Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

A new Stankovych

The outstanding composer visited Den together with cellist Oleksandr Piriiev on the eve of an epoch-making premiere
8 November, 2016 - 10:59

On November 2, Kyiv hosted a very successful world premiere of the Concerto No. 2 for Cello and Orchestra by Yevhen Stankovych. Snow and rain could not keep the composer’s aficionados from coming to the National Opera of Ukraine. There was a motley audience there: artists, music experts, music lovers, businesspeople, diplomats, and ordinary spectators of different ages, while the gallery was occupied by young people. This was an unforgettable evening of meeting Music, a solo recital, and a revelation – the audience heard an epoch-making oeuvre by Yevhen Stankovych, a contemporary genius of ours. At first, the Ukrainian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Volodymyr Sheiko played Concerto No. 2, with the young talented cellist Oleksandr Piriiev performing a solo. This music grips you so much that you forget about the course of time – listeners find themselves in a world free of pain and sorrow but full of art that comforts you and carries light.

Incidentally, the maestro finished to work on this piece in April (after a more than a 45-year-long pause in this genre!). According to the composer, it is the legendary musician Mstislav Rostropovich who commissioned the concerto for cello, but, owing to various circumstances, this was not done. As time went by, the art project “Three S” prompted Stankovych to fulfill his cello plan. The concerto, which the composer dedicated to his granddaughter, consists of the following parts: “Music for Martochka,” “Postlude,” and “Grandfather’s Monolog.”

The soiree’s program also included selected fragments of Stankovych’s landmark works – music to the ballet Prometheus and Taras Passion for choir and orchestra (the musicians performed the latter together with the Ukrainian Radio Platon Maiboroda Choir) – as well as the legendary Symphony No. 9 by Dmitry Shostakovich.


After performing in Chernivtsi and Kyiv, the “Three S” project is going to make a tour of Kharkiv, Uzhhorod, Odesa, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Kolomyia in 2016-17.

On the eve of a prominent art event in the capital, Stankovych and Piriiev visited our editorial office. It was a frank conversation about how the art project manages to organize high-profile events without state support, about the traditions of national composing and performing schools, the way music is born, and about what the artists discovered, mingling with audiences.


This country is now going through a difficult period: a war, a political crisis, etc. And suddenly – by contrast with this negative – your project “Three S,” a major feast of music. Who did you originally intend it to be for? To what extent difficult was it to carry it out?

Oleksandr PIRIIEV: “I am happy that back in 2012, when Mr. Stankovych marked his 70th birthday and Valentyn Sylvestrov his 75th birthday, we managed to hold an interesting event, ‘Weekend of Jubilarians.’ For two months in a row, we did classic-format concerts with two different ensembles – Kyiv Soloists and Kyivska Kamerata. Performers from various nooks of Ukraine came to play the music of our two well-known composers. I saw that audiences needed this kind of events. I had a long way to go to the ‘Three S’ project. The contemporary Ukrainian musical culture is based on three ‘pillars’ whose surnames begin with the latter ‘S’: Myroslav Skoryk, Yevhen Stankovych, and Valentyn Sylvestrov. Earlier, we used to do recitals only, and ‘Three S’ is different from this angle, for the task was to extend art music to a different audience. We understood that every composer has their own basics, but there are other works that are close to them by character and ideas. For example, since the very beginning of his musical path, Myroslav Skoryk has been following impressionists, such as the best-known representatives of this trend Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. Mr. Skoryk also adores jazz, and you can call him a Ukrainian successor to George Gershwin. Discussing the program, Mr. Skoryk and I chose the music of these three composers in addition to his landmark works.

Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day

“As for the second stage dedicated to Mr. Stankovych, we decided to choose the figure of Dmitry Shostakovich whose oeuvre personifies the 20th century. I consider Stankovych’s music the heart and soul of the Ukrainian people. As for Mr. Sylvestrov, we will combine his oeuvre with that of Gustav Mahler and Franz Peter Schubert. We aim to show the unique talent of our three composers and combine this with some examples of world classics in ‘Three S’ programs. We must appreciate and be proud of our artists – still in their lifetime. This is why we did not wait for jubilees, and our main goal is to create a feast of music.”

Yevhen STANKOVYCH: “I think it is dangerous to wait until one turns 70, especially in our conditions. In my view, what Oleksandr Piriiev is doing is very important now, for the state does not propagate high art – by contrast with Europe which I hope we will enter some day. I still can’t understand whether we have a counter-terrorism operation or a war in the east. Yes, it is a hard time for Ukraine now, but music has always performed a noble mission.

