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Slavyanka Brings Festival of Russian Choral Music to the City

October 6, 2017

With a sound that seems to come from deep below, Slavyanka Russian Chorus presents the music of Mother Russia at concerts between Oct. 15 and 22.

Slavyanka, led by Artistic Director Irina Shachneva, will be at the center of a Festival Chorus of 100 voices, consisting of choral groups from around the Bay Area, performing Russian folk songs and sacred music. Among them: women’s folk ensembles Juliana and Pava, Kitka, Kostroma, and the Serbian/Slavic Iskra Etno; choirs from the Church of All Russian Saints (Burlingame), Holy Virgin Cathedral Pontifical Choir (San Francisco), and St. Lawrence Orthodox Christian Church (Santa Cruz).

Featured at the concerts will be choral masterworks of late 19th and early 20th century, including three West Coast premieres of works by Sergei Taneyev, a student and friend of Tchaikovsky.

The Oct. 15 “Russian Roots” concert, in Berkeley’s St. Mark's Episcopal Church presents spiritual and folk songs from Russia’s ancient tradition, especially from the Moscow region.

On Oct. 20, “Reaching Toward Heaven” will be in the Star of the Sea Church in San Francisco, with works by Sergei and Alexander Taneyev, Pavel Chesnokov (1877-1944), Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Alexander Nikolsky (1874-1943), Alexander Kastalsky (1856-1923), Alexander Grechaninov (1864-1956), Grigory Lvovsky (1830-1894), and Dmitry Bortniansky (1751-1825).

Mission Dolores, San Francisco, is the venue for the Oct. 22 concert, with the premiere of S. Taneyev’s monumental and rarely-performed cantata, cantata Ioann Damaskin (John Damascus). The program also includes Tanayev’s Sunrise and an aria from his last cantata At the Reading of the Psalm, with Redwood Symphony Music Director Eric Kujawsky as guest conductor. Famed Russian countertenor Andrej Nemzer sings that aria and presents works for voice and piano by Tchaikovsky, Taneyev, and Rachmaninov, with Elena Stepanova-Gurevich (soprano) and Donna Stoering (piano).

“There is a treasure trove of extraordinary music within the Russian choral tradition, and much of it is still relatively unknown and unexplored in the Western world,” says Shachneva. Of Sergei Taneyev, she says that “despite being perhaps one of the greatest composers of his generation and a major influence on his students such as Rachmaninov, Scriabin, and Chesnokov, he has received far less attention outside Russia.”

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].