Orthodox Music Festival, Beauty for the Beholding

Opus Osm

The music festival at the Church of Sts Cyril and Methodius offers musical, visual, and spiritual beauty.

The fourth annual International Festival of Orthodox Music begins this week at the Church of Sts Cyril and Methodius. Here are some highlights.

The time is nigh for the International Festival of Orthodox Music known as “Archaion Kallos.” This Greek expression literally means “ancient beauty.”

But to the holy fathers of the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church it is interpreted as “original beauty” – that of Paradise.

The search for this beauty through sacred music is presented in four concerts and related events.

The festival began Oct 7 with a concert dedicated to the 1150th anniversary of the arrival of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Great Moravia. Authentic solos were performed by the outstanding Greek protopsaltes (cantor) Ioannis Tsounis. Troparions – short hymns of one stanza – related to the Saints and other sacred works deriving from the Byzantine Rite were also performed.

The next concert takes place on October 10, featuring two world premieres by Czech composers Josef Marek and Tomáš Pálka, as well as the sacred music of Soviet composer A. Schnittke.

Josef Marek

Josef Marek

Josef Marek is no stranger to composition. His acclaimed works include the concert symphonic melodrama Commentary, King David Comments on the Pentateuch, and Cantus Tristis – Requiem for Orchestra, which won the Gideon Klein Foundation Award.

When he was asked by festival organizer Marios Christou to set the Troparion of Saints Cyril and Methodius As Equals of the Apostles to music, he gladly accepted. Mr Marek’s connection to the Orthodoxy is very positive, not only as his wife is of the faith, but he has many times had the opportunity to sing works with Orthodox themes. He tells Opus Osm that the experience always left him with “the marvelous emotion of beauty and spiritual fulfillment.” With this composition he attempts to capture the typical characteristics of Orthodox musical expression.

Tomáš Pálka tells us that without calm and humility it is not possible to know the true essence of existence. His compositions are often inspired by spiritual meanings that are projected into the structure and content of his works. They are subtle, introverted, and contemplative. He is the co-founder of the Prague-based Konvergence Composer Association, an organization that among other things showcases young Czech and international composers and promotes lesser known works of older composers.

Tomas Palka

Tomáš Pálka

His work Cherubic Hymn will premiere at the Oct 10 concert. He describes it for Opus Osm as his conception of “quiet contemplation of the content of the text, of the message that it sends. It draws our attention to where we should direct ourselves, where it makes sense to concentrate our energy…Aside from the choir there appears one other instrumental voice…a symbol of that which we follow…the voice that calls us. When we listen to it, we are on the right path…”

The third concert, on Oct 15, is about early Byzantine and Russian monophonic compositions and later polyphonic works deriving from these two traditions. Philokallia Ensemble (female voices) and Conti di Praga (mixed choir) will perform.

The final concert takes place the following day. Byzantine music in Church Slavonic and other sacred compositions from Serbian monasteries are part of the program.

Other festival events include the Liturgy of St John Chrysotom at 9:30 am Sun, Oct 13 at the church, a lecture, film, and an exhibit on Czech iconographers. — oo

– Hana and Frank Trollman, contributing writers to Opus Osm

Photo Credits: Top: Miroslav Setnička (2010); Middle: Josef Marek website; Bottom: Tomáš Pálka website

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