“I am sure we can find five or six brilliant composers in every age group. So the ‘Three S’ project can have a future.”


You launched the project “Three S” without support from the state. At the expense of what do you manage to hold gala concerts and make tours of Ukraine?

O.P.: “Very many things have changed and become more complicated in this country since 2012. We are supported by European-minded companies which are aware of the importance of presenting your brand in the world. But the first thing that guides our partners is love of music. Incidentally, many sponsors and patrons are company managers whose children go in for music or they themselves used to play a musical instrument.

“We want the state to support us, and although we are in contact with the ministry of culture, they lack money and we initiate and hold our events on our own. Time goes by… Maybe, governmental officials will understand some day that we are doing a good thing and will find funds to support us. But, so far, we count on people who are not indifferent, businessmen, patriots, and high art admirers. We are now implementing a purely national art project. International performers are also present, but we focus on Ukrainian composers. It is good that big business helps us financially – they are aware of having to act now and not to wait.

“I don’t understand why the Verkhovna Rada is not passing a law on patronage, for it would make it easier to support culture not only inside, but also outside this country and allow artists to carry out high-profile projects, hold festivals, and do on.”

The already-premiered Concerto No. 2 for Cello and Orchestra has a difficult destiny.

Ye.S.: “Oleksandr once suggested livening up the genre of cello concerto. I knew quite well the great musician Mstislav Rostropovich, thanks to whom the Soviet Union heard a large number of cello concertos written by great composers. Let Piriiev also try himself in this direction.

“As for my concerto, I was under the impression of the birth of my granddaughter and dedicated its first part (‘Music for Martochka’) to her. A lot of time will have passed when she hears it – and I believe something will change in this country. The second part is ‘Postlude and Grandfather’s Monolog.’ I should have written ‘Granddad’s Monolog,’ but I don’t make the grade so far as granddad. It is a programmatic concerto, but this programmaticness is nominal.”

This oeuvre has already premiered in Chernivtsi, and you have communicated with spectators. We know the house was full, and there were many young laymen among the audience. What are your impressions of this event?

O.P.: “In Kyiv, concerts are often patronized by the composer’s admirers, pupils, and friends. But when the maestro goes to another city, where there are none of these people, this raises the question of whether he is known there. As a rule, many young people come to our concerts as part of the ‘Three S’ project. After the concert in Chernivtsi, they clustered around Mr. Stankovych, asking him for an autograph or for a photo to be taken with him. The main thing here is physical presence of the music author. This was the first time Mr. Stankovych went to Chernivtsi after a 30-year pause. People couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw a classic whose works they hear on television and the radio. Stankovych is like a phantom! This aroused totally different feelings. Moreover, this also had an effect on us, musicians, for whenever they are accompanied on a tour by an author of this level, the manner of performance also changes.”


Mr. Stankovych, you’ve composed works that deal with such relatively recent tragic events in Ukrainian history as Babyn Yar shootings and the Chornobyl Power Plant disaster. What sources do you use to compose this kind of music?

Ye.S.: “I try to thoroughly analyze materials on the historic events I am going to write music about. When I was in Canada, I had an opportunity to read unique documents about the Holodomor and the Holocaust, and the Chornobyl tragedy occurred almost before our eyes – I can still remember children being taken away from Kyiv, and you couldn’t hear their laughter in the city. Still etched on my memory are the terrible documentary TV scenes of the nuclear power station fire. As for the Babyn Yar shootings, I received a lot of materials about that horror from America. Incidentally, the vocal-symphonic Requiem-Kaddish ‘Babyn Yar’ was created in 1991 to mark the 50th anniversary of the tragedy. Dmytro Pavlychko wrote a poem about this crime of Nazis, and I set it to music. Then there was a new interpretation of the Requiem-Kaddish which we timed to the 65th anniversary of the Babyn Yar tragedy. And the ‘Dirge for the Famine Dead’ – a requiem for a full symphony orchestra, two mixed choirs, a bass, a traditional voice, and a reciter – was composed in 1992, also to the verses of Pavlychko, and performed for the first time to mark the 60th anniversary of the Holodomor. These works were born from anguish.”

Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day

Mr. Stankovych, for you, this year was full of interesting artistic events. For example, the National Opera premiered Evenings on a Farm near Dykanka, a revised version of the ballet Christmas Eve, while the Municipal Opera presented the ballet May Night. Can the genre of ballet be called your love? And when will we hear the opera A Terrible Vengeance, also after Gogol, which you planned to put on at the National Opera of Ukraine?

