Lviv Chamber Fest. Nine Views Through the Dzerkalo Text: Polina Kordovska, translated by Lesya Lantsuta Brannman

“Festive,” “cheerful,” “joyful” … Definitions offered by etymological dictionaries for the Latin word festivus are indescribably far from what Ukrainians are experiencing today. What kind of festivals can we talk about in our unstable world, where there is sometimes so much grief that you stop feeling it? However, the facts show the opposite. Even during the war, the festivals in Ukraine, particularly the music festivals, have not faded away. Those with a long history are finding new ways to create content and projects launched during the full-scale invasion are a response to the reality that surrounds us all.

Photo by Vitaliy Hrabar

The second annual all-Ukrainian chamber music festival Dzerkalo [ in English – Mirror – L. B.] took place in the music salon of the Dzekralna Zala [the Mirror Hall – L.B.] of the Lviv National Opera from May 9th to May 19th this year. The organizers defined the festival’s involvement in Ukrainian reality very clearly: “To carry the strength of spirit and faith in our Victory” (the General Director of the Lviv Opera Vasyl Vovkun), to support Ukrainian musicians and to achieve “a new level of presentation of chamber music by our composers in the world context” (founder and the Art Director of the festival Mykola Hrechukh). These are the fundamental values that guided the organizers both years.

In this short period of two years (especially when comparing with Lviv’s Virtuosos and Contrasts [Kontrasty – L. B.], the music festivals which have been around for decades), the Dzerkalo team built a clearly defined genre niche and a festival brand, both defined by the Dzekralna Zala location.

The Dzerkalna Zala, a magnificent hall in Lviv, gave the festival its name, focus on chamber and salon repertoire, and its mirror concept. A mirror is a symbol of self-knowledge, a carrier of truth and illusion, and a mystical portal to other worlds. It contains infinite meanings that reveal gradually and change depending on the angle at which light is reflected from the mirror surface.

Photo by Vitaliy Hrabar

The concepts of each of the nine concerts that made up the program of this year’s edition of the festival were inspired by the idea of combining sound with light, whether physical or metaphysical, external or internal, natural or man-made. Illuminations, the colorful decorations of precious ancient manuscripts (nowadays associated with the bright lighting of city streets decorated for holidays), became the festival’s symbolic embodiment. Although Ukraine is going through dark times and our special holiday is still ahead, it is important to be able to “find the light to look deep into our own reflection” in some way.

“Dark times, but our times”

One of the most anticipated events of the festival was the Opening (Sounds of Illuminations, May 9). The concert’s program was significant, partly due to Benjamin Britten’s Les Illuminations, the key piece this year which gave the concert its name. All three compositions in the opening concert were performed by the chamber orchestra of the Lviv National Opera under the baton of Ivan Cherednichenko and seemed to reflect the past and the present.

A first piece of the Sounds of Illuminations concert, Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Concerto in A minor for Oboe and Strings, was soloed by Yuriy Khvostov. The melancholic and soft timbre of the oboe in the concerto sounded like a reminder: yes, this night is dark and full of horrors, but all we need to do is hold out until the morning, and then, real art will be there for us. Ralph Vaughan Williams’s concerto, dedicated by the composer to Leon Goossens, an oboist who played for Londoners hiding in subway stations from Luftwaffe raids on anxious nights, was composed in 1944 when Britain was still experiencing the bombing raids of hell.

The history and background of Vaughan William’s concerto is too familiar and painful to us today. It is probably why the gloom of the city of Innsmouth which came to life almost cinematically in the second piece, Olexander Rodin’s After Reading Lovecraft, seemed interesting, fanciful, impressive, bizarre – anything but not scary.

The real musical horror, made in accordance with all the canons, sometimes made me smile. Unfortunately, now we know that there are demons more terrifying than the creatures invented by the author of the Cthulhu Mythos. The emotional culmination of the evening was Benjamin Britten’s Les Illuminations, composed in 1940 on surrealist texts by Arthur Rimbaud about the “wild parade” of human life. The expression of Ivan Cherednichenko, the incredible emotions of Marianna Tsvetinska’s voice, the skills and harmony of the orchestra – the performance was suited to the music and emphasized music’s highlights and shadows, contrasting and expressive, like each of the festival’s concerts.

Marianna Tsvetinska. Photo by Vitaliy Hrabar

“We live in it; we stand our ground”

Over the next few days, the Dzerkalna Zala opened its doors to listeners. Different soloists, duets, trios, quartets, quintets and chamber orchestras performed there. It seemed that the organizers managed to present the entire genre palette of chamber music. A common trend was noticed among the variety of programs since everyone included works by Ukrainian composers. This conscious policy of the festival was enthusiastically supported by the invited performers, whose programs could be used to compile an anthology of Ukrainian chamber music of the 20th and 21st centuries.

A clear favorite among the composers was Borys Lyatoshynsky, founder of the modern Ukrainian school of composers. Despite his life in Soviet reality, Lyatoshynsky was a true European artist, thanks to whom modern Ukrainian music written by his students was heard in Europe in the 1960s. Lyatoshynsky’s three works from the Second World War period sounded like a reflection of the present. Those pieces were performed in three concerts of the festival program.

