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Category Archives: Russian Concert

Boris Kozhevnikov (1906-1985) was a prolific composer of music for Soviet bands.  He attended the Kharkov Music-Dramatic Institute, where he studied composition and conducting, graduating in 1933.  He later attended the Military School of Music in Moscow.  He was the conductor at several theaters and a faculty member of the Moscow Conservatory.  He wrote a handful of orchestral works and over 70 pieces for Soviet military bands, including 5 numbered symphonies for band.  His music was discovered by the west only after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain in the 1990s.  He is still much better known in Russia than anywhere else, although his Symphony no. 3, Slavyanskaya, enjoys popularity in the US thanks to an edition that former Marine Band commander John R. Bourgeois created for American bands in 1995.

Slavyanskaya is a fairly conventional Russian-sounding symphony in four movements.  The first is at times aggressive and lyrical, opening with a strong F-minor declamation.  The second is a slow waltz with an exuberant episode in its coda.  A spritely piccolo solo opens the 3rd movement, a rondo which whizzes by at lightning speed.  The fourth movement is an exuberant finale.  Throughout the symphony, Kozhevnikov uses folk tunes from his native city of Novgorod as the sources of his melodic material.  Although Kozhevnikov wrote Slavyanskaya in 1950, it did not receive its first performance in the US until the late 1990s.

The word “Slavyanskaya” in Russian (Славянская) appears to be nothing more than a proper name.  It’s also applied to a public square in Moscow, a fancy Radisson hotel also in Moscow, and a Russian brand of vodka.

There are bits and pieces about Kozhevnikov and his music, especially Slavyanskaya, at classical-composer.org, the University of North Texas Digital Library, and J. W. Pepper.

Here’s the definitive American performance of Slavyanskaya.  It’s “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band conducted by John R. Bourgeois, who edited the piece for American bands and was the first to conduct it in the US.

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There are so many reasons that I’m excited to play Slava!  First, the title actually contains that exclamation point.  Second, it’s by Bernstein, a true American character, and he wrote it about Rostropovich, another great character of the 20th century.  Third, it allows me to put on this blog the most jaw-dropping musical performance I’ve ever seen. (More on that later).  Finally, it’s just so much fun to play!  So, about this piece…

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was an erudite, passionate musician whose exceptional talents and expressive gifts earned him a special place in the hearts of New Yorkers.  His rose to instant national fame in 1943, at age 25, when he filled in for the suddenly ill Bruno Walter as conductor of a nationally televised New York Philharmonic performance.  He went on to become the Philharmonic’s music director until 1969, and remained a frequent guest conductor there until his death.  With the Philharmonic, he presented a series of 53 educational Young People’s Concerts which were broadcast on CBS, making him a familiar face around the nation.  He also composed music, crossing from academic classical music into Broadway musicals, including West Side StoryOn the Town, and Candide.

Bernstein wrote Slava! in 1977 on a commission from its namesake, the legendary Soviet-born cellist and conductor, Mstislav “Slava” Rostropovich.  Rostropovich at that point had just assumed the post of music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.  He asked Bernstein to help him present a concert of the composer’s own work early in his first season.  He got three new pieces out of that request: Three Meditations from “Mass”, Songfest, and an untitled “political overture” that was only barely finished in time for the concert.  The latter work turned out to be Slava!, a fun and irreverent tribute and welcome for Rostropovich, who conducted the premiere performance on October 11 of that year.  “Slava” is a common nickname for Russian men whose names contain “-slav”, and Mstislav Rostropovich was known as “Slava” to his closest friends.  “Slava” also means “glory” in Russian.  The program notes at the Kennedy Center, home of the National Symphony, delve deeper and are worth a read.

There is much material about Bernstein on the web.  The survey below only scratches the surface.

Leonardbernstein.com – a true treasure trove of everything Bernstein, including many personal reflections by friends, relatives, and colleagues.

Leonard Bernstein on Wikipedia.

The Leonard Bernstein Collection at the US Library of Congress.

A lengthy and heartfelt essay on Bernstein and his influence at classicalnotes.net.

You’ve been waiting all this time for that jaw-dropping video.  I found this by searching for “best Japanese elementary school band”.  To really make your jaw drop, look what they’ve done with their music stands.  To make it drop even further, listen until the end of Slava! for the famous chant.  Now, without further ado:

Now here’s a look at Slava himself doing what he did best, which was making beautiful music with his cello:

Sarah Quiroz will conduct the 2012 Columbia University Wind Ensemble performance of Slava! at the Columbia Festival of Winds on March 4.


