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World premieres by musicians who perform music from the heart. Salov and Mostovoi immerse audience in the tragedy of war at the concert in Montreal

Mar 14, 2024 | Arts & Culture, Featured

Yuri Bilinsky, New Pathway – Ukrainian News.

A Ukrainian pianist. Probably the best representation for Serhiy Salov. In any case, this is how he was presented in the film “Coda,” where he performed beautiful music for the main character played by Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation, X-Men, Dune).

A Ukrainian baritone, a graduate of the Montreal Conservatory and a soloist in the youth program of the Paris National Opera, Igor Mostovoi.

Bach, Chopin, Lysenko, Lyatoshynsky, Silvestrov, Skoryk, Turkevych, Dankevych. Music that, in the hands of true masters, will not leave indifferent even those who have never heard it before. New compositions, written during and under the impression of the current war in Ukraine. Compositions by Salov influenced by Bach’s humanism, which, according to the pianist, are the only ones capable of describing what happened in Mariupol, and compositions by an American composer Evan Mack as a tribute to the Ukrainian tragedy.

Serhiy Salov and Ihor Mostovoi reherse before the concert. Photos:

All this came together in the La Salle Bourgie hall in Montreal on February 17 at the concert Mélodies ukrainiennes / Ukrainian Melodies. And the fact that Mostovoy is a native of Mariupol and was forced to flee his hometown under bombs and rockets in February 2022, and Salov’s composition (born in the regional center, Donetsk) Tragedia « Z » is dedicated precisely to this city – is an absolutely random coincidence. That evening, Tragedia « Z », requiem pour Marioupol, had its world premiere.

It’s very difficult to express music in words. Yes, confirmed Serhiy Salov, poetry that is put into a song, becomes more refined, more sublime. This happens through some mystical dimension; no physicist can yet explain how sound vibrations affect us emotionally. And when those vibrations come from world-class performers who perceive this music at the level of personal spiritual experiences, it all becomes the concert Mélodies ukrainiennes.

Ihor Mostovoi characterizes Serhiy Salov as an outstanding soloist and a brilliant collaborator with singers. Salov, in turn, notes that despite his youth, Mostovoi sings beautifully in three specific specializations that rarely intersect – chamber music, opera, and oratorio.

Salov is also an extraordinary improviser (listen to his “Habanera” in the film “Coda”) and an experimenter, which is rare for classical pianists. He admitted that his Tragedia « Z », based on Bach’s music, might not be appreciated by some purists somewhere in Vienna. However, the Montreal audience, who listened to it on the eve of the second anniversary of the Russian full-scale invasion on Ukraine, perceived it as a true musical tribute to human suffering. Bach was the first true humanist in music; everything that happened after Bach was an echo of his explosion of humanism, said Salov. He believes that Bach’s music is intended to make people better. And Salov’s piece managed to convey to the listener the tragedy of what happened in Mariupol.

Skillfully performed live music touches the soul with its vibrations, and Ukrainian music makes an impression of an even higher order on a Ukrainian person. Just as a typical Scot cries from the sound of a bagpipe, which makes us want to cover our ears, so does Ukrainian music affect a Ukrainian, especially the kind that sounds like something heard in childhood.

This is how Valentin Silvestrov’s song “Goodbye, O World, O Earth, Farewell” sounded, with lyrics by Shevchenko. A Ukrainian girl sitting next to me, who had never heard this poem before and probably didn’t quite grasp the overall theme of the concert at first, cried. It was Shevchenko, it was a Ukrainian composer, it was a Ukrainian pianist, and it was a Ukrainian singer. It was a unique cultural phenomenon that no one else could reproduce so beautifully.


Serhiy Salov noted that in this song, part of the cycle “Quiet Songs,” Silvestrov conveyed the tragedy of Ukraine with the most delicate harmonies on the other side of the decibels, where the human ear almost doesn’t reach, and fingers can’t even play that quietly. “It’s a metaphysical work that requires an instrument that hasn’t been invented yet, a piano that plays even quieter, a singer who sings with an even quieter voice,” he said.

