RCAS American Premier of Composer Zhurbin’s Tribute to Tsvetaeva

With the haunting backdrop of a portrait of poet Marina Tsvetaeva, the rousing voices of mezzo soprano Magdalena Wor and baritone Timothy Mix filled the hall of La Maison Francaise Embassy of France, paying homage to one of the most renowned poets of 20th-century Russia.

The opening concert of the Russian Chamber Art Society 2018-2019 season featured the American premier of the three-part vocal cycle, “Poet, Love and Marina” composed on the poems of Tsvetaeva and Osip Mandelstam by Alexander Zhurbin, who dedicated the 2017 Russian premier to the 125th anniversary of Tsvetaeva’s birth (1892-1941).

The ensemble performances of pianist and RCAS Artistic Director Vera Danchenko-Stern and pianist Genadi Zagor, brought to life the intricacies and subtleties of Zhurbin’s music with virtuosic precision.

The concert underscored the “art of music diplomacy” at its best. Although Russian composer Alexander Zhurbin, who has made his home for many years in New York and is now residing in Russia, was not able to be present, he addressed the audience with a live video from Russia. He praised Vera Danchenko-Stern’s great musicianship and devotion to music and thanked the RCAS for undertaking the American Premiere of his work and hoped that his music would succeed on its own. He commented that such events could help to improve relations between Russia and the USA, pointing out that it will take “people of culture to bring everyone closer.”

Mary Kruger, President of the Russian Chamber Art Society, welcomed the audience to the RCAS’s13th season. She acknowledged the presence of His Excellency Javlon Vakhabov, Ambassador of Uzbekistan, and members of the diplomatic corps from the Polish and Russian Embassies. She also acknowledged and thanked the audience for their loyal support and to donors Susan Carmel and President Emeritus of the RCAS, John Hauge and Mrs. Meg Hauge.                                                                                                                                

Pianist Danchenko-Stern explained that the song cycle represented the culmination of 50 years of music and friendship. She met the composer Alexander Zhurbin when they were 20 years old at the Gnessin Academy of Music in Russia. Zhurbin, who was born in Tashkent, was inspired by the poems of Tsvetaeva as a young man and in his song cycle movingly portrays her love as well as the tragedy of her life.

Tsvetaeva lived through the Russian Revolution of 1917 and lost her child in the Moscow famine. Although she is recognized as one of the greatest Russian poets, her work was banned in Russia for many years.

Mezzo soprano, Magdalena Wor and pianist Danchenko-Stern performed the first song cycle, conveying the passionate character of composer Zhurbin’s music and the grief of  Tsvetaeva’s poems. The depth of Magdalena Wor’s rich dramatic voice was enriched by her talent as a gifted actress conveying Tsvetaeva’s tragic life. While Tsvetaeva overcame great vicissitudes since childhood, she finally succumbed to the hardships she encountered and committed suicide in her later years. Magdalena Wor interpreted these emotions with great conviction and a broad vocal range. Vera Danchenko-Stern’s pianistic gifts and vast palette of tonal colorations, and Magdalena Wor’s beautiful lyrical touch, mesmerized the audience.

Baritone Timothy Mix and pianist Genadi Zagor were equally outstanding in their interpretations of the song cycle. A highlight was Timothy Mix’s performance of the song “Spindle” from a poem by the poet Ossip Madelstam, Tsvetaeva’s loving partner.

In “Love,” Mix’s rich baritone voice had a warm and emotional intensity that blended beautifully with Magdalena Wor’s voice.

The performance by Magdalena Wor of “In My Moscow,” her favorite poem, brought enthusiastic applause. Showing the great musical versatility and skill of composer Alexander Zhurbin, Magdalena Wor and Genadi Zagor continued the third part of the song cycle, entitled “Marina.” They performed the last seven poems set to music, which was a “tour de force ” of vocal and pianistic virtuosity.

The RCAS’s and Zhurbin’s tribute to Tsvetaeva was reflected in the words of Nobel Prize winner Joseph Brodsky, “No more passionate voice ever sounded in Russian poetry of the 20th century.”

Vera Danchenko-Stern spoke of her philosophy of life and how important the art of music reflects that philosophy. She eloquently explains how music can help in preserving, repairing and healing relationships between peoples throughout the world, especially in times of strife and conflict. She added that her philosophy is not an intellectual exercise, but rather a matter of conviction that leads to a transcendent understanding, as music can affect the sensibilities of everyone.

At the conclusion of the concert, Alexander Zhurbin’s wife, Irena Ginsberg, and his son Lev Zhurbin, joined the artist on the stage to thank Danchenko-Stern and the Russian Chamber Art Society for undertaking this American Premiere of Mr. Zhurbin’s monumental work. Lev Zhurbin, a distinguished composer and violist himself, stated that he was touched to be present at his father’s concert, having not heard the pieces in their entirety before. He conveyed his father’s sentiments that “he writes real music for audiences and singers who enjoy music. Thank you for enjoying his music.”

Vera Danchenko-Stern stated that her mission is to create a medium for “Music Without Borders.” She added, “Music is so personal, it is universal, we must give people something to feel spiritual, as in that sphere there is no misunderstanding.” The RCAS once again succeeded in fulfilling her promise.


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