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Taras Shevchenko: The Mighty Dnieper Roars

Last but not least, it is my sincere pleasure to introduce you to a most beloved national Ukrainian song: “The Mighty Dnieper Roars.” Its three verses are taken from the famous Ukrainian poem “Prychynna” by Taras Shevchenko. The long version of the poem has a story similar to Romeo and Juliet, but it starts out with the first three verses in this song in which an orphan girl is waiting by the roaring river at night for her beloved to come back. The poem has been set to music by numerous composers but this version is the most well-known. (The Dnieper river runs through the middle of the entire country starting from top, north to south and eventually runs into the Black Sea.)

I love my mother tongue and wanted you to get a taste of this melodic and tuneful language. This song in particular could stand as a second national anthem of Ukraine. We all had to learn it and recite it by heart in school and everyone can sing it.

Taras Shevchenko was a poet, writer, artist, political figure and a folklorist during the middle of the 19th century. He was heavily persecuted for writing in Ukrainian language and even was arrested and exiled for his poems. The poet had a tough life, first as an orphan and then fighting for the independence of Ukraine. He died seven days before the Emancipation of Serfs, the very thing he fought and agitated for. You could literally ask any Ukrainian who Taras Shevchenko is and they’d tell you.

It has been a pleasure sharing some of my thoughts and favorites with you. I hope you enjoyed it and I hope to see you and meet you next week! Best wishes and blessings to all of you! With love, Antonina.

Translated by John Weir

The mighty Dniper roars and bellows,
The wind in anger howls and raves,
Down to the ground it bends the willows,
And mountain-high lifts up the waves.

The pale-faced moon picked out this moment
To peek out from behind a cloud,
Like a canoe upon the ocean
It first tips up, and then dips down.

The cocks don’t crow to wake the morning,
There’s not as yet a sound of man,
The owls in glades call out their warnings,
And ash trees creak and creak again.

Dmitri Shostakovich: We Were Together

“Hello. It’s me… I was wondering if after all these [days you’d like to read more from me]…” (I hope you’re laughing… if not, I had a good laugh to myself. I wrote, “Hello. It’s me..” and obviously Adele’s song started playing in my head. One of my friends, Chris Dupont used to call me a walking iPod because I’d just break out a line from random songs that had a line he or I just said.)

It’s almost Friday, but today is TBT – ‘throw back Thursday’. At first, I didn’t want to use my own recording but listening to the other few recordings on youtube of this song, I just wasn’t satisfied with the slightly slower tempo, and was forced to use my version. This was recorded live in a concert four years ago (I’m sorry for the video and audio quality) at the Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor, MI when I was attending the University of Michigan. I look and sound like such a baby but it only shows me how much I have grown since. The beauty of life is that we will always grow, hopefully we desire to, and could never graduate this school of life. If we think we have, then we are fools to think that way.

I just love this song cycle composed in 1967 by Dmitri Shostakovich, op.127 Seven Romances on Poems by Alexander Blok for soprano, violin, cello and piano. It is not that known but it’s hauntingly unique. Each song is written with varied instrumentation and only on the very last song “Music” does the whole band join, and it’s serene. The last three songs bleed into one another seamlessly and it takes you by surprise that the song has moved on. The poetry is very deep and symbolic! The Amelia Piano Trio notes the “deeply felt, moving lyrics speak to generations of suffering, longing, and hope. The composer chose seven individual verses for his song cycle – each depicting a specific human condition – faithfulness (“Ophelia’s Song”); truth (“Gamayun”); love (“We Were Together”); loneliness (“The City is Asleep”); threat (“Tempest”); anxiety (“Secret Signs”); death (“Music”).” The music is very minimalistic at times with obscure tonality. Overall, a very ethereal sound of past that is dark and heavy.

Shostakovich composed this opus towards the end of his life for the 50th Anniversary of the October Revolution. His friend and famous cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich asked Shostakovich to write something for him that he could perform with his wife, Galina Vishnevskaya, who was a renowned soprano. In this opus, Shostakovich represented a protest against the continuing oppression by the Soviet Government. This cycle became very personal to me as I first performed it right when the current war began between Russia and Ukraine, four years ago. Interesting to note that the piano part is very bass heavy as his right hand I believe, was broken and he was trying to hide his alcohol consumption from his wife. (As I recall it from my research in graduate school.)

