LENOX — The ongoing war in Ukraine has touched the hearts of people around the world and across America. For area resident Natalia Shevchuk, the conflict is personal.
Pianist, choral accompanist and a Ukrainian native, Shevchuk emigrated to the US more than a decade ago, and now lives with her American husband in Columbia County, NY. Her closest family, including her mother and sibling, live in and around Ukraine’s capital city, 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 near to the village where my closest family lives. There was continuous fighting in the surrounding woods. The outskirts were shelled day and night from multiple rocket and grenade launchers. The whole area didn’t have heat in homes for a month and a half, when snow was still on the ground. The gas pipeline was blown up with no way of fixing it. At some point, my family didn’t have electricity for a week.”
The plight of her family and countrymen touched those close to her, including Cantilena Chamber Choir director Andrea Goodman. Shevchuk will accompany the choir during 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 a portion of the proceeds to International Rescue Committee to support victims of the war.
“A lot of it was spurred on by Natalia,” Goodman said during a recent phone interview. “The first thought everybody had was, how was her family, we were so worried about them.”
Goodman has added two pieces to her original program in honor of Ukraine.
“These two short pieces are amazing, they’re perfectly composed little gems,” she said.
One is “A Ukrainian Prayer,” a new work written by world-famous English choral composer John Rutter in response to the conflict. He has made the score openly available for anyone to use, anywhere in the world. The text, which is in Ukrainian, translates as: “Good Lord, 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 some music that would respond in my own way. I hope the meaning of the text will resonate in people's hearts and reach out to the people of Ukraine in their hour of need.”
Goodman has 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 underscore the devastating human toll of the D-Day landing.
“I heard it as a vocal work, there’s no words,” Goodman said. “It really evokes the spirit of the horror and tragedy of Ukraine.”
Williams’ works, she explained, get right at the heart of all the emotions connected with what’s going on.
Goodman added a timpani part from the original orchestral version for her 18-year-old musician son, Jacob Fanto, a freshman at Williams College, to perform on snare drum. John Williams is his favorite composer, she noted.
Carried over from the original program are two works by 17th-century composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier: “Te Deum" for choir and orchestra, and the rarely heard “Le Reniement de St. Pierre” (Peter's Denial of Christ).
“Certain aspects of Charpentier's 'Le Reniement' are really appealing,” Goodman said. “We’re doing a 17th-century French pronunciation of the Latin, you don’t hear it done often this way. I call it a 'taste thrill' to be able to [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,' everybody knows the tune,” she noted, referencing its iconic trumpet fanfare opening.
The 75-minute program will also include selections from 2020 Grammy-nominated “Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom” by American composer Kurt Sander.
“Sander [fell] in love with the Eastern Orthodox Church and started writing in that style,” Goodman explained. “It’s like an updated Rachmaninov, it’s in English with very thick textures and lush romantic sound.”
The 22 singers in the choir will perform a cappella and with harpsichord and organ accompaniment. A nine-piece chamber orchestra will join them for Charpentier’s “Te Deum.”
Many of the singers have been with the semi-professional choir for all of its 18 seasons, Goodman noted.
“We have instrumentalists and professional singers and choir directors and music educators. They needed a place to go where they would have a challenging 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 has played solos on our Christmas concert and [also] her own arrangements,” she noted.
Shevchuk reports that her immediate family members currently are recuperating from wartime stresses and trying to resume their normal activities.
“We all breathed freer when the enemy was kicked away from Kyiv," she wrote. “But people in the east and south still suffer.
“Nobody in Ukraine is safe, and will not be for a while. The enemy rockets can reach anywhere.”
Knowing the concert will raise funds for Ukraine has meant a lot to Shevchuk.
“I’m incredibly grateful to the Cantilena singers and personally Andrea Goodman for their support and compassion,” Shevchuk wrote. “I have participated in a few concerts benefitting Ukraine, and it is always very heartwarming and encouraging to see all this huge support from the American public. All the political, economical, military assistance that the US has given Ukraine is absolutely outstanding. My country is endlessly grateful for it. It means so much.”