INTERVIEW WITH CONDUCTOR ALEKSEY RUDNEVSKY
By Svetlana Zvereva
A new choir was heard for the first time in Edinburgh and Glasgow in January 2010. Set against the Scottish cultural landscape, its name ‘Russkaya Cappella’ looks rather exotic. You might think that people who used to live in Russia and have now settled in Scotland had decided on this Russian name for their choir. And that’s exactly what some Russians hearing the choir do think, and they become rather confused on learning that it’s native Britons who are singing Russian music with a good Russian accent. Only one person born in Russia is connected with the choir, and that’s one of its musical directors, Svetlana Zvereva, a specialist in Russian music. The other musical director, Stuart Campbell – organist, choirmaster, translator and Russian music specialist, hails from Edinburgh. Members of the choir were drawn together by their love of Russian choral music and the Russian language, their interest in Russia and her artistic and religious culture.
The choir was founded in August 2009 and over the course of six months prepared its first programme made up of compositions for the Russian Christmas as well as music in honour of St Mungo (or St Kentigern), Glasgow’s founder.
The choir may be said to have made its début on 7 January 2010. On that day, when the Russian church celebrates the Nativity of Christ, the Cappella took part in the solemn Liturgy in the Orthodox Church of St Andrew in Edinburgh. After the service some singers visited the Scotland-Russia Institute where they were warmly received by its director Jenny Carr and her colleagues.
Russkaya Cappella was first heard in Glasgow on 9 January in the Mitchell Library at the annual commemoration of St Mungo, which has newly turned into a festival lasting several days. St Mungo helped spread Christianity in the city and is regarded as Glasgow’s founder. A wide representation of the city’s people, under the aegis of the local authorities and the churches, come together to mark the day.
Russkaya Cappella sang a cycle of texts honouring St Mungo, a cycle which was sung not only in the city’s central library but at the service held in the historic Glasgow Cathedral, dedicated to St Mungo, on the evening of Sunday 10 January.
That same Sunday the Cappella had given its first concert for the Romanian diaspora in the city, and then on 24 January, in St Bride’s Scottish Episcopal Church, it first acquainted listeners with the ancient Znamenny chant as well as a series of compositions by Bortnyansky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Kastalsky, Tchaikovsky and others.
The choir was launched into orbit by the choral conductor Aleksey Rudnevsky, a professor of the Moscow Conservatoire, who came to Scotland to lend his musicaldirector friends a hand. The link between them was forged by a joint project – performing Alexander Kastalsky’s Requiem for Fallen Brothers, a composition honouring the memory of those who perished during the First World War. The manuscript of this version for choir, two solo voices and organ, was found in the composer’s archive and performed by Strathclyde University Chamber Choir conducted by Alan Tavener, first in St Aloysius Church, Glasgow on Remembrance Day 2006 and then in St Paul’s, Knightsbridge on 18 November. 2006 marked the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Aleksey Rudnevsky, who has made a speciality of performing Kastalsky’s music, paid his first visit to Britain for these performances. And on 10 April 2007 this Russian Requiem was heard again, now in the Roman Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception in Moscow, performed by Strathclyde University Chamber Choir, the male-voice Kastalsky Chamber Choir and Moscow Conservatoire students conducted by Aleksey Rudnevsky.
We put some questions to Aleksey Rudnevsky about his second visit to Britain.
SZ: What event during this visit to Scotland left the most vivid impression?
AR: The most impressive event was certainly the Liturgy for the Feast of the Nativity of Christ celebrated in the Orthodox Church in Edinburgh. My ten-day visit ended with a similarly vivid event – taking part in the celebrations of St Mungo in Glasgow Cathedral. These two outstanding events frame logically all the other events wich took place between them.
SZ: You found yourself in Glasgow at the very time when the city was celebrating what would be called in Russian ‘Glasgow’s Day’, or ‘The Day of the City’ which coincides with the day when St Mungo is commemorated. Did you manage to get a feeling for the spirit of the city, or of what was distinctive about this celebration?
AR: Yes, of course, and what’s more you have the feeling that you’re the first person to make the discovery. I was completely unaware beforehand of the existence of this saint. The early Christian saints are a most interesting subject. St Mungo was a zealot for Christianity on Scottish soil. It would be an engrossing project to develop the writing of hymns associated with these saints. It’s also interesting to see how much importance the Glasgow city authorities attach to celebrating this saint. I was also delighted to see the great attention which the Russkaya Cappella paid to this celebration. I think this event will be followed by many more.
SZ: You have a great deal of experience of directing a variety of choirs, mainly professional ones. What impression did the Russkaya Cappella, formed of amateur singers, make on you?
A.R: I’m grateful for the chance to be in touch with this ensemble, made up of people with a genuine love of Russian art and culture who devote themselves heart and soul to the cause they love. My very first impression was of their incredible flexibility as singers, something not many amateur singers achieve. They were able to carry out the professional requests I made of them. I was very happy about this, as I was about their responsible attitude to all the professional tasks I set before them, with which they coped really well. For that reason I’m counting on the choir being augmented with some new members. The first run of successful public performances must bring in its wake enhanced artistic prospects. But expansion at any price must not be the choir’s priority. The main thing is that the new members should be like the current ones – people who love singing Russian music. I’d like to hope that the choir will not merely sing in Russian but will also try to absorb the style typical of the Russian school of choral singing.
SZ: You sang Russian music to native-born Britons, to the Romanian diaspora, to a multinational congregation in Edinburgh, and to the Russian School in Glasgow. Where do you think Russian music found the warmest welcome?
AR: The first thing I’d like to note is the open and sincere relationship with the singers in the Russkaya Cappella. The way the choir presented itself in those performances was likewise transmitted to the listeners, whoever they might have been – Britons or Romanian or Russian communities. There was complete mutual understanding.
SZ: What were your most vivid architectural impressions?
AR: Undoubtedly Glasgow Cathedral and Govan Old Church. I’d like to mention in particular the solicitous attitude taken to maintaining the Cathedral. The cathedral building and its furnishings, including the lighting, evoke positive emotions.
It was a special pleasure for me to return to the Cathedral not as a mere visitor, an observer but as a musician taking part in an event – whether a concert or a service. I look on any large church building as a space for sound. Just being in that cathedral is very interesting, but it is even more interesting to inagine what shapes sound can take on there.
SZ: Am I right to think that you’re satisfied with your visit?
AR: Of course. Scotland is a long way from Moscow, and I don’t come here very often. A great many impressions accompany every trip to distant countries, especially to a country with such a rich culture as Scotland. My first journey to Scotland in 2006 left a great many vivid recollections. But this second trip was saturated with events and infinitely more vivid. Maybe the word ‘vivid’ is not the most appropriate one here – the whole trip was very concentrated and positively overflowed with impressions.
I’d like to record my great pleasure in getting to know the Scotland-Russia Institute in Edinburgh and to meet people for whom history and the interconnections between Scotland and Russia are a vital need. These are enthusiastic people who love their own country but are also able to find joy in the culture of another country – one which may be a long way away but in which they find something attractive. And they devote a large part of their lives, their free time, their efforts to this cause. And so I’d like to wish the Institute a productive future, with interesting guests from Russia and the countries of the former Soviet Union. Scotland’s international links were very strong even in earlier times. The interests of the Institute extend far beyond the framework of the Russian state.
SZ: May we hope that your visit is just the prologue to further long-term collaboration?
AR: I’d like to hope that this will indeed come about, though nothing is simple in our day and age. But I hope that fate will bring us further opportunities for such shared pleasures as we’ve encountered over the last ten days.