I chose no.3 “We were together” for song of the day. It’s the only ‘happy’ song from the opus. The poem recalls a young couple in love. In my interpretation they are teenagers in love therefore I didn’t like the slow tempo because teenagers’ love is light, innocent and surface-level.

I hope you enjoy it!

Richard Strauss: Beim Schlafengehen

Guten Tag. I admire Richard Strauss’ music. His harmonic language, texture, the surprising subito piano dynamics and frequent lack of downbeats creates a soaring, most round eternal sound. His ability to write for the voice was extraordinary. Strauss also loved words. He wrote numerous songs and operas and worked with master poets. I have a special connection to the Four Last Songs because I have performed them numerous times with piano and once with orchestra. Once I live with certain pieces over and over, I feel as they are my personal ones. And these songs particularly feel as though I commissioned Strauss to write them for my voice and my soul.  I love the simple and vivid poetry and of course the music that simply transports you into another world. They are so perfectly written and Strauss paints the words so vividly. It’s impossible not to see his vision.

I’m not going to say much more and just leave you here with this poem and the recording. Be enveloped in this beauty. My absolute favorite moment is right where the voice takes over after the gorgeous violin solo. It is divine! (The poem for me is a beautiful celebration of life… it’s about to turn to the chapter of eternity.)

Beim Schlafengehen – Upon Going to Sleep
Hermann Hesse / Translation: David Paley

Now that day has made me tired,
Will my blissful yearning
Receive the starry night
In friendship like a tired child.

Hands, rest from all your tasks,
Brow, forget all thinking
All my senses now
Want to sink in slumber.

And my soul, unwatched,
Wants to soar in freest flight
Within enchanted night time circles,
To live a thousand fold profoundly.

Tchaikovsky: Ja vas lyublu

Dobriy den…(Good day in RU & UA) to you, lovely people. Today, I want to invite you to live with me in the sound and soul of one of my all time favorite artists, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, as well as one of my all time favorite composers, Pyotr the Great, Mr. Tchaikovsky! Next week, my fellow colleagues and I will perform a few masterpieces by Rachmaninoff, but for now you can whet your appetite with Tchaikovsky. And, I do not apologize that it’s not quite a small plate kind of appetizer. It is Russian after all. Russians and Ukrainians alike, like to have “salo” (bacon and not the American kind. It’s almost pure fat, preferably served with raw garlic) for a snack.

Last year, I debuted with NYFOS singing a mostly Tchaikovsky program with the incredible baritone, Alexey Lavrov, who is the next ‘Dmitri Hvorostovsky,’ I think. First of all, when I sing Tchaikovsky’s music, it particularly feels like butter on my vocal cords. Of course Tchaikovsky is going to be one of my favorites for that, but more so because of the unlimited passion and sincerity in his music. I never have to plan or dissect Tchaikovsky’s music too much to understand what he wanted. I enter his vein of music instantly and feel it naturally rather than trying to understand it. Perhaps because we were next door neighbors. And, on top of it all, listening to Dmitri perform anything by Tchaikovsky is like eating a double death by chocolate cake.

As most of you know, we lost Hvorostovsky last year, too soon. It was a great tragedy to the world. He was one in a million who possessed a strong gorgeous pillar of a voice, impeccable artistry, and the most refined natural vocal technique that always served the music. Listening and watching him sing always gives me this thrilling feeling and makes me feel everything he is expressing. Also, every video you watch of him, is an amazing voice lesson. He is an absolute master and complete artist. Every note, every single note is telling a story. In this love song aria, and this recording particularly, “Ja vas lyublu” (“I love you”) from Queen of Spades, Dmitri pours out his heart with such intensity and love. I listen to it over and over and cannot get enough. It’s so special and so sensational. Every note truly shows how much he loves her. He doesn’t let go of any note. Every note, every millisecond of this piece is infused with love, energy and passion. It just takes my breath away. Ah, just heart wrenching. He is so committed and honest. And, one can CLEARLY understand every word with out focusing, too much. Thank you to both Mr. Hvorostovsky  and Mr.Tchaikovsky for such a gift.

