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The Power Of Music And The Yale Russian Chorus

(NEW HAVEN, CT) – One Small Step to Ending the Cold War. A great aspect about writing for The Square is that one moment you might be in Portugal and the next in New Haven, Connecticut. In this case, it’s New Haven and I am at Battell Chapel on the Yale campus in early September.

l am here to watch the Yale Russian Chorus, and the alumni of the Chorus, perform a repertoire of Russian liturgical, folk, and composed pieces. They were joined in a guest appearance by the women’s Yale Slavic Chorus.

This is a very special evening as it is the first time in 20 years the two YRC groups have performed together.

The YRC will be performing in Toronto on January 6 at 7pm and on January 7 at 10am at Holy Trinity Cathedral. The Choir will then perform on January 9 at 12noon at the Storefront Humber Retirement Community.

The sole Toronto performance open to the public will take place January 9 at the St Thomas Anglican Church, at 383 Huron Street, at 7:30pm. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students and seniors.

The YRC was founded in 1953 by Denis Mickiewicz, a student at the Yale School of Music, and by George Litton, the president of the Yale Russian Language Club. This was not an appropriate time to have anything to do with anything Russian due to rampant McCarthyism in the United States.

Yale Russian Chorus-album-coverThe YRC sang both Russian sacred and secular music and, despite McCarthy, it managed to quickly join the pantheon of Yale singing groups.

In 1958, upon the signing of the Lacy-Zarubin Cultural Exchange Agreement, the YRC became the first Americans to perform in the Soviet Union, including singing on street corners and making direct contact with Russian citizens. Since then the YRC has made 16 tours of the USSR, won international choral competitions, produced more than a dozen recordings, and performed for the Presidents of the United States, France, and the Russian Federation.

The Wall Street Journal has referred to the YRC as Diplomats of Song. The late Senator Hubert Humphrey, of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, wrote in 1960, “My enthusiasm for the truly heroic work that the Yale Russian Chorus is doing is unbounded. The only tragedy is that we don’t have ten or fifty or one hundred choruses such as yours.”

As the YRC members graduated from Yale it became a bit more problematic from a logistical perspective to gather the alumni together for concerts on campus. In 1983, the alumni began gathering around the country for a week of rehearsing and performing with a few members of the YRC included.

After the 50th Anniversary Concert at Yale, the 300 or so YRC alumni members formed the YRC Alumni Association to pursue their own concert opportunities throughout the world. Their 65th anniversary concert will be at Woolsey Hall at Yale in September this year.

The YRC introduces the novice to vocalism where one can easily discern different voices, whether tenor, baritone, or bass. The result is not confusing nor discordant, but rather a unique Russian style of harmony very pleasing to the ear.

What I found unique about the YRC performance was the very uplifting use of sforzandi; the rapid increase in vocal power done with a chilling and intensely satisfying results. Call it a roaring crescendo if you wish.

The quality of music was impeccable. The applause was intense and resulted in not one but two encores.

If you are a religious person, the spirituality of YRC music will move you closer to God. This is how powerful it is. Paul Plishka, veteran Metropolitan Opera Bass appearing in the Met’s current production of La Boheme, was in the audience. His comment said it best.

“Bravo to the Yale Russian Chorus and Alumni for beautifully and authentically performing Russian choral repertoire the way it should be done.”

The current YRC Chorus Music Director, Stephan Sveshnikov, is Yale Class of 2018, and whose father is a Russian Orthodox Priest in Oregon. Sveshnikov had extensive Russian choral experience before attending Yale.

Alumni Conductor, John Stewart, a Whiffenpoof in his Yale days, became a professional tenor, performing with the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Opera, and many others before heading the St Louis Washington University Vocal Activities Department.

Alumni Conductor Daniel Gsovski, a partner in the Wall Street law firm of Herzfeld and Rubin, is a fine amateur pianist, performing with various lawyer-based musical groups.

Should you ever have the opportunity to see the YRC or YRC Alumni perform don’t miss it.


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