So Much More than a Squeezebox
One of the festivals going on this month is Vladimir Horowitz’s 2010 Virtuosos of the Planet, which since 2006, has been featuring talented musicians and honouring a number of laureates from all over the European continent. With accompaniment by the National Honoured Academic Symphonic Orchestra of Ukraine and the Symphony Orchestra of the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine, the festival’s programme includes classic and modern instrumental concerts, scenes and arias from operas, symphonic compositions and more, and this year includes four winners: Oleksandr Khrustevych, Vadym Neselovskiy, Adam Laloum and Oleksandr Piroyenko.
While I’m sure each musician is worthy of praise in his own way, Oleksandr Khrustevych is amazingly good. I first met him a few years ago when he took on the job of accompanist at the Virsky dance studios. There, he was required to learn each and every piece in the company’s repertoire so that upon command, could pick up the exact part of the dance the company was working on at that moment. It wasn’t until later, however, that I realised just how good he was having clicked on a website and found a video of the master accordionist at work. Playing the third movement of Summer from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (www.youtube.com/user/Hrustevich#p/a/f/0/p79ucaj-nNg), his fingers became a blur as they flew across the keyboard, and I for one wasn’t sure about which stimuli I should be more impressed with.
Born in Ukraine in 1983, Khrustevych began playing the bayan at the age of six, and would later graduate from Ukraine’s National Academy of Music under Professor Besfamilnov. As well as accompanying world famous musicians such as Bobby McFerrin when he was here in Kyiv earlier this year, Khrustevych is often invited to play solo concerts and has been the feature performer in countries such as Poland, Austria, Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia and Serbia. His claim to fame is his ability to turn classical music variations for specific instruments into masterpieces for the bayan, and whole-heartedly deserving of the title virtuoso, he is in this festival because of his success at doing just that.
Getting the chance to speak with him ever so briefly, he talked about how he just loves music and that all of his time, working or otherwise, is dedicated to his bayan. While I did mention that he is somewhat famous because of this small clip that seems to have made its way around the world, he says shyly, “I haven’t been able to read all of the comments that people have left, but it’s nice to know they’re there.”
So Far from Anti-Social
If Virtuosos is a good example of the traditional type of music found here in Ukraine, then the group Anti-Social Music from the US is a good example of the exact opposite. Formed in November 2000 for what they thought was a one-off concert called An Afternoon of Anti-Social Chamber Music, ASM is here in Ukraine this week to offer us traditionalists a taste of the unconventional. Never thinking it would fly, these mainly New York-based musicians have been presenting new pieces for ten years now, and still getting over the fact that people actually like what they were doing. Now they are adamant that Anti-Social Music won’t just float off into oblivion.
Their initial objective was to premiere performances of new work, and while chamber music often has a more serious side to it, most of the pieces they come up with have a much lighter feel to them. Having released three studio albums and a hugely successful indie opera, they have been able to introduce almost 130 new works to the world so far, and to celebrate their achievement, they decided that a tour around Ukraine was the just the ticket.
With 13 members in total, the group itself is comprised of a number of different musicians with different backgrounds from classical to jazz to punk. The majority of them have been part of rock bands, a number have played in an orchestra or jazz band, and a couple have sung in a choir. But to my mind, it’s this eclectic mix that makes them work, and they have certainly become very popular in the city they call home.
I had the chance to hook up with an important part of their unique group just after they flew in last week, and sitting down with the lovely Miss Andrea La Rose, I have to say we had a pretty good chat. She talked a lot about the basics behind ASM and that – and I quote, “If we only produced the music ourselves, then we wouldn’t have to wait or do a lot of boot-kissing to get our music heard.” A pretty logical analysis indeed, and was one their founder, Franz Nicolay – a guy into punk and, oddly enough, klezmer – came up with it. With regular pop, rock, anything more or less mainstream, the way to get discovered is to get your stuff onto tapes, into house parties or onto the internet, for example. With classical music, however, “the expectation remains that a composer is ‘discovered’ by sending their works out to various competitions. [And like Mr. Khrustevych] Franz just decided to do with his classical compositions what he was doing with his punk bands.” And surprisingly, it worked.
Kyiv in Concert
Understandably then, much of the music these guys come up with sounds a lot like what they call ‘punk classical’, but, Andrea says, "with the rather awful term ’postclassical’ floating around these days, we definitely have some connection to that, too. What’s great though, is that everybody has their own personal style, making the Anti-Social Music sound just sort of fit.” When I ask La Rose about the other members, she says that while their personalities are all quite different, they do have a lot in common in terms of aesthetic interests, and as a group their main focus is obviously the music, new music, not the stuff that’s already been written by established composers, living or dead.
Playing mostly in the States, La Rose says their biggest concerts have probably been the ones at Merkin Hall as part of Thomas Buckner’s Interpretations series in 2006 and then in 2007 at BAM Café. But she also says, “Some of my favourites have been the really tiny shows, like when we played at a small all-ages punk club in New Jersey. We would perform in a wider variety of places if we had the funds to do so.” And then declares, so offhandedly I almost miss it, “We do have plans to take over the world.”
Realising that perhaps I’m starting to cut into rehearsal time, or sightseeing, or just plain catching up on sleep, I round off our time together with a couple questions about what she thinks their time in Ukraine is going to consist of. But thinking little about it, she says that they’re all really excited about being here. “Not too many groups from NYC travel to Eastern Europe, so it marks us as being a little different, which we like. With regard to our concerts while we’re here, however, Ukraine should expect a wild and crazy time. If you’re looking for a traditional classical music concert, where everyone is well-dressed and well-behaved, you’ll be in for a surprise!”
So there you have it folks, just a couple of the things you can take in this week alone where the love for music by people from all walks of life are concerned. While they may focus on different pieces of repertoire while trying to find different kinds of sound, each concert offers the listener something more than worthwhile: they offer a small glimpse into the souls of each and every one of these musicians that takes to the stage here in Kyiv.
Oleksandr Khrustevych (Ukraine, bayan) & Vadym Neselovskiy (Ukraine, piano), 11 November at 19.00
Adam Laloum (France, piano) & Oleksandr Piroyenko (Russian
Federation, piano), 12 November at 19.00
National Philharmonic of Ukraine (Volodymyrskiy Uzviz 2), 278-1697
Anti-Social Music, 7 November at 19.00
Kyiv Conservatory (Arkhitektora Horodetskoho 1-3/11), 279-1242