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The Voices of Russia and of Byzantium in the Oratorio of the Light

byzantion imc 2013Byzantion in concert in Sankt Petersburg, together with

The National Orchestra of Russia and the Choir of “Mihailovski” Theatre

On the 9th of March 2013, Byzantion choir gave a concert on the first day of the ”Orfeus” Orthodox Music Festival that takes place in Sankt Petersburg in Russia. The festival, which lasts until May, is one of the most important cultural events in Russia which brings together, every year, prestigious artists from various musical genres that are specific to Orthodox peoples all over the world.


The presence of Byzantion – a choir of psaltic music – during this edition had a special character, via the interpretation of a contemporary piece, the creation of the Russian composer Andrei Mikita: the “Seven Songs about God” oratorio for orchestra, mixt choir, Byzantine choir and two soloists, composed on the lyrics of the poet and musician Boris Grebenshikov. The members of Byzantion choir were honoured to perform accompanied by the prestigious National Orchestra of Russia and together with the Choir of “Mihailovski” Theatre in Sankt Petersburg, under the baton of the young Greek conductor, Dimitris Botinis. The concert took place in the concert hall of the State Philharmonic in Sankt Petersburg, and the artistes had the joy to see an impressive number of music lovers in the hall.

The Oratorio, structured on seven poems by Boris Grebenshikov (“God knows better”, “Promised Day”, “Silver of my Lord”, “One More Time”, “Falcon”, “Dubrovsky” and “Day of Joy”), manages to convey, through specific sonorities, the spirituality of the Slavic soul filtered by the art of sound. Influenced by the visits which he made in Mount Athos monasteries, where he witnessed the living, uninterrupted tradition of Byzantium, Boris Grebenshikov had the vision of a musical dialogue between the world of the Slavic spirit, represented by the mixed choir, and the world of Athonite Byzantium, by the psaltic choir.

Complex in the diversity of states which are frequently in contrast, the Russian spirit conveyed by the sound carries the audience through the musical experience of sinking in and of uplifting towards God, a metanoia of the soul that finally reaches the light, through the simultaneous cry of Slavs and of the Byzantins: Bog est svet! Θες εναι τ φς! (God is light!). The sonorities rendered by the choirs and the orchestra retrace a genuine portrait of a person of prayer, the exponent of the Slavic spiritual culture. From the massive sonority of choirs from the Orthodox Tsars’ cathedrals to the tension-laden whispers and the white, diaphanous voice of the soloist soprano, symbols of mysticism and of the Russian ascetic and hesychast soul, all this range of states was masterfully and naturally captured by the more than 130 Russian performers.

Andrei Mikita joins the creative line of composers who seized, in their works, under various versions, hypostases of the Byzantine melos. In this sense, we shall briefly invoke great personalities such as Paul Constantinescu, Michalis Adamis, Nicolae Lungu, Gheorghe Cucu, Sotiris Fotopoulos and so on.

The presence of Byzantion choir in the ”Orfeus” Orthodox Sacred Music Festival was enriched by the conference “Byzantine notation – a proof of the continuities of oral and written traditions,” interspersed with practical exemplifications of historical importance. The presentation, given by the conductor of Byzantion choir, was prepared under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Maria Alexandru (”Aristotelis” University of Thessaloniki).

At the end of their stay, the members of Byzantion choir had the joy to take part in the Holy Liturgy together with the male choir of the metochion of Valaam Monastery in Sankt Petersburg. The anti-phonic responses given from the lectern, the special experience granted by the dynamic dialogue and the encounter, in the same spirit, of two different musical worlds that are, nevertheless, united in monody, constituted a strong evidence of the fact that fortunately, prayer raised to God can be cloaked under several modeling and expressing forms of the soul. And the chants of the Byzantine tradition can only be approached authentically by understanding its essence in all the derived modes of sound reproduction.


Adrian SÎRBU

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