Again, we are touched by truth because the artist is truthful in the moment to himself, the music, the composer, and to the audience. He doesn’t do anything over the top or cheat us by giving less, he is simply honest. That’s what we desperately desire and here we are totally satisfied.

(I advise you listen to this on good speakers or head phones to experience the full thrill of passion and the sound of his voice.)

Edwin Hawkins Singers: Oh, happy day

Hello world. I am Antonina. I am just happy to share a few words with you throughout this week approaching the 30th birthday celebration of NYFOS! Wow! What a legacy this treasure called NYFOS has been to its audiences, the NYC community especially, and its artists! I am incredibly honored to be a part of this family and incredibly thankful to you, our audience, because with out you we are meaningless. And, of course, Steven, the genius visionary and dreamer who invites us to dream and infuses all of us with greatness, we celebrate you. I’m so happy to congratulate you on this beautiful journey you have walked and graciously invited us to be a part of!

“Oh, happy day” performed by the Edwin Hawkins Singers is my Song of the Day, everyday! I love this song and I live it. It just makes me so so happy! It illuminates me with energy, ‘yes-ness’, and makes me dance away throughout the day because yes, oh happy day, I got another day to DO LIFE! For that, I’m immensely grateful and I fully receive it by grace and hope to live that each new day HAPPY to the fullest. Even if the circumstances aren’t happy, the fact that I was given another day, I CHOOSE to be happy and embrace it, live it, and slay it! Also, how appropriate to start your day with this song on a MOOOOONDAY. You know what I mean…? I promise you it will put you in a good mood. It’s got a nice beat, swing, mood, powerful voices that will warm up your mind, body and soul to take on whatever may come. Thank God for music! I don’t know what we would do with out it!

I have to say that Gospel music might be my favorite genre, too. I was introduced to Gospel Music many years ago by my teacher and mentor, Duane Davis when I was at the Community College in Grand Rapids, MI and since then I’ve been in love. I was hooked. This Ukrainian girl can deliver a nice groove, too. 🙂 It’s always my “go to” music because it just stirs my soul and does something to me that I can’t explain. It just fills me with so much goodness! And, this song has been playing in my head for the past few weeks so I absolutely had to share it! You might also like to watch the version of it from the movie, Sister Act 2. The boy starts it timidly but then he really decides to do it. It’s just glorious coming out of his heart, which then inspires the choir to really sing!

So, you also can embrace the day boldly, do it from your heart truthfully, and inspire others around you to do the same. You’ll be infectious! Truth and joy is what we all desire, so let’s give it!

Sergei Taneyev: The Restless Heart Is Beating

My Tchaikovsky concert isn’t till early next year, but I want to get it squared away now before the autumn hits me like a ton of bricks. Having decided to include a little group of songs by Tchaik’s teachers and students, I received some expert guidance from Antonina Chehovska, the soprano soloist for the project. She had wonderful ideas for Rubenstein, Arensky, and Taneyev, and I appreciated her promptness and her enthusiasm. Following up her suggestions, one thing (the online music library IMSLP) led to another (YouTube and Spotify) and I soon came across this beauty by Taneyev: “The Restless Heart Is Beating,” a song that combines elegance with driving passion. I would describe it as a Slavic version Schubert’s “Die junge Nonne,” or perhaps his “An Schwager Kronos” relocated to the Steppes. Taneyev was a superb songwriter, and that makes choosing just one or two a kind of sweet torture. But I can hear baritone Alexey Lavrov tearing my heart out with this piece, and I think I’m going with it.

By the way: I try to make it a practice to buy actual copes of music I want to program after I have rooted around IMSLP.  And the best place to do that is at Glendower Jones’ e-emporium, Classical Vocal Reprints. But of course, you knew that.

Here are Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Ivari Ilja flaunting their fabulosity in this song:

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