Lviv Chamber Fest “Dzerkalo”. What do we have in the end?

Despite the war, artistic life in Ukraine continues and is gaining new momentum. This year, the newly created All-Ukrainian chamber music festival “Mirror”, launched in the walls of the Lviv National Opera, joined the locomotive of the national cultural movement. “”

The goal of the festival is always relevant – support of Ukrainian musicians and popularization of Ukrainian music. These plans were implemented in a ten-day musical marathon, which gathered musical groups from Lviv, Kyiv, Odesa, and Dnipro on the stage of the Mirror Hall of the Lviv Opera.

Now, when the festival has already taken place and the taste of it has gradually settled in the memory, let’s try to assemble the puzzles of individual concerts into a complete picture and see what kind of reflection was imprinted in the “Mirror”.

Reflection one: the concept

The most important component of any festival is its concept. In our case, it is largely hidden in the name. The slogan of the “Mirror” festival is quite democratic: “Find your musical reflection.” With such a statement, you expect a wide range of presented musical styles, eras, genres, performers for all tastes: the ten-day duration of the festival, it seems, should be determined by this.

Some of the best Ukrainian collectives and soloists were invited to the stage of the Mirror Hall: Kyiv Camerata, Lviv Clarinet Quartet, Kyiv Brass Chamber Ensemble, Phoenix String Quartet, Odesa Camerata, Kyiv Saxophonist Quartet, NotaBene Chamber Group”, the duo of Bohdana Pivnenko and Dmytro Tavanets, “Dz’ob” and the Chamber Orchestra of the Lviv National Theater of Opera and Ballet.

Mykola Hrechukh, Artistic Director.

The program of the festival was really rich and multi-faceted: universal and modern Ukrainian classics (the latter – performed in almost every concert), top works of European and domestic modernism (Messian, Lyatoshynskyi) in the perfect interpretation of “NotaBene Chamber Group”, an evening of jazz and fiery dances, presented by the Kyiv saxophonist quartet, an electro-acoustic rave by the Dnipro band “Dz’ob“. The most diverse reflections flickered in the “Mirror”: from academicism to the underground. As noted by the art director of the festival Mykola Grechuh, the extraordinary composition of groups, the variety of programs and the focus on Ukrainian music are fundamentally important for this event.

The second reflection: repertory politics

The reflection of Ukrainian musical culture in “Mirror” was, for the most part, quite moderate. The favorites of the festival were the works of modern classics Yevhen Stankovich, Valentin Sylvestrov, Myroslav Skoryk, Hanna Havrylets, Oleksandr Kozarenko. The compositions of each of them sounded in the program of several concerts, each time – in a wonderful performance. Between the concerts that opened and closed the festival, a thematic arc ran: the musical marathon started with the music of Sylvestrov and Stankovich, and came to the finish line – to the sound of Stankovich and Mozart. Relying on the classics – world and modern Ukrainian – is fundamental for the festival.

And now let’s remember that we are in the Hall of Mirrors and try to consider the reflection from different angles. On the one hand, the Ukrainian art community respects the work of its outstanding modern masters, the latest Ukrainian classics are often heard on academic stages and become known to an ever wider circle of listeners – this is, without a doubt, wonderful! On the other hand, such a significant emphasis on the work of the older generation made it impossible to fully cover the music of composers of the middle and younger generation.

Among the compositions of authors whose style was already formed in the 21st century, only Zoltan Almasha’s “City of Mary”, Oleksandr Rodin’s Introduction from the String Quartet, Pyotr Tityaev’s “Bagatels” and Denys Litvinenko’s String Quartet No. 2 were included in the concert program. All of them are united by the lyrical nature of the expression and the relative traditionalism of musical thinking.

What explains the disproportion of the program with Ukrainian music? Are the performers mostly not ready to include in their repertoire the works of authors on whose names time has not yet left the stamp of an outstanding master? Is it possible that modern music with a complex language, of which there is already quite a lot in Ukraine, still scares away some musicians? Nevertheless, the main question should obviously be addressed not to the performers, but to the organizers of the festival. After all, almost every single concert in itself had a perfectly balanced program. For example, in the performance of Bohdana Pivnenko and Dmytro Tavanets, a relief image of Ukrainian violin chamber music of the 20th century was presented; the “Phoenix” string quartet beautifully presented the music of the Lviv school of composers – Skoryk, Havrilets, Kozarenko, who recently passed away… So, almost every single festival event is beautifully thought out and meaningful in itself.

But is such “classical centrism”, focused almost exclusively on the music of older meters, the concept of the festival as a whole? After all, the metaphor with the reflection in the “Mirror” provokes the idea of ​​maximum diversity of the program. Yes, it would be good to look for one’s reflection in the light of national culture, having a wider choice: between classics and avant-garde, sensual lyrics and refined music for the intellect, in the end, between opus of representatives of different generations, equally represented on the stage of the Hall of Mirrors. But this wish is only a small detail, which, it seems, would add new charm to the future reflection in “Mirror”, which already in the first season presented Ukrainian music quite widely.

