Minsk Philharmonic’s cosy hall attracts fans from Belarusian capital and beyond for Polish KRACOW DUO
Earlier this year, a teacher of the Culture and Art University, Yevgeny Poplavsky, dropped by the editorial office to collect an issue of our magazine for his senior colleague, Ms. Albina Pekutko: featured on the cover of the January 2013 issue, celebrating her Presidential Award ‘For Spiritual Revival’. Ms. Pekutko heads the Choir and Vocal Art Chair.
Yevgeny mentioned his teaching at the university and his work as a composer, being a graduate of our conservatoire. He studied composition under Belarusian composers Igor Luchenok and Dmitry Smolsky. He is a strong believer in self-determination and the importance of self-education, using every opportunity to nurture his professional skills. During his internship at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire, he took part in master classes organised by Dutch composer Ton de Leeuw (hosted by Repino, near St. Petersburg), as well as attending master classes at Gdańsk’s Academy of Music (named after Stanisław Moniuszko) and at the Music Academy’s Electro-Acoustic Music Studio in Krakow.
In Krakow, at the International Contemporary Museum Festival in 2010, where his Con Amore was performed, Yevgeny met a couple of talented young musicians, Jan Kalinowski (cello) and Marek Szlezer (piano). So impressed was he by their professional approach towards contemporary music and their diverse repertoire that he initiated regular links, launching this new aspect of cultural co-operation between Belarus and Poland.
According to Natalia Ganul, who hosts Jan and Marek’s concert programme, the pair have been friends since childhood. Of course, it’s their shared interests and mutual understanding that have kept them close. They share a love of music and joint education in Krakow and Paris, as well as having both defended candidate dissertations. They even both teach at the Academy of Music in Krakow. The pair are inspired to popularise contemporary musical culture at home and abroad, being welcomed at concert halls across Europe. They’ve played at international festivals in Ukraine, Slovakia, France and Germany and have toured the Middle East, as well as making a trip to China for the Days of Krakow. Their recorded albums include a CD of chamber works by Fryderyk Chopin.
Despite their world travels, their recent visit to Minsk has been their first, at the invitation of the Polish Institute, under the organisational assistance of Yevgeny Poplavsky. Unsurprisingly, their performances have proven popular, playing alongside Dmitry Lybin and Yevgeny Poplavsky, with a repertoire of music by Belarusian composers.
Ode to music
The Rygor Shirma Chamber Hall is unusual is allowing the audience to sit very close to the stage, enabling a communion of souls to take place. The 19th century style high backed velvet chairs are supremely comfortable and the hall boasts paintings hanging in tradition fashion, inviting audiences to let their gaze wander. The subdued pale green lighting is also very soothing.
Sitting in the second row, directly in the centre, just two metres from the stage, I was able to see the stool and music stand with notes awaiting cellist Jan Kalinowski, alongside a piano for Marek Szlezer, to the left. In the first row, in front of us, a grandmother sat with her grandchildren: a boy aged about four and a slightly older girl. My colleagues and I discussed whether such a concert was appropriate for young children but came to the conclusion that teaching children about serious music from early childhood is probably wise. Without question, the children behaved well.
Hostess Natalia Ganul then appeared, giving what I consider to be an indispensable opening speech, regardless of information on the performers and their repertoire being in the programme. Her engaging manner immediately focuses the audience’s attention, in anticipation of the concert to come. Ms. Ganul’s voice is so enchanting that even those young children hung on her every word. My colleagues smiled at seeing the grandmother put her hand on each of their knees, to remind them to be quiet.
Before commenting on KRACOW DUO and on Belarusian and Polish musical cultures, Ms. Ganul presented the honorary guests: the Director of the Polish Institute, Piotr Kazakevich; Belarus’ Deputy Culture Minister, Tadeush Struzhetsky; and the French Ambassador to Belarus, H.E. Mr. Michel Raineri. Each half rose on hearing their name, turning to bow before the audience.