Ye.S.: “As for the genre of ballet, my works were lucky to have good stage directors. And ad for the opera, it is a more difficult question because it is impossible to put on such large-scale production as A Terrible Vengeance unless a concrete theatrical company has commissioned it. A production needs a lot of artistic and financial resources. I have in fact written, but still not finished, the opera because I also have other commissions and work to do. But I have no offers now from the National Opera management. The intention to put on this production has a long history. The idea emerged when Stefan Turchak was the theater’s chief conductor. We thought of making a joint international project and attracting some well-known Russian artists, our noted film director and scriptwriter Yurii Illienko wrote the libretto, and the legendary Anatolii Shekera was to put on choreography. But there came tragic events: Stefan Turchak died, and the Kyiv Opera’s new management was not exactly willing to have Gogol’s Terrible Vengeance on the theaters’ billboard. I have a dream that this opera will be staged in Kyiv (if not now, then in 20-30 years’ time), when ambitious, creative, and patriotic artists come to implement our creative plan.”


In the spring, there was the 4th International Instrumental Music Competition named after you. These contests “light” new starlets. Talented children dream of winning your main prize – the bronze statuette “Angel’s Touch” (this year Alina Shevchenko, a violinist from Lviv, won it). What emotions do the participants’ performances stir up in you?

Ye.S.: “This competition inspires a hope that things will be OK in this country. Our youth are very talented and gifted. I mean not only students from Kyiv, but also from other cities of Ukraine, as well as the musicians who were awarded grants and now study abroad but do not forget their homeland. It is gratifying that the Ukrainian performing school continues to uphold its traditions. The world knows and respects it. Some musicians impress not only with virtuosity, but also with the profound awareness of what they perform. The times are very hard now, but it seems to me that creative discoveries are made and a very worthy generation rises precisely when there are some cataclysms in the country.”

Oleksandr, to what extent is music management developed in Ukraine today? You not only actively perform as cellist, you are also a co-organizer and director of the national portal of art music, Music-Review Ukraine, which encourages the development of this music, you support talented Ukrainian musicians, organize the concerts of both experienced and young musicians. Please tell us about this.

O.P.: “We want to show on the example of the ‘Three S’ project that classical music is modern and various audiences take interest in the oeuvre of our prominent maestros. Yes, there are many pop music buffs, a lot of people adore jazz, but many people like high art. Judging by the fact that many young people, who are only beginning to plumb the depths of classics, come to our concerts, ‘Three S’ has a very large potential. We are shattering the stereotype that symphonic and chamber works are something corny and worn-out. Even if one has come to the opera house or the philharmonic society for the first time and heard live music composed by our contemporary and then seen a classic coming up the stage, such a concert will remain engraved on their memory for a long time. You know, after the concert is over, the audience doesn’t let the project’s heroes – Myroslav Skoryk and Yevhen Stankovych – go for a long time. They ask for an autograph and take a selfie with them. And people leave the concert hall with their faces enlightened, for they know that it is not a run-of-the-mill affair, not hackwork, but a concert at its best.

“We work now with professional advertisers, designers, and promoters, but I must admit that there are no people in cultivated art, who would deal with music management continuously and purposefully. Yes, some of my colleagues hold soirees and festivals of classical music, but these are one-off events. It is easy to propagate pop and film music, everybody knows it – it often sounds on the radio and in TV programs, while it is more difficult to instill high art in people. I am aware of this, but, as a performer and an event organizer, I take interest in this and dream that the circle of music lovers will be widening. So I am grateful to all of our team for professional work.

Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day


“We live here and must work without waiting for some special conditions. I am convinced that music management is certain to emerge in this country, and, meanwhile, we are some of the trailblazers in this matter.

“As the media component is very important, we have launched a portal, Music-Review Ukraine. We are thus making wide use of the Internet and are trying to speak about high art in simple terms. Once, after a concert, I heard as girl, not a music lover, say to her friend: ‘You know, this music turns me on!’ This young people’s slang phrase conveys the energy of a musical performance. It is important that even unprepared listeners like art music works. For you don’t have to be a music expert and know about genres. The point is that music should reach the human heart.”


There is sometimes a certain contradiction between the way the author regards his work and the way musicians perform it. Sometimes the impression is that Ukrainian performers are almost never taught contemporary art music. Have you ever been in a situation like this? What has changed here in the past few years?