From the CUWE program archive:

In 1910, Igor Stravinsky (b.1882 in Russia, d.1971 in New York) premiered The Firebird ballet with the Ballet Russe, and it became an international success.  Although he was not well known before this, Stravinsky became one of the most famous modern Russian composers.  He is also acclaimed for his ballets Petrouchka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913).  Stravinsky received little early musical training, and it was not until he studied under the great Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov that his musical talents became ignited.  Stravinsky arranged three suites that highlighted excerpts from The Firebird ballet.  This afternoon, we will be playing the “Berceuse and Finale” from the suite.  Based on a Russian folktale, The Firebird tells the story of Prince Ivan’s encounter with “a fabulous bird with plumage of fire.”  The bird gives Ivan a magic feather that he may use in the face of danger.  Afraid of being turned to stone by an evil King, Ivan uses the magic feather and the Firebird appears to help him.  In the “Berceuse and Finale”, the Firebird frees all who have been turned to stone, and Ivan wins the hand of a lovely princess.

author unknown (not me), from the Spring 2004 “Russian” concert program.

That pretty much says it all.  Below are some links.  Bear in mind that this piece is performed so often that most links are advertisements for performances or recordings of the work!  I will do my best to omit those below.

Score excerpts from the ballet on Google Books.

The ballet and concert suites on Wikipedia.

The folk tale upon which the ballet is based, also on Wikipedia.

Program notes from Pomona College.

Extensive program notes on the ballet from the Kennedy Center.

Igor Stravinsky on Wikipedia.

Igor Stravinsky in the Time 100, remembering the greatest figures of the 20th century, by composer Philip Glass.

The “Lullabye and Final Hymn” (“Berceuse and Finale” as we know them) conducted by the man himself, Maestro Stravinsky at age 82!!  Things I love about this performance: Stravinsky’s minimal and nearly affect-less conducting; the endless tempo in the Lullabye section; Stravinsky’s only change of facial expression at the very end of the Finale; the comically short quarter notes in the final section (which we will not replicate!); the fact that Stravinsky walks with a cane, but does not need it when conducting.  Enjoy this true gem of a video!

The complete ballet, company and orchestra unknown:

This was a Senior Choice for hornist Justine Ordinario ’09.

“His desire was to relate his art as closely as possible to life, especially that of the Russian masses, to nourish it on events and to employ it as a means for communicating human experience.”  These words, from the indispensable Grove Concise Dictionary of Music, describe the artistic aims of Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881).  At times a loner and a collaborator, an artist and a bureaucrat, he emerged from a military upbringing to become a member of “The Five”, a group of Russian composers dedicated to promoting distinctly Russian music.  He died at age 42 after losing a lifelong battle with alcoholism.  He left behind many unfinished work which were completed (and somewhat recomposed) by his friend Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov.  His most enduring contributions to the musical canon include the opera Boris Godunov, the piano cycle Pictures at an Exhibition, and the symphonic poem Night on Bald Mountain.

Mussorgsky on Wikipedia.

Biographical excerpt from Grove’s Concise Dictrionary of Music.

Dallas Symphony Orchestra Kids Page about Mussorgsky – colorful, fun, and informative.  Includes an edited recording of the Ravel version of “Great Gate of Kiev”.

Written in 1874, Pictures at an Exhibition is a program piece that imagines a person looking a series of paintings at an exhibit in an art gallery.  It is a recreation of a memorial exhibition given in 1873 of the works of Russian artist Viktor Hartmann, a close friend of Mussorgsky’s who had died unexpectedly 3 years prior at age 39.  Each movement of the suite presents a musical depiction of one of Hartmann’s works.  These are often separated by the “Promenade” theme, which depicts the viewer walking between paintings.

The Wikipedia article on Pictures covers all the bases, including mention of the several arrangements that exist and copies of most of the original pictures that inspired Mussorgsky.  Highly recommended!

At Columbia, we’ve only ever done select movement of this.  In the past, it’s been “The Great Gate of Kiev” and “The Hut of Baba Yaga” (look for the video links below).  This time, it’s “Gnomus”.  Here’s an excellent orchestral version (Ravel’s famous orchestration) with the Rotterdam Philharmonic conducted by Valery Gergiev:

Here’s a different version of “Gnomus”, for string orchestra, that features animation based on the paintings that Mussorgsky was supposedly looking at at this legendary exhibition:

This video features a fantastically expressive conductor doing the last two movements, “The Hut of Baba Yaga” and “The Great Gate of Kiev”.  These two are what we will play in April’s concert.  Unforunately the embedding has been disabled, but please go watch – it’s very much worth it!!