The third reflection: between aspiration and real embodiment

However, one cannot ignore another, more urgent problem, visualized in several concert programs of the festival – numerous paraphrases on folklore themes with obvious exploitation of folk primary sources and medley-style compositions of folk songs, which were performed on the stage of the Mirror Hall “for the quota” of Ukrainian music. Of course, such opuses also have the right to exist, and a large part of the public is ready to thank them with the most thunderous applause. However, are they appropriate at a prestigious festival whose purpose is to popularize Ukrainian music for domestic and European listeners?

Odesa Camerata
Odesa Camerata

In the Ukrainian musical heritage there are many works with interesting, highly artistic processing of folklore; many of them were performed at the festival: these are opuses – again by the same ones – Myroslav Skoryk, Oleksandr Kozarenko, Hanna Havrylets. Apart from them, the spectrum of original compositions based on folklore is extremely wide – from the unique synthesis of algorithmic composition and motifs of folk songs in Leonid Hrabovsky’s “Concerto Misterioso” to veiled folklore symbols in the electroacoustic works of Alla Zagaykevych. At the same time, individual performing groups continue to present Ukraine through trivial arrangements of folk songs, which would be suitable for playing music in the square in front of the theater to raise the mood of the townspeople, but not for a high stage and presentation of Ukrainian culture in the world.

It is symptomatic that the concert programs of the two collectives, whose repertoire found a place for similar opus, opened with the music of Bach and Handel, as if trying to balance the degree of artistic perfection of the music performed during the evening. Instead, we have unbalanced and spontaneous eclecticism of individual programs, which all the more clearly emphasizes the inappropriateness of the chosen repertoire. Here, once again, the question arises of the need to clearly articulate the position and concept of the festival: what optics does it offer to look at Ukrainian and world music culture, what priorities does it choose, what repertoire bar does it set for its stage.

Kyiv Brass
Kyiv Brass

The question to the performers about understanding the conceptuality of the concert program remains open. It seems that behind the seemingly beautiful wording “genre and style diversity in the collective’s repertoire” hides a not too responsible attitude to participation in the festival, if the program involves works learned from different occasions, conceptually in no way incompatible with each other.

Let’s not forget how world music was presented. Here are the names of geniuses – Bach, Handel, Mozart, Messiaen (the presence of his “Quartet at the End of Time” in the festival program was especially pleasing), as well as the works of little-known composers – Monn, Schindelmeiser, etc. But the favorite of the festival among world artists was Astor Piazzola: five of his works were performed in the programs of three concerts.

Well, on the one hand, the music of the tango king is really loved by everyone; his works are the hits of modern art, which without fail attract a wide variety of audiences. On the other hand, such an emphasis on “light” academic music leaves very little room for music of other styles and directions. After several concerts with incendiary dances, the thought crept in involuntarily that modernist and avant-garde music is a phantom that is not reflected in the “Mirror”.

Fortunately, subsequent events dispelled this thought. Of particular note is the concert with one of the boldest programs and best performances – the event “For All Time”, where the musicians of the “NotaBene Chamber Group” collective presented the quartets of Boris Lyatoshinskyi and Olivier Messiaen, offering listeners to find unexpected points of contact between the work of these giants of Ukrainian and European modernism.

Unexpected for the already established format of the festival was the appearance on the stage of the Mirror Hall on the eve of its closing of the musicians of the band DZ’OB, who stylishly mix in their work allusions to the music of past eras performed on acoustic instruments, electronic samples, baroque rhetorical figures, techno and dubstep. That evening was, indeed, a fundamentally new reflection in the “Mirror”.

The fourth reflection: a look into the future

What do we have in the end? What reflection was imprinted in the candles of the Hall of Mirrors? And did the audience find its musical reflection?

Undoubtedly, the appearance of such a promising festival supported by European and domestic patrons in Ukraine (where important artistic events, unfortunately, often take place not “thanks to” but “in spite of”) is an extremely joyful and encouraging event. Giving Ukrainian musicians from different regions the opportunity to tour the Motherland and providing decent conditions for their work is absolutely necessary, especially during the war.

Active communication with the public, successful advertising campaign of the festival bore fruit: the hall was filled with listeners at almost every concert. Despite all the difficulties, the organizers succeeded in trying to present music of different eras, styles, genres in concert programs, and especially to present Ukrainian musical culture as widely as possible, so the start of the festival was undoubtedly very successful.

We hope that the problems that have become evident in the concert programs of the festival will become a powerful incentive for the musical reflections in the “Mirror” to be crystal clear in the future. This requires a festival concept articulated in detail by the organizers, the establishment of clear boundaries of the permissible repertoire, and uncompromising communication with the performers on key issues regarding the approval of the concert program.

I would like the world and Ukrainian music presented on the stage of the Hall of Mirrors to have a more complete reflection: this time it definitely lacked avant-garde opus – with the latest compositional techniques, non-traditional methods of sound production, atypical concepts. The ideal for the further development of the festival seems to be the support of not only domestic performers, but also composers: the cooperation of Ukrainian artists of different generations and styles with one of the most prestigious Ukrainian music festivals would be almost the most productive way to support Ukrainian culture in this stormy time.

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