The “study” of the crystallization of the styles of Borys Lyatoshynsky, Antonín Dvořák, and Yevhen Stankovych was proposed by the Vivere Ensemble (Crystallization, May 10). The powerful Second Piano Trio by Lyatoshynsky, written in 1942 in forced evacuation and full of pain from separation from the motherland, was framed by the Slavic (not without a Ukrainian flavor!) searches of Antonín Dvořák’s Fourth Trio and the fatalistic reflections of Yevhen Stankovych’s Epilogues.

The sophistication of Lyatoshynsky’s Fourth String Quartet, emphasized by the arrangement for clarinet quartet, created the Ukrainian context for the program presented by the Lviv Clarinet Quartet (For Four, May 11). Finally, Lyatoshynsky’s Ukrainian Quintet was crowned with a brilliant performance by the NotaBene Chamber Group (Through Time, May 12).

Brass Quintet of the National Presidential Orchestra. Photo by Vitaliy Hrabar

The Ukrainian context, which stretched from the 18th to the 21st centuries, also played an important role in the program of the Brass Quintet of the National Presidential Orchestra (Brilliance of Light, May 17). At the same time, performances by the Kyiv Piano Duo (Contemporary Ukrainian Anthology for Four Hands, May 16) and, what is especially symbolic today, the Luhansk Regional Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra (Mosaic of Freedom, May 15), demonstrated the worldwide value of programs dedicated exclusively to works by Ukrainian composers.

The Ukrainian context of the programs became more concentrated closer to the end of the festival. During the Ukrainian Transformation concert (May 18) a famous Ukrainian violinist Ivanna Voroshyliuk presented her solo CD Ukrainian Roots and performed her original works for violin based on Ukrainian folk songs. The violinist’s performance became the embodiment of national memory, captured in folk melodies and reflected in images of Oksana Hrechukh’s paintings and Dmytro Koshlyatsky’s visual art, which complemented the already eloquent music.

Ivanna Voroshyliuk. Photo by Vitaliy Hrabar

Ivanna Voroshyliuk’s presentation of her CD built a harmonious bridge to the next concert, the Flashes of Memory (May 19), presented by the National Ensemble of Soloists Kyiv Camerata. The two hours of their concert passed in seemingly no time and included the works of Ukrainians Valentyn Sylvestrov, Hanna Havrylets, Vitaliy Hubarenko, Zoltan Almashi, Yuriy Shevchenko, Oleksandr Kozarenko, Volodymyr Zubytsky, and Yevhen Stankovych. The concert was about preserving the genetic memory of one’s roots and about leaving descendants with knowledge of one’s own pains and joys, of crimes that cannot be forgiven, and of friends who cannot be forgotten.

National Ensemble of Soloists Kyiv Camerata. Photo by Vitaliy Hrabar

“Be continued, voices”

This year’s edition of the Dzerkalo festival impressed me with the integrity of its concept and the harmony of its implementation. Each of the events, in which the organizers offered the audience to find their own musical reflections, instead gave listeners opportunities to look deeper into the mirror’s surface, to see those who stand behind us and help us to hold on – despite everything.

Do we need such festivals today? It is a good question. Do we sometimes need to see our reflections in the pupils of our loved ones so that we don’t forget who we are? Do we need light so that we don’t forget where we are going? Ave, the Dzerkalo, and many years to come!

About the Author

The Claquers is a Ukrainian online magazine devoted to classical music that unites a group of music critics with the mission to foster a critical conversation about art music in Ukraine and beyond. The Claquers organization was founded in June 2020 by musicologist Stas Nevmerzhytskyi and three colleagues: musicologist Dzvenyslava Safian, music theorist Liza Sirenko, and cultural critic Oleksandr Ostrovskyi.

The publication’s provocative name suggests the context in which The Claquers was conceived. After two previous generations of proactive critics who had careers in education and cultural promotion, classical music criticism was limited to either positive reviews or no reviews at all. A fresh and uncensored eye on events in classical music life in Ukraine was needed to shake up the musical community and complete the country’s classical music ecosystem.

Unlike in western Europe and North America, art music audiences in Ukraine are much younger. The collective of writers with The Claquers is also young, and has taken on the task of explaining to these new listeners why a long tradition of classical music in Ukraine exists, and how it became a part of today’s cultural life. As a group The Claquers considers its main goals: to educate about contemporary classical Ukrainian music, to build bridges with popular culture by publishing about diverse musical genres and other arts (such as music in literature or in film), to expand the critical tools of music criticism with audio podcasts, and to cultivate audiences abroad via an English version of the website.

The Claquers was made possible by generous funding that enabled its establishment and is sustained by the generosity of donors on Patreon. This singular and engaged Ukrainian online hub devoted to classical music continues to engage people in this music and invite new authors.

Stas Nevmerzhytskyi (ФОП Станіслав Невмержицький), individual proprietor

The registration number of the taxpayer's registration card, or the series and number of the passport:

Location of a individual proprietor:
Ukraine, 04212, Kyiv city, TYMOSHENKA STREET, building 2K, room 302

Date and number of entry in the Unified State Register of Legal Entities, individual proprietor and public organizations:
10/16/2020, 2000690010002052048


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