LENOX – The ongoing war in Ukraine has touched the hearts of people around the world and across America. For local resident Natalia Shevchuk, the conflict is personal.
A pianist, choir accompanist and native of Ukraine, Shevchuk emigrated to the United States more than a decade ago and now lives with her American husband in Columbia County, New York. Her closest family, including her mother and brother, lives in and around the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and she has relatives residing in the rural southwest of the beleaguered country.
Shevchuk, who has worked with the Cantilena Chamber Choir for several years, shared some of her family’s experiences in a recent email.
“In March, the enemy had advanced very close to the village where my closest family lives. There was continuous fighting in the surrounding woods. The outskirts were bombarded day and night by multiple rocket launchers and grenades. The whole region had no heating in the houses for a month and a half, while the snow was still on the ground. The gas pipeline exploded with no way to fix it. At one point, my family had no electricity for a week.
The fate of his family and compatriots touched those close to him, including the director of the Cantilena Chamber Choir, Andrea Goodman. Shevchuk will accompany the choir at its spring concert on Saturday, May 21 at Trinity Church.
Originally scheduled for 2020 and postponed due to the pandemic, Goodman decided to turn the concert into a benefit for Ukraine and donate part of the proceeds to the International Rescue Committee to support war victims.
“A lot of it was driven by Natalia,” Goodman said in a recent phone interview. “The first thought everyone had was, how was their family, we were so worried about them.”
Goodman added two plays to his original program in honor of Ukraine.
“These two short pieces are amazing, they are perfectly put together little gems,” she said.
One is “A Ukrainian Prayer”, a new work written by renowned English choral composer John Rutter in response to the conflict. He made the score openly accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world. The text, which is in Ukrainian, translates to: “Good God, protect Ukraine, give us strength, faith and hope, Our Father, Amen”.
On his website, Rutter wrote, “How can a composer respond to a global tragedy? The first thing I wanted to do was write music that would react in my own way. I hope the meaning of the text will resonate in people’s hearts and reach the people of Ukraine in this difficult time. »
Goodman also included an excerpt from John Williams’ “Hymn to the Fallen” in a new arrangement for choir and percussion. Williams wrote the work for the film “Saving Private Ryan”, to highlight the devastating human toll of the D-Day landings.
“I heard it as a vocal work, there are no words,” Goodman said. “It really evokes the spirit of horror and tragedy in Ukraine.”
Williams’ works, she explained, go straight to the heart of all the emotions related to what is happening.
Goodman added a timpani part from the original orchestral version for his 18-year-old musician son, Jacob Fanto, a freshman at Williams College, to play on the snare drum. John Williams is her favorite composer, she noted.
Reruns of the original program, two works by the 17th century composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier: “Te Deum” for choir and orchestra, and the rarely heard “Le Reniement de St. Pierre”.
“Certain aspects of Charpentier’s ‘Le Reniement’ are really appealing,” Goodman said. “We do a 17th century French pronunciation of Latin, you don’t often hear it that way. I call it a “taste thrill” of power [put] the different vowels in your mouth.
“‘Te Deum’ is one of the most famous pieces outside of Handel’s ‘Music for the Royal Fireworks’, everyone knows the melody,” she noted, referring to its signature fanfare opening of trumpet.
The 75-minute program will also include selections from the 2020 Grammy-nominated “Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom” by American composer Kurt Sander.
« Sander [fell] enamored with the Eastern Orthodox Church and began writing in that style,” Goodman explained. “It’s like an updated Rachmaninoff, it’s in English with super chunky textures and a lush romantic sound.”
The 22 singers of the choir will perform a cappella and with harpsichord and organ accompaniment. A chamber orchestra of nine musicians will join them for Charpentier’s “Te Deum”.
Many of the singers have been part of the semi-professional choir for all of its 18 seasons, Goodman noted.
“We have professional instrumentalists and singers, choir directors and music teachers. They needed a place to go where they would have a stimulating experience. Some, she added, are also members of other area ensembles, including Crescendo and Albany Pro Musica.
Goodman describes Shevchuk as “very, very talented; a real find.”
“Natalia performed solos at our Christmas concert and [also] its own arrangements,” she noted.
Shevchuk reports that his immediate family members are currently recovering from the stresses of the war and are trying to resume their normal activities.
“We all breathed more freely when the enemy was expelled from kyiv,” she wrote. “But people in the east and south are still suffering.
“No one in Ukraine is safe and won’t be for some time. Enemy rockets can hit anywhere.
Knowing that the concert will raise funds for Ukraine meant a lot to Shevchuk.
“I am incredibly grateful to the singers of Cantilena and personally to Andrea Goodman for their support and compassion,” Shevchuk wrote. “I’ve been to a few concerts to benefit Ukraine, and it’s always very heartwarming and encouraging to see all of this tremendous support from the American public. All the political, economic, and military assistance that the United States has given to Ukraine is absolutely exceptional. My country is infinitely grateful to him. It means so much.