Ye.S.: “I’ve been teaching at the conservatoire (National Music Academy of Ukraine) for more than 30 years. Performers know contemporary music now not worse than composers do and play it once they find it possible. They team up in all kinds of interest groups. Now, thanks to the Internet, you can write and play any music you like. In the world outside Ukraine, some people grow up on classics and others on contemporary repertoire on the basis of their own preferences only. The current generation has no problems with this. On the other hand, there are complicated works that require time and special efforts on the part of listeners, but, on the whole, there is no problem with performers.”

Speaking of complicated works, is the division of music into avant-garde, experiment, and tradition no longer important?

Ye.S.: “This problem is not as acute as it was in the Soviet era. In a composer class, out of six students three write pure avant-garde and the rest can write something else. And there will be a still more ill-assorted situation, for the media broaden the world-view. Everything is mixed in the world of today. The avant-gardists who came in the 1950s-1960s are becoming traditionalists, while youth are bursting to be part of avant-garde. Quite logical indeed. The perception of the world is now so broad that it is difficult to foresee something.”

Our composer school has a phenomenal ability to survive. How did it manage to remain intact in spite of Soviet dictatorship and the ruin in the 1990s?

Ye.S.: “Music is specific in its own way. There really was a very strong composer school not only in Ukraine, but also in the former USSR. Among the composers who taught were such world-famous figures as Liatoshynsky, Gliere, Shostakovich, and others, and the same technology still remains. Just a few new trends have come up. We have now an extremely powerful team of the composers of different generations. It is a difficult thing, for it depends on various circumstances of life, but I have every reason to say that the old glory has not vanished.”


In what way do you think the burning issues of today should influence art music and its authors?

Ye.S.: “It is up to every individual composer to choose. There are no restrictions now. Why did the USSR break up? Because its ideology became narrow for the growing generations. And in music – it is a personal choice now.”

To what extent did you have to restrict yourself when you composed for cinema? For you are not the boss on the filming location.

Ye.S.: “It is a psychological adjustment to the genre rather than restriction. I know a lot of cinema composers. In the West, especially in the US, composing for films only is now a profession. As for me, I was lucky to work with good directors. It was very simple with Yurii Illienko. He came and said: ‘If you write me bad music, I’ll kill you!’ And we agreed on this. Hryhorii Kokhan, author of the serial Born by the Revolution and the film Executed Dawns, was a very tolerant person. He touched nobody. He would look and say: ‘So long, see you when we do the recording.’ I don’t know whether the young ones make any serious films nowadays.”

They do. But this serious cinema has a tendency not to use music in a film in order not to upset the integrity of the author’s concept.

Ye.S.: “This depends on film directors and their world-view. It is, for example, impossible to imagine a music-free movie in the US. The quality of recording and the role of music have been honed to the highest ever level – it is a mammoth industry. But in our case, music was and still is a secondary instrument. Indeed, the composer is not a boss but a helper here.”

We do not have today a cine industry that would produce genre films which require a well-developed music studio.

Ye.S.: “What can I say? It is easier for the production designer – he has painted, and the work is done. You can’t make a movie like this.”

Are there any specifics in creating vocal and instrumental pieces? To what extent different are the required artistic efforts?

Ye.S.: “It doesn’t matter. This depends on the situation and the commission – I mean the executor, not the money.”

Mr. Stankovych, your folk opera When the Fern Blossoms has had a difficult destiny, and you were branded as “nationalist” for a long time. It was written many years ago but was fully performed (in a concert version) as late as in 2012 by the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine and the Hryhorii Veriovka Choir conducted by Volodymyr Sirenko. Will we see this work as a lavish theatrical extravaganza and who do you think could do this?

Ye.S.: “It is a question to the younger generation. If they need this folk opera, they will put it on, for I am not in a position to do the producing. If even the French, at whose request When the Fern Blossoms was written in the late 1970s, failed to do the job, what can I possibly do? So let the young ambitious producers think of it if this work is interesting to them. You know, in Soviet Ukraine I even became a Supreme Council member, for I wanted a law on culture and patronage. It was and still is difficult for artists to work without one. The USSR collapsed, we have marked the 25th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence, but there’s still no progress in this matter.”

Our politicians have other priorities.

Ye.S.: “Yes, judging by their e-declarations, culture is not on their mind.”

O.P.: “But there are artworks, even churches, in these declarations, but this is the question of a totally different ‘opera.’”