Two festivals combine for an evening of Ukrainian music
All photos by Andre Gagne.
September, 1891. With little more than what could be carried the first immigrants from the Ukraine left their homeland with all the fears, worry and wonder that accompany the following of hopeful dreams in an uncertain time. Hearing about the free land of Canada, a peasant contractor named Iwan Pylypiw, struggling upon hard times, convinced some friends to make the long journey into the unknown. Touching down in the East and making their way West, they are considered the first Ukrainian settlers to Canada.
Upon his return to his home country to collect his family, Pylypiw spoke of huge open spaces, great green patches of unsettled land in Canada but, with much skepticism of his promises, he was arrested for sedition and soliciting emigration as well as fraud. The seed had been planted, however, in the minds of many Ukrainian people who believed him and the publicity garnered by his trial only reached more of those seeking a change.
When released from prison, Pylypiw caught up with what he had started, settling with his family in Edna-Star Alberta. Once a poor contractor, he died at the age of 77 a wealthy man.
With him, the first wave had begun and they settled in the semi-wooded areas of the Prairie Provinces, places that reminded them of home. The people, mostly peasants and farmers, were instrumental in developing homes and towns in southeast Manitoba but across the country they built roads, worked on railways, established farms and their letters home fueled further waves of Ukrainians to join them.
The parents of Roman Borys were part of one of those waves, both settling in Canada as children before meeting, marrying and starting a family here. Roman, the oldest of his siblings, couldn’t speak English until he was taught the language in kindergarten. Still, like Pylypiw before him, he has found success in Canada as an accomplished cellist with the Gryphon Trio and Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival.
“Roman is a very well respected and well known member of the Ukrainian community. He has distinguished himself as one of Canada’s leading artistic voices,” says Jane Kolbe, chair of the Capital Ukrainian Festival.
Kolbe was surprised when she received a call in the early spring with a wonderful suggestion. Borys wanted to honour the 125TH Anniversary of Ukrainian Settlement in Canada at Chamberfest. For the first time, on July 22, the festival would jointly present a program with the Capital Ukrainian Festival. Both festivals run congruent of each other and a crossover would be perfect timing but, also, at least for Kolbe, caused a little re-evaluation of programming.
“It was a little bit of a challenge for the Capital Ukrainian Festival at first, because, in order to put proper focus on the musical program of the Ottawa Chamberfest, we had to come up with a unique plan for our Friday night show,” she says, adding that instead of a music program they offered a fashion themed evening.
For the gala performance, the Gryphon Trio were joined by baritone Russell Braun, soprano Monica Whicher, viola player Graham Oppenheimer and the Ewashko Singers for an evening of works Borys and Kolbe ensured would reveal the ways Ukrainian cultural traditions contributed to chamber music. The plan was to create a musical bridge between both countries.
“In recognizing the 125th we remind ourselves how it was that this country, it’s cultural, social and economic fabric, was established by people from all over the world,” Borys tells Ottawa Life. “The Gryphon Trio is itself quite culturally diverse with a combined set of roots stemming from Japan, Thailand, Germany, the UK, and Ukraine.”
“Because of Roman’s heritage and personal and professional relationships, the trio has been fortunate to travel and perform in the Ukraine on two different occasions. There wasn’t any question that the trio would be involved in this concert,” adds trio violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon.
The program opened with Antoine Dvo?ák’s “Dumky Trio”. The dumka, literally meaning “thought”, is a type of epic ballad that originated in the Ukraine. Dvo?ák completed the trio for piano, violin and cello in 1891 and it is one of his best known works. It features six dumkas and immediately established the connections Borys was seeking, setting the mood for the rest of the evening.
Two choral works by one of the most celebrated Ukrainian composers, Valentin Silvestrov, opened the second half of the evening.
“Silvestrov is one of my personal favourites. The Gryphon Trio has worked with him on many occasions and I’m very familiar with his massive collection of choral works,” says Borys. “This was a great opportunity for choral conductor Laurence Ewashko to explore this amazing work.”
Guests Braun and Whicher have been singing in Ukrainian for many years working with the Ukrainian Art Song Project. The project, founded in 2004, aims to record an anthology of over 1,000 art songs by 26 Ukrainian composers. Gryphon Trio members have contributed to the project in the past so it seemed a natural fit to Borys to invite them to sing the solos in excerpts from a new piece entitled “Golden Harvest” by Ukrainian Canadian composer Larysa Kuzmenko to close out the evening.
“The work tells the story of a Ukrainian family coming to Canada and settling in the west at the beginning of the 20th century,” explains Borys. “Kuzmenko has reworked the orchestral part for piano and four strings and audiences will be able to hear the full large scale version when it is performed in Ottawa next spring.”
“This is the story of Canada,” Borys told the crowd gathered, many of them of Ukrainian heritage. “(It’s) people coming from all over the world making very tough contributions, creating the foundation upon which this great country has grown and evolved. I think that’s an incredible thing to celebrate.”
The Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival continues with daily performances until August 3. The Capital Ukrainian Festival continues today and tomorrow at 953 Green Valley Crescent and is a free event that welcomes all.
Ottawa Life’s Festival City Series will provide a unique look at some of your favourite summer events.We’ll go beyond the music with artist interviews, volunteer profiles, concert reviews and spotlights on the tastes, sights and sounds of the festival season. Your city! Your festivals! Your summer! Like a good sunscreen, Ottawa Life has you covered.