There’s something inexplicable, even mystical, in anticipating performers entering the stage. On first seeing them, I couldn’t help but inwardly exclaim at how much they looked like their photos on the programme. Wearing black tie, they bowed elegantly, accepting the audience’s welcome applause with smiles. Finally, they sat and Kalinowski touched the strings of his cello, then looked over at Marek. After a small nod, the music of Polish composer Witold Lutosławski sprang to life. Almost rivalling
Fryderyk Chopin in the history of Polish music, he is honoured by 2013 being named ‘The Year of Witold Lutosławski’ by the Polish Sejm.
It was the first time I’d heard his Grave: a movement for cello and piano. Expressive music is always astonishing, stopping all other thought, but this piece awoke feelings in me with which I was unfamiliar. It was as if I heard only the breathing of the planet, listening to all that was occurring in every corner and every continent, from the rustling of leaves to rocks falling from a mountain. Sudden sounds made me recall a train sharply braking or the crack of torn tree branches. Metaphors from life filled my mind to fit each musical phrase: the shimmering heat of the desert or the throaty shout of a train conductor, the singing of a spring well or rush of a sea storm, the sound of crying, the roar of a river or the gentle whisper of the breeze. These evocative images united to form a symphony of sound.
Marek and Jan then led me into the complex world of Dmitry Shostakovich’s Sonata in D-minor, with its heart-warming exploration of love and kindness. From the first notes, the melody penetrated the very pores of my skin, allowing me to breathe with it. Rather than images, I saw colour — purple, lilacs and pink shades which filled me with joy.
The first section finished with a work by Belarusian composer Dmitry Lybin: House of Ghosts. As Ms. Ganul explained, this post-avant-garde instrumental piece combines ‘musical recollections’ of mystical scenes from famous operas. Written at the request of a French cellist, it was adapted for KRACOW DUO’s concert to allow the piano to take part fully. With the lid open, Marek even plucked the very strings of his instrument, while Jan make his cello ‘squeal’ by ‘bowing’ with his fingers. These strange sounds — whispering, cracking, squeaking, breathing and scratching — sent chills through the audience, as if we really were in the presence of ghosts.
During the interval, we exchanged opinions on how the music had affected us and on the skill of the musicians. The two young children trotted out behind their grandmother, having sat still for long enough.
The second half began with Yevgeny Poplavsky’s In the Moonlight (2012), arousing recollections of the full moon and its pale light, which reshapes the contours of familiar objects and filters night sounds to create fantastical illusions. I imagined a forest on a summer night, filled with rustling and crackling, and a mirrored lake, the cry of an eagle owl, the splash of water and muted laughter.
It also made me remember Gogol’ s Viy and Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka, as well as a scene from Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita: Margarita flying on a broom over forests and lakes. I recollected sleepless warm summer nights as a student, the moon shining gleefully, inspiring random fantasies, and imaginings of sounds and smells, when all senses are heightened and the soul yearns for something wonderful…
After the concert, Poplavsky dedicated this work to his wife, Helena, of the famous noble family of Leshchinsky. He explained: ‘In the atmosphere of this wonderful summer night, filled with moonlight, I’ve tried to reveal the great light of the female soul and her poetic mood, which is manifested in the shadows, colours and sounds of the cello and piano’. The piece premiered at the International Festival of Modern Music: 24 Days of Music by Krakow Composers.
The second section finished with Ludomir Rуżycki’s Dwa Nokturny, and Alexander Tansman’s Fantasies for Cello and Piano — both prominent Polish composers. This rounded off the programme well, having given us a breadth of musical experiences united in rousing great emotions. The applause was unanimous for the Polish musicians, whose encore was Sonata for Cello and Piano, by Sergei Rachmaninov.
The concert ended on a cheerful and spiritual note and I thought, as I have done many times before, how music evidently removes all walls between us.
By Valentina Zhdanovich
[b]Minsk Philharmonic’s cosy hall attracts fans from Belarusian capital and beyond for Polish KRACOW DUO [/b]Earlier this year, a teacher of the Culture and Art University, Yevgeny Poplavsky, dropped by the editorial office to collect an issue of our magazine for his senior colleague, Ms. Albina Pekutko: featured on the cover of the January 2013 issue, celebrating her Presidential Award ‘For Spiritual Revival’. Ms. Pekutko heads the Choir and Vocal Art Chair.