The Well-Tempered Ear

Ukraine’s most famous living composer is now a war refugee in Germany

April 2, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

He fights and defends his native country with beautiful sounds.

Ukraine’s most famous living composer has had to flee his war-torn country and — like some 3 million fellow Ukrainians in various other countries — is now living as a a war refugee in Germany. 

He is Valentin Sylvestrov (below), 84, and has survived both World War II and the Nazi occupation as well as the Soviet rule experiencing democracy and freedom after the fall of the USSR and now the devastating Russian invasion five weeks ago.

The irony is that his music, which The Ear can’t recall ever hearing performed live in Madison — although Wisconsin Public Radio recently featured a beautiful choral work — seems calming and peaceful, even consoling.(Please correct me if I am mistaken.) Many people compare him to the style of Arvo Pärt, his Eastern European contemporary and colleague in Estonia.

Little wonder that his works have found a new popularity in worldwide concerts as the world hopes for the survival and victory of Ukraine — below is Ukraine’s flag — over Vladimir’s Putin’s army and war crimes. 

His works have been particularly popular at fundraisers and memorials. They underscore the long history and importance of Ukraine’s tradition of making music, which has been recounted in the news features you find in the press, on TV, on radio and elsewhere in the media including live streams and recorded videos other media, especially the Internet.

As far as The Ear can tell, his most popular work in the concert hall these days is his hauntingly beautiful 1937 “Prayer for Ukraine.” You can hear it, in  an orchestra version, in a YouTube video at the bottom.

As background here are two different interviews with the distressed and saddened Sylvestrov in exile.

The first interview, from The New York Times, is by a professor at Arizona State University who has published a book on postwar Eastern European composers and offers links to more works: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/30/arts/music/valentin-silvestrov-ukraine-war.html

The other interview is from the German media outlet Deutsche Welle, translated into English and featuring current photos: https://www.dw.com/en/ukrainian-composer-valentin-silvestrov-what-are-you-kremlin-devils-doing/a-61158308

The tragic occasion of the war in Ukraine could be the event that brings the soul-stirring music of Sylvestrov to a larger global public. 

He certainly deserves it — along with some live performances here — and The Ear certainly plans on posting more of his music.

Have you heard the music of Valentin Sylvestrov?

Do you have favorite works from his piano music, chamber music, choral music and many symphonies?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Classical music: On this Memorial Day, The Ear honors not only soldiers but also civilians, COVID-19 victims and all those responders and workers who serve the public

May 25, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Memorial Day 2020.

It is of course a largely military holiday. Most of the planned public events will be to honor those who died in service to their country. That usually means fallen soldiers and deceased veterans.

It also means that military cemeteries – like Arlington National Cemetery, below — will be decorated with American flags.

But The Ear doesn’t think we should forget that there are many ways to serve your country and protect the public, many kinds war and self-sacrifice.

Let’s not forget civilians, especially since worldwide more than twice the numbers of civilians died in World War II than did members of the armed forces. Lives are taken as well as given.

A larger definition of “national service” also seems especially timely since this weekend the U.S. is likely to surpass 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 during the coronavirus pandemic. They include many first responders and frontline workers (below) as well as grocery store workers and delivery drivers. Even “small” occupations have big heroes. There is no reason not to be more inclusive.

There are traditional kinds of music to honor the dead. They include requiems and elegies, military marches and funeral marches. And in the comment section you should feel free to suggest whatever music you think would be appropriate.

But The Ear found a piece he thinks is both unusual and ideal.

It is called “Old and Lost Rivers” by the contemporary American composer Tobias Picker (below). It is a beautiful, moving and contemplative piece, based on an actual place in Texas, that you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom.

But you should know this about the work’s title.

With rivers, “lost” doesn’t mean forgotten or misplaced.

One dictionary defines it as “a surface stream that flows into an underground passageway” – and eventually often becomes part of a larger body of water such as a lake or the ocean.

It can also mean rivers that appear during heavy rain and then disappear when they evaporate during a drought.

Somehow, those images serve as fitting metaphors for our losses and that music seems a very appropriate way to honor those who sacrifice themselves and disappear in service to others.

The Ear hopes you agree.


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Classical music: Today is the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Here is a sonic and visual “D-Day Symphony” to mark the event – as well as two moving pieces to honor the day and the dead. What music would you choose?

June 6, 2019
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IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the 75th anniversary of D-Day, that deadly day – June 6, 1944 — when massive Allied forces (below, seen gathering on Omaha Beach) invaded the Normandy coast of France in Nazi-occupied Europe, beginning the liberation from Hitler’ Germany and the end of World War II.

In searching for music to mark the occasion, The Ear returned to two of the best pieces of memorial music he knows of and which are below: the “Nimrod” Variation from Edward Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations, a piece that was used in Ken Burn’s celebrated TV documentary about World War II; and Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.”

It seems only fitting to the occasion to have works by an American composer and a British composer.

But in searching for music, The Ear also stumbled by chance across a little-known piece that uses a work by a French composer, which also seems fitting for the occasion and the day. It is a sonic and visual symphony of remembrance – a “D-Day Symphony,” if you will — that uses the second movement from the Symphony No. 3 by Arthur Honegger. It is in the YouTube video at the bottom.

The Ear hopes you also find the work moving and a welcome, if largely unknown, addition to musical remembrances for this historic event. Tell us what you think.

And if there is another work you would listen to while marking the anniversary of D-Day, please leave your comment along with the composer and title and, if possible, a YouTube link in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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