Mostovoi didn’t just sing that song; he rather lived it on stage. The Ukrainian grief expressed by Shevchenko exactly 180 years ago echoes the current war; the song expresses the hapless fate of the country. This music by Silvestrov embodies the entire Ukrainian melos, and the pianist performed it incredibly, said the singer.
Another premiere of the evening, the song cycle “Letters from the Front Line” by American composer Evan Mack, based on the poems of Ukrainian soldier Pavlo Vyshebaba, was the most anticipated part of the program. I won’t be mistaken if I say that the audience’s attention was focused on Igor Mostovoi in this part of the concert. Probably the only person in the hall who had seen rocket explosions and felt what it’s like to escape from an armed-to-the-teeth monster, the singer put his soul into performing the cycle.

Evan Mack and Ihor Mostovoi in Montreal

Mostovoi said after the concert that his personal experience helped him perform those songs, but reliving it again was difficult. The songs based on Vyshebaba’s poetry cannot be performed differently; they must either be lived on the stage or not performed at all, said the singer. It’s important for people to hear this music, to touch the fate of those who are at war. And it’s also important for Ukrainians to know that there are people who empathize with us, who share our values, like this American composer.

The story of the “Letters from the Front Line” cycle began at the dawn of the war when Evan Mack wrote to Mostovoi, who had previously sung Mack’s compositions in Chinese, asking for Ukrainian poems he wanted to put to music. When the proposal for this concert came up, Mostovoi reminded Mack of this and offered Vyshebaba’s poems. “The idea was for these to be soldier’s poems,” said Mostovoi. “These poems are very professionally and beautifully written, but it was their emotion that touched me.” In the poem “Thirst,” addressed to a girl, “the piano accompaniment and the voice reach such decibels that the hall should tremble with emotion,” said Salov.

Pavlo Vyshebaba and his poem «To my daughter».

Two piano pieces at the beginning and end of this cycle give the pianist “almost equal footing with the vocalist, so saturated with emotions, they direct this cycle,” explained Salov. Mack was in Montreal a few days before the concert and said that in the prelude and postlude, he wanted to show the connection between people of different nationalities, him being American and the Ukrainians. Mack said he couldn’t comment on the Ukrainian war as someone who hasn’t been there, but he sees the war within his framework, expressed precisely in the prelude and postlude. Salov noted that the subtitle of the postlude is “Search in the Fog,” but most of this search happens at high decibels; this fog is expressed in bright colors but still remains fog.

There weren’t many people at the “Ukrainian Melodies” concert, but this gave it a chamber and dense atmosphere. After the concert, Serhiy Salov noted that he had played in this hall several times over 20 years, but he had never felt such an atmosphere. “Without exaggeration, I was shocked by how much emotion radiated from each person. I will never forget it; today was a unique concert,” said the pianist with a trembling voice.

Apart from paying tribute to the fallen and those currently defending Ukraine, the concert became a worthy demonstration of Ukrainian music and culture for the Canadian audience. Ukrainian music needs to be promoted, and this concert, like the Ukrainian Art Song Project, sponsored by leading benefactors of the Ukrainian-Canadian community, opens up Ukrainian culture to the world. Russia has long been promoting its music, sending it around the world performed by Russian musicians and ensembles. Ukraine has only recently started doing this.

We can only hope that, in addition to other Canadian and world stages, Serhiy Salov and Ihor Mostovoi will someday perform this concert in their homeland, in Donetsk and in Mariupol. Serhiy played his last concert in Donetsk in 2013. It was a happy day; the city was in great shape, but then the war happened. And Ihor Mostovoi last performed in Mariupol in 2021, less than a year before the attack on the city, in the now-ruined Drama Theater. “I want to sing in Mariupol, but not in the Drama Theater anymore; I wouldn’t want to sing in a cemetery,” said Ihor.

City of Donetsk, 2013

Mariupol's Drama Theatre, 2021

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