ECM New Series Releases Valentin Silvestrov’s Maidan
ECM New Series Releases
Valentin Silvestrov’s Maidan
Kiev Chamber Choir with Mykola Hobdych, conductor
ECM New Series 2359
Release Date: September 30, 2022
With Maidan, Valentin Silvestrov continues his longstanding association with ECM and presents a program of choir music that is as timely as it is dear to the Ukrainian composer’s heart. Like Sacred Songs and Sacred Works, Maidan embraces Silvestrov’s composing for vocal ensemble and captures the Kyiv Chamber Choir under Mykola Hobdych in a performance at the St. Michael’s Cathedral in Kyiv from 2016.
Silvestrov, who in spring 2022 had to leave his Kyiv home of over half a century, composed the album’s main music Maidan 2014, a “cycle of cycles,” in the wake of the Euromaidan – the wave of demonstrations that hit Ukraine in 2014. As the composer’s close friend and musicologist Tatjana Frumkis notes in the CD’s liner text, “Valentin Silvestrov had barely taken interest in politics” before that event. “Now, seated at the piano and singing with his voice, he immediately began his own musical eye-witness chronicle of the revolution” – or as the composer himself puts it: “a spontaneous response to the events I saw every day.”
Replete with liturgical passages and verses by Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchencko, Maidan 2014 offers a wealth of melodies with both hymnal and chant-like structures. The beginning of each of the four sub-cycles is marked with different variations of Ukraine’s National Anthem, linked by a recurring theme that alludes to the alarm bells of the St. Michael’s Cathedral, which, at the onset of the Maidan, rang out for the second time in history. In between the tocsins, soft choruses and quiet laments come forward, carried by few singers at a time as in the haunting “Give Rest, O Christ, to Thy Servants” or through wordless vocal compositions as in “Elegy”. Due to the many shades and nuances of Silvestrov’s scores the lyrics of the Latin “Lacrimosa” or “Prayer for Ukraine” – its only two lines read “God, protect the Ukraine. Give us power, faith and hope.” – resonate more powerfully than words alone are able to convey.
In these chamber choir elaborations, individual voices and groups of singers organically separate from the ensemble and then recede back into the collective, carrying meaningful verses and imperative melodies to the fore as the choir’s phrases rise and fall, and continue this shifting pattern as in a natural act of breathing. This differentiated treatment of the voices is equally true for Four Songs, Diptych and Triptych, the three shorter cycles that succeed Maidan 2014. Composed subsequently, in 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively, they are made of a similar fabric as the main cycle and likewise combine liturgical texts with poems by Taras Shevchenko.
Shevchenko, who lived from 1814 to 1861, was at once a poet, a folklorist, a painter, an ethnographer and a political figure, whose writing is regarded as the foundation of modern Ukrainian literature. At the time, Shevchenko’s avid promotion of Ukraine’s independence got him politically convicted. His texts capture the sense of his turbulent times – a sense that is reflected again in the events surrounding this music. Silvestrov’s scores meditate on these poems, expanding on their titles – “On Earth There Is Fortune”, “Oh Shining World”, “Come To Your Senses” – and turning them into alternatingly quiet and urgent, sometimes even fierce and passionate meditations. The composer conceived the original versions of the Maidan 2014 songs on piano, accompanied by his own voice. “The choral versions”, The New York Times notes, “transform his private anger and grief into a communal memorial, solemn and resolute.”
As Silvestrov points out, “it’s no accident that the symbolic crown and ending of the Maidan 2014 cycle is a quiet lullaby. For I’m neither able nor willing to duplicate the noise of this terrible war. Instead, I want to show how fragile our civilisation is. I try, with my music, to safeguard and preserve a day of peace. Today, it seem to me, this ought to be art’s primary aim.”
Valentin Silvestrov, born in Kyiv in 1937, was a leading figure in the former Soviet Union’s avant-garde before his compositional practice evolved into what he would come to call his “Metaphorical style” or “meta-music”. The composer wishes his works to be seen as “codas” to musical history because “fewer and fewer texts are possible which begin at the beginning”. He has declared that “I do not write new music. My music is a response to and an echo of what already exists.”
Among the first of a series of CDs from ECM devoted to the composer’s music was leggiero, pesante (2001), a disc of his chamber compositions with Anja Lechner, Maacha Deubner, Silke Avenhaus and the Rosamunde Quartett. Der Bote, a piano recital by Alexei Lubimov, incorporates the Silvestrov composition that gives the album its name. Lubimov, a champion of the composer’s work, also appeared in two concertante works on Metamusik, Postludium, and Requiem for Larissa presented Silvestrov’s commemoration of his late wife.
In 2004 a different, but equally intimate view of the composer’s sound world was provided by the release of a 1986 recording of his cycle of Silent Songs, works which, to quote Paul Griffiths, “we may feel we have always known”, such is their hushed, whispered quality. It features performances by Sergey Yakovenko and Ilya Scheps. Releases of sacred music and the monumental Symphony No. 6 followed; of the latter, the BBC’s Andrew McGregor said: “Like so much Silverstov, you don't have to know how or why it works to be deeply affected by it. It feels simple, yet it obviously isn't; it's profoundly beautiful, timeless, and unforgettable”. 2017 saw the release of Hieroglyphen der Nacht, an album featuring Silvestrov’s music for solo violoncello and for two cellos performed by Anja Lechner and Agnès Vesterman.