The members of Byzantion choir had the honour to be invited to give two concerts of Byzantine music in two music festivals in Mielec and Krakow (22 and 23 August 2013), in Southern Poland, with support from the Romanian Cultural Institute.
The opportunity to give concerts in Poland is, undoubtedly, an honour for any artist since, in the cultural field, the Polish are known for their special receptiveness, openness to new and various cultural valences and for an obvious inclination towards religious depths, which grants them a clearer perception (at least this was the case for the audience of our psaltic music concerts) on the spiritual valences of sacred music.
The previous experience of Byzantion members in various festivals with a long tradition in Poland, such as the ones in Jarosław, Szczecin, Przemysl, Olsztyn, Płock or Narol, fully confirms the conviction that the Polish public can constitute the audience that any artist would wish to have for his or her performances.
The first concert was part of the 16th edition of the International Music Festival from the small city of Mielec (attested in documents as early as the 13th century). Since its inception in 1998, the festival has brought together prestigious soloists, choirs, chamber music ensembles and large orchestras from all over the world. The participation of Byzantion choir in Mielec marked the second presence of Romanian artists in the festival, following the 2008 participation of the prestigious Madrigal choir.
The interest and the affinity of the Polish public for the genre of psaltic music were confirmed, once more, by the large number of music lovers who filled the “Our Lady” catholic church downtown Mielec – an impressing edifice through its dimensions, with a modern architecture, in which performance is, undoubtedly, a challenge for any vocal group.
The second concert took place in the imposing Dominican church downtown Krakow (built in the 13th century), on the occasion of the 38th edition of the “Music in old Krakow” International Festival, organised by Capella Cracoviensis Foundation. This is one of the main high-standard musical events in Poland’s second cultural capital. Ever since 1976, the festival has carved out a name for itself as one of the most prestigious and long-lasting musical events in Poland, attracting soloists, choirs, chamber music bands and orchestras from all over the world. The 2013 participants were musicians from Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Great Britain, Norway, Poland, Romanian, Russia and the United States of America.
“The concert given by Byzantion choir would represent the fifth Romanian presence in the celebrated “Music in old Krakow” Festival, following the enthusiastic reception, by a very large public, of concerts given by Preludiu choir, Madrigal choir, the Stavropoleos psaltic group and the Bălănescu quartet”, estimated the Romanian Cultural Institute in Warsaw.
As for the repertoire presented by Byzantion choir in both festivals, the desideratum was to convey a vast and eloquent image on the sacred music of the Byzantine Empire, the chanted prayer of Eastern holy fathers. The 80 minutes of psaltic chanting were an invitation to take a journey into the history of this wonderful art, in the fascinating world of Byzantine modes, as well as a reenactment – the re-experiencing of the feast of the Dormition through its most beautiful chants.
Thus, the concert opened with pieces originating either at the dawn of Christianity (3rd century) or in the paleo-Roman repertoire (7th – 8th century, South Italy and Reims Cathedral, France). The old Christian hymn Holy God was interpreted in the traditional second mode in Romanian, Greek and Slavonic, thus suggesting and evoking the pan-Orthodox dimension of psaltic art.
Pieces of an ampler complexity such as Glory in eight modes for the Dormition by Peter Lampadarios (+1778), the greatest personality of psaltic music in the 18th century, the Cherubim hymn Let all mortal flesh keep silent for the Great Saturday, by Jacob the Protopsaltis (+1800), a landmark at the level of musical composition, kratima in the first mode by Anton Pann (+1854) and the Sunday kenonikon hymnPraise the Lord in first mode, Plagal, by St. Joan Kukuzelis (14th century) represented the challenge suggested to the public, to sample and appreciate the Orthodox liturgical repertoire via hypostases of the papadic genre, and not only that.
The last part was introduced by the traditional melody of the Lamentations for the Mother of God, lain down in the tomb by her chanters, in the mysterious light of candles that transported the audience, for a few moments, beyond the stage, beyond the concrete dimension and the convention of a simple “concert”. The silence of darkness and the sound of lamentations evoked the atmosphere on Great Saturday when the entire creation murmurs, bowing down Let all mortal flesh keep silence and with fear and trembling stand […] for the King of kings comes to be dabbed… The closure of the concert was crowned by the kratima composed by Anton Pann, a chant with meaningless syllables such as te,ri,re, to,ro, ti,ri which symbolise the doxology beyond words, chanted by groupsof angels in their infinite ascent around the throne of God.
Finally, we can only restate our appreciation for these artistic events organised at the highest standards, for a country where, throughout the year, one encounters festivals everywhere, that enrich their profile with tens of editions, in a stable tradition, for a people with a growing cultural and musical openness and an increased interest in the Byzantine inheritance from the Orthodox area. These thoughts and these original experiences beg the unavoidable and… uncomfortable question: how long will it take the thirst for quality sacred music to determine stakeholders – clerics, lay persons and authorities to join their forces and organise, at least in the major Romanian cities, such events that would ensure scope, authenticity, tradition and identity?