Ukrainian music in the spotlight at the Berkeley festival

From 2016, Marika Kuzma with the students of the high school choir in Lviv, Ukraine

It’s been a few years now that intrepid conductor and scholar of Ukrainian music Marika Kuzma and her ensemble Cherubim have built a rich musical connection, and their concert next Sunday in Berkeley of early Ukrainian music and more will highlight that bond as Russia invades Ukraine. keep on going.

“Ukraine has been in the shadows for centuries and hasn’t been able to tell its own story,” Kuzma said, in a Zoom interview from her native Connecticut, where she now lives after many years in the city. Bay Area. “Ukrainian music is known only through what Russia has allowed to tell, to publish, to sing.”

The 20-voice ensemble’s offerings on June 12, as part of the Berkeley festival and exhibition, range from music found in the dusty archives of Eastern Europe – including monastic chants from Kyiv and villages, 17th-century motets and choral concertos by 19th-century composer Dmitry Bortniansky (about whom Kuzma has written extensively).

A sort of prelude precedes the concert when, at 2 p.m., UC Berkeley carillonneur Jeff Davis performs selected Ukrainian songs and rings bells.

Marika Kuzma

The program is a short but deep dive into the musical gems of Ukraine’s past. Except for a brief period as a sovereign nation from 1917 to 1920 and then from 1991, Ukraine and its music were historically regulated and often censored under Tsarist Russia (1547-1721), Russia Imperial (1721-1917), the Soviets (1922-1991) and Vladimir Putin, who has alternated as Prime Minister and President of Russia since 1999.

Kuzma, who is Ukrainian American (both of her parents immigrated from Ukraine) and grew up with its culture, pointed to its rich history of choral music.

“We’ll have songs from as far back as the 12th century – take that Vladdy – you can’t erase that culture from existence,” Kuzma said, referring to Putin’s denial that a distinct Ukrainian culture exists. (“A stable state has not been built in Ukraine,” Putin said in a state address on February 21. “It is an inherent part of our own history, culture, [and] spiritual space. “)

A cappella singing distinguishes most Ukrainian choral music, according to Kuzma. In addition, the voices are separated and the soloists move in and out of the choir. A track from the June concert features many bass parts but only one soprano vocal line, she noted. Another work to be performed, originating from Crimea, is for voice and an early musical instrument — the hurdy-gurdy, which will be played by guest artist Shira Kammen.

Kuzma, a member of the UC Berkeley music faculty for 25 years before retiring in 2015, is thrilled to have some of her former choir students singing in the upcoming program as part of the Cherubim Ensemble.

The performance will also feature prominent Bay Area actors Joy Carlin, L. Peter Callender, Crystal Jiang and Patrick Russell, who will recite poetry, including verses by prominent Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko (1814- 1861), who spent a decade imprisoned for writing in Ukrainian. (Under Tsar Peter the Great in 1720, Russia banned printing in the Ukrainian language.) Additionally, Kuzma included a poem by a Ukrainian friend written in April about singing in caves (many Ukrainian monasteries have beneath them a network of caves in which singing and chanting were made and continue today).

“I think she connects the chanting in caves by monks in 11th-century Ukraine to the current moment when people hide in subway stations (and steel mills) and how people find a way to sing there,” Kuzma said in an email.

Kuzma plans to screen images of Ukraine before the current war in the program’s Hertz Hall. “It will show the public [its] beauty, not the devastation we all see now,” Kuzma said, referring to the Russian invasion of the country that began on February 24.

“My goal in this concert is enlightenment,” she said, “and to dispel Putin’s disinformation campaign in song, poetry and visual imagery.

“I consider this concert as a play,” continued Kuzma, who is also an actor. “He has a bow. It represents all the characteristics of the Ukrainian people. They persevered. They survived. They tell the truth, even when it costs them their lives.

Find tickets for the Sunday, June 12, 2:30 p.m. performance at Hertz Hall, part of the Fringe Series at this year’s Berkeley Festival & Exhibition, online.

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