowledge his great contribution to the sacred tradition. The Russian publication, Muzykainaya Entsiklopedia, simply stated: “After the Great October Revolution of 1917, [Chesnokov] participated actively in the work of extending Soviet choral culture.” This is in stark contrast to the obituary which appeared in the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate: “Chesnokov left us incomparable examples of the lofty, spiritual inspiration which burned as a silent flame within him throughout his life… This outstanding composer understood church music as a wing of prayer upon which our soul rises up, floating lightly, to the throne of the Almighty.”
In the second half of their concert, Chorovaya Akademia will perform Living Constellations, by contemporary Russian composer Anton Viskov; the work was commissioned by the choir to celebrate the Third Millennium of Christ. It is divided into 12 sections, with poetic titles such as: ‘Morning of the World’; ‘In the Darkly Clouded Mirror of History’; ‘Beneath the Vault of the Universe’; ‘Beating of the Eternal Heart’; and ‘Before Thee, What are Writings and Laws?’ The text is based on the work of several 19th and 20th century Russian writers, and a 13th century Persian poet.
One portion of Living Constellations declares: “At the magnificent hour when the universe was born, when — from the darkness of ages — the Almighty Hand drew forth living ether for the choir of suns, moons and stars… then, the bright, boundless heavens sang praise to Him; and the young world, like His beloved Son, was all magical beauty… And the magnificent host of heavenly legions, clear and holy before the Creator, gazed with trembling brows upon the tablet of God’s laws.”
Marina Smirnova describes the work as a “choral poem,” and eloquently states: “The imagery of the verses is permeated by a feeling of the direct, marvelous presence of the Higher Origin which, for all of us, is the single Source of Light… [This] special, deep feeling is born, and grows strong — a feeling that there is a certain Higher Point of Attraction for all spiritual powers, a certain Eternal Immutable Essence, attracting all to itself like the Promised Land.”
Tickets will be available at the door, or Ticketmaster; call (604) 280-3311.