Friday, June 17, 2016

The Oreya Choir (Ukraine) performs a-cappella works at the 49th Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival

The Oreya Choir (
As a part of its Israeli tour, the Oreya Choir from the Ukraine performed two concerts at the 49th Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival. This writer attended their a-cappella concert at the Church of Our Lady of the Covenant, Kiryat Yearim, in the Jerusalem Hills, on June 11th 2016. The Oreya Choir was founded by Alexander Vatsek as a municipal choir in 1986. Performing internationally, Oreya has represented the Ukraine and the Zhytomyr region in concerts, festivals and competitions and is the recipient of several awards.  The choir performs a very wide range of repertoire; its liturgical repertoire, for example, includes sacred works of the Christian, Jewish, Moslem and Buddhist faiths.  Maestro Vatsek continues to serve as the choir’s conductor and musical director.

With the singers dressed in beige and yellow folk-inspired outfits, the first half of the program of Oreya’s second Abu Gosh Festival concert consisted of music mostly from the Ukraine – a-cappella arrangements of folk songs and works of living composers. The printed program offered information on each piece in both English and Hebrew, giving the concert-goer something of a picture of Ukrainian life and some events in the country’s history. In “Oh, the Violets Have Bloomed”, a Ukrainian folksong arranged by composer and theorist Stanyslav Lyudkevich, Vatsek and his singers created an idyllic nature scene, complete with bird calls.  “My Thoughts”, a tonal setting of a text by the greatest Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861) (arr. Yevhen Kozak, Alexander Vatsek) and serving as an unofficial national anthem, expresses anguish and yearning for the homeland. In “Oh Field, Field” (arr. V.Mihnovetsky, A.Vatsek) the text tells of two Cossacks killed in war, one rich, the other poor; whereas the rich Cossack has a big funeral, the poor soldier has nobody to bury him, “only a raven cawing above his body”.  The ensemble performed two songs by Hanna Havrylets (b.1958), beginning with “On Sunday Morning”, in which she presents a simple melody in different guises, building up its intensity as it proceeds. Havrylets is one of the composers engaging in the now popular genre of spiritual songs in the Ukraine. With the women holding lit candles, her song “I Will Light a Candle” was suggestive of a church procession as the song spiralled from childlike simplicity to a large cluster-embellished sound, returning to the na├»ve-sounding solo of the young girl, the song ending in a magical whisper. Another contemporary Ukrainian woman composer represented at the concert was Tatyana Vlasenko (b.1977); bright in timbre and ceremonial in mood, “Carol” presented a tranquil, optimistic melody, some solos and many delightful bell effects.

 Following intermission, conductor and singers returned, now in formal dress, to perform works by composers from the 17th century to today – secular-, sacred and instrumental works. J.S.Bach’s “Arioso”, was sung sensitively, its phrases superbly sculpted as was the lush, lilting vocalization of a section of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony. As to the sacred works, from a performance of the section of Rachmaninov’s powerful “All-Night Vigil” the composer requested be sung at his funeral, the basses competently descended below conventional choral bass range, to two of Alfred Schnittke’s “Three Sacred Hymns” with their serene harmonies and intense word-painting, to the gorgeous, fresh, vivid and tonal layering of “Ave Maria” by young American composer Daniel Elder (b.1986), to the transparently scintillating timbres, daring harmonic shifts (almost jazzy at times) and carillon references in the “Sanctus” of Poulenc’s Mass in G-major. Among the secular works, of special interest was American composer Eric Whitacre’s (b.1970) 8-voiced “Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine” (2002), to a text of Charles Anthony Sivestri (b.1965), the result of a collaboration the composer himself described as “a fascinating balance, an exotic hybrid of old and new”:
‘Tormented by visions of flight and falling,
More wondrous and terrible each than the last,
Master Leonardo imagines an engine
To carry a man up into the sun…’
The singers flowed with the work’s blend of Italian madrigal and contemporary style, playing with its palette of colours and reflecting the course of the text, culminating in the women singers delighting the audience as they physically created an impression of a light aircraft swaying through the air.

Following a (literally) head-turning, whimsically buzzy vocalized rendition of “Flight of a Bumblebee” as its final encore, the choir concluded a memorable concert. The Oreya Choir, under the energetic and impeccable direction of Maestro Alexander Vatsek, is a versatile, virtuoso group, its outstanding vocal forces offering flawless vocal performance. Never static, the singers move, regroup, occupy all sections of the hall, make occasional use of small props and add choreographic touches that lend some interesting touches to first class professional choral interpretation.

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