Yet the war loomed over these performances: Some artists
couldn’t leave Ukraine, and the concerts were adapted to accommodate their
absences. And the festival’s very existence has always been a rejection of
President Vladimir Putin of Russia’s assertion that there is no real Ukrainian
Our critics were at two of the three programmes: “Forest
Song” on Friday, and “Anthropocene” on Sunday.
The festival’s first concert was a travelogue through the
trees, fields and mountains of Ukraine: an agriculture-rich landscape that has
inspired the months of the country’s calendar; been the subject of Hitler’s
envy; and suffered under modern disasters like Chernobyl and the recent
Some of the works were transcription-like tributes. Ivan
Nebesnyy’s “Air Music 1” (2001-04) paired the vocal group Ekmeles with four
flutes and Sean Statser — the evening’s busiest player, on percussion — for
variations of extended technique that rendered entirely human something
intangible. The percussion’s lingering final note was a reminder of how
indebted music, or any sound, has always been to air.
There was imitation, too, in Zoltan Almashi’s “An Echo From
Hitting the Trunk of a Dry Mountain Spruce in Rycerko Gorna Village” (2015),
whose prepared piano recalled the tapping of a dead tree. A slowly screeching
violin was like a bending branch; the clarinet, a melancholy folk tune
performed in its shadow. And Ostap Manulyak’s “Trees,” from 2012, was an arboreal
examination from the ground up, with ever-higher pitches airily played by a
violin and cello where their strings meet the tailpiece — and, at the top,
piano tinkling like birdsong.
The other two pieces were more abstract, and more haunting.
Anastasia Belitska’s “Rusalochka” (2019), a purely electronic work of distorted
found audio from the Chernobyl zone, recounted a traditional Mermaid’s Easter
celebration as warped as the ecosystem there. Alla Zahaykevych’s “Nord/Ouest”
(2010) accomplished much of the same, its search of vanishing folklore in
northwestern Ukraine documented over 50 discursive minutes whose flashes of
folk song — in voice and violin — felt like precious discoveries.
“Nord/Ouest” normally features percussion, voices and live
electronics. But, because its creators could not leave Ukraine, it was reworked
Friday for Statser, alone with his drum kit, next to a laptop carrying the
sounds of his fellow performers. This spectacle, like the music’s ghostly
dispatches from a fading history, spoke for itself. — JOSHUA BARONE
Sunday afternoon’s programme, too, was disrupted: Roman
Grygoriv and Illia Razumeiko, the composers who had planned to perform their
post-apocalyptic “Chornobyldorf Partita” on the second half of the concert,
could not travel to New York. So they sent a 45-minute film, a selection from a
seven-hour performance of “Mariupol” that they streamed Wednesday from
Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine, where they are sheltering.
Conceived as a new part of “Chornobyldorf Partita” and named
after the city currently under siege, “Mariupol” is written for dulcimer and a
microtonally retuned bandura, a lutelike folk instrument. The two men sat
facing each other, their instruments nearly touching, the bandura’s strings
facing up like the dulcimer’s.
With both instruments struck with drum sticks, the sound
evolved from a rustling metallic crunch to a shimmering coppery drone to
clattering, astringent industrial noise. This was defiant, ritualistic music —
aggressive and forlorn, but with poignant warmth from its creation as a duo.
On the first half of the programme, pianist Steven Beck
played Alexey Shmurak’s “Greenland” (2020-21), a reflection on another crisis,
that of the planet’s climate. In the Minimalistic first two sections, repeating
figures worked through gradual but unexpected transformations, often turning —
thawing — from chilly to warmly nocturnal and back again and, in the opening
“Railway Étude,” taking on some of the relaxed swing of a rag. By far the
longest section of this 45-minute work is the third and final one, “Icy
Variations,” which stretches a Bach-style chorale theme to glacial
expansiveness, wandering through subtle, organic shifts. — ZACHARY WOOLFE
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