Cantori offers New York premiere of acclaimed Russian cantata
by Chelsea Harvey for Vocal Area Network
Posted March 29, 2018

Cantori New YorkOn April 7 and 8, award-winning choral ensemble Cantori New York, led by Artistic Director Mark Shapiro, explores the Russian soul with a rare U.S. performance – and New York premiere – of renowned 20th-century composer Valery Gavrilin’s captivating evening-length cantata Chimes.

At a time of complexity and tension in the diplomatic relationship between the United States and Russia, these concerts evoke something at once uniquely Russian and quintessentially American: the rich soulfulness of folk experience in a vast and storied landscape.

“I like to swim against the tide by challenging received, perfunctory notions about who is who and what is what,” says Shapiro. “There is a great deal about official Russian malfeasance in today’s political news -- but this piece is about something more lasting and transcendently human than governments.”

Widely considered one of Gavrilin’s most significant works, Chimes premiered in 1984 and remains frequently performed in Russia today. As Gavrilin himself wrote, the composition expresses the Russian people’s collective spiritual life through the lens of a single character’s fate.

Its thirteen movements carry the listener through the life and eventual death of one man, a kind of heroic outlaw figure (akin to the Robin Hood of English folklore), whose experiences include good and evil, light and darkness, temptation, suffering and beauty. Russian history and tradition are anchoring elements throughout. The texts of the various movements are permeated with elements of Russian folklore, proverbs, literature and songs.

From beginning to end, the piece evokes the “endless way in which people go along, generation after generation,” Gavrilin wrote. “The images of the road, the way, the river of life are the leading ones in this composition.”

Indeed, this is the spirit embodied in the composition’s title. The most significant milestones in life, in cultures around the world and particularly in the Russian tradition, are often marked with the ringing of chimes or bells -- births, weddings, religious ceremonies, celebrations of all kinds and finally our funerals. 

Cantori is proud to be one of the few choral ensembles to have presented Chimes for a U.S. audience; to our knowledge, the complete work has never before been heard in New York. The performance is certain to inspire feelings of kinship and self-recognition among listeners of all backgrounds. The cycle’s multiple movements, at various times playful, wistful, menacing and joyous, are linked by a unity of tone and atmosphere that sings to both the Russian and American spirits. 

“The feeling of being in a country with a lot of open space -- I think that’s something you really hear in this music: the expansive landscape, the magnificence of the sky, the cyclic nature of existence” Shapiro says. “And that’s at the heart of American folklore as well. Our connection to this music and this sensibility is powerful.” 

Performances are on Saturday, April 7, 2017, 8:00 PM, Church of the Holy Apostles, 296 9th Avenue, New York City; and on Sunday, April 8, 2:30 PM, National Sawdust, 80 North 6th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11249. Featured guest soloists are Dimitri Ivanov, actor; Vivian Yau, soprano; and Alex Guerrero, tenor.

About Cantori

Praised by The New York Times for its “spirit of exploration” and qualities of “virtuosity and assurance”, Cantori New York, which celebrated its 30th year in 2014, has stayed true to its mission of presenting new compositions from all over the world, as well as neglected works that deserve the public’s attention and appreciation. A three-time winner of ASCAP's “Adventurous Programming” prize in recognition of its audacious repertoire, Cantori New York has won an enviable reputation as an accomplished and innovative vocal ensemble. The ensemble’s work with living composers has led to nearly 200 premieres, including recent commissions from creators such as Alice Ho, Alba Potes, Dariusz Przybilski, Mohammed Fairouz, Lembit Beecher and Piotr Moss.

The group counts among its collaborators actors such as Tony-Award winner Maryanne Plunkett and Obie-Award winner Kathleen Chalfant as well as distinguished musicians and advocates such as violist Nadia Sirota, violinist Miranda Cuckson, and the French ensemble Musicatreize. Cantori New York has sung at all five major halls at Lincoln Center, and has collaborated with or been presented by American Ballet Theater, Great Performances at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Teatro Grattacielo, World Financial Center Arts & Events, Music at the Anthology, Gotham Early Music Series, American Opera Projects, and others.

For more information, please contact us at info@cantorinewyork.com or visit us at www.cantorinewyork.com.

Chelsea Harvey is a Brooklyn-based writer and member of Cantori New York.