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The Russians are coming

A cultural exchange will provide the Arrowhead Chorale with a unique program for its 2002 midwinter concert series -- half Russian and half English, the first half focusing on love, the second half focusing on English-language poetry.

A cultural exchange will provide the Arrowhead Chorale with a unique program for its 2002 midwinter concert series -- half Russian and half English, the first half focusing on love, the second half focusing on English-language poetry.
Joining the chorale will be guest conductor Yuri Klaz, a native of Duluth's sister city Petrozavodsk, Russia, who has worked with the chorale on one previous occasion about 10 years ago.
Klaz now makes his home Winnipeg, having taken a position there two years ago as music director of the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir, a well-reputed semiprofessional chorus founded in 1922 which is actually independent of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
The sister city connection and Klas' newfound proximity to Duluth helped renew the relationship, said Arrowhead Chorale conductor Stan Wold, who added it was likely an as-yet-unplanned reciprocation would take place.
The Russian half of the concert, entitled "From Russia, With Love," will feature sacred and secular music, sung in Russian, expressing love of God, love of nature and love of Tanya. Selections cover a broad range of styles, including 18th century Slavonic liturgy, romantic Rachmaninoff a modern score from a Tolstoy drama and folk songs.
And that has meant several challenges for the chorale. The first is the Russian language itself. While Wold said Russian music is often performed by the area's Lutheran college choirs, the language can still be quite difficult. However, Wold said an organization called Musica Russica has become a real boon to choirs exploring Russian choral literature, because it provides scores with transliterated lyrics, sort of phonetically sounding out the Russian words in an English alphabet so choirs don't have to read them in the Cyrillic alphabet Russian is normally written in. The group's scores also include helpful explanatory notes.
Wold said most of the Russian sounds are common international sounds, and the few exceptions have been worked out in telephone conversations between Klaz and Wold.
Those conversations have also eased another hurdle -- working through the many different styles of Russian music the chorale will be singing. Some are from the classical period, and Klaz wants brighter sounds, almost like Italian vowels. Other pieces, like the Rachmaninoff, feature the darker sounds most people think of when they think of Russian music.
The chorale will have only three rehearsals with Klaz before its first performance, Friday, Feb. 22, at Pilgrim Lutheran in Superior.
When asked how Russian music differs from the repertoire more typically heard in the Northland, Wold said the structure seemed different in the three or four concerts of it in which he was involved.
{IMG2}"One of the differences I think I've noticed is that contrasts have to come a lot more in terms of dynamics, maybe, and articulation, maybe, than in some other chorale expressions, because so much of it is homophonic," he said.
In homophonic music, the multiple men's and women's parts tend to mirror each other with a single part carrying the melody; by contrast, polyphonic music, like a canon or fugue, has several parts carrying melodic interest and often independent rhythms, creating a different layer of expressive possibilities.
"You just don't see, from an artistic point of view, quite the interest in polyphonic, Bach-like structures," Wold said.
Wold said the 24-member chorus seems to get along with the Russian music just fine, responding to the eight-part harmonies and in some cases the religious aspects.
To give some idea of how great the challenge is, however, consider that the first half closes on a Russian tongue twister, the title of which translates to "Brooms" in English.
"It just goes like a house afire," said Wold, who called the piece "fun." "I keep stretching them to go faster and faster."
The second half, if anything, will have even more variety. Wold says it includes composers from the United States, Canada and Great Britain. Some are reminiscent of Aaron Copland, others sound very modern and chromatic and others are more "straightforward and heartfelt."
Noting that previous concerts in this year have featured Norwegian music and that the first half of this one is in Russian, Wold joked: "We should do half of a concert where it's nothing but English, I thought."
This midwinter series of concerts will hit two Twin Ports churches, Pilgrim in Superior and Concordia Lutheran in Duluth, as well as an outreach concert in Bemidji at the Bemidji High School Auditorium that will serve as a fund-raiser for the Bemidji High School choir.
Wold said Klaz would be working with Bemidji school choirs on Russian music. "That way they'll be able to work on Russian repertoire with someone that obviously knows what he's doing with Russian repertoire," he said.
While in Russia, Klaz worked with the Karelian Chamber Choir, received an award from Russian president Boris Yeltsin and represented his country at two world symposiums on choral music.
Kyle Eller is features editor of the Budgeteer News. Reach him at kyle.eller@duluth.com or 723-1207.
News to Use
Times and locations for the Arrowhead Chorale's midwinter concert series are as follows:
Feb. 22 -- Pilgrim Lutheran Church, Superior, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 23 -- Bemidji High School Auditorium, Bemidji, 7 p.m.
Feb. 24 -- Concordia Lutheran Church, Duluth, 3 p.m.
Tickets for the Twin Ports concerts are $12 for adults, $6 for college students and $3 for K-12 students. Call 733-7521 for details.

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