Bath International Music Festival 2009
There is a saying among music lovers of a certain persuasion that you do not have to believe to be moved by music that is created by believers in praise of the object of their worship. And it often seems to be the case that those who do make music of a spiritual nature, do so from a place so deep within themselves that the results can’t help but affect people across borders of culture and language.
Recent examples such as the French-based Buddhist monk Lama Gyurme selling large quantities of CDs and touring his serene chanting internationally or the female folk choir Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares charming rock festival audiences or indeed the Hilliard Ensemble reaching previously unimaginable numbers with European plainchant all point to the ability of spiritual music to take listeners beyond their every day lives.
The singers of Arte Corale also achieve this feat, bringing the full vocal and spiritual power of the Russian Orthodox choir into their performances. It would be misleading, however, to perceive them in terms of other-worldly serenity: they are part of a broad community and as well as there being great humanity and passion in the music they perform and in the very sound of their voices, they have performed a religious and social function. Because Arte Corale, the choir of Moscow's Church of the Ascension of the Lord, affiliated with the Monastery of the Archangel Gabriel (The Antiochian Metochy) has played a part in making the Orthodox liturgy once again part of Russian life.
Over hundreds of years of social upheaval in Russia, the fate of the church and its sister Church of St. Theodore Metochian appeared finally to be settled following the October Revolution of 1917. However, the Communist era brought the suppression of formal religion, and the long-established monastery and its church were closed, bringing an abrupt end to a tradition of choral singing that had been passed down through the centuries.
Many years later the Moscow Academy of Music was seeking a venue for the performance of traditional sacred music that was still on the curriculum for music students in Soviet Russia. The Church of the Ascension of the Lord was judged the ideal venue because, unlike many other churches, it had remained physically intact and had not been converted to secular use. A church choir was formed to aid the Academy's studies and in 1991 the conductor Tamara Piliptschuk instigated the formation of a new group. At its cores were the finest members of the existing choir and after numerous auditions, they were joined by other highly trained singers. Arte Corale came into being.
Tamara Piliptschuk has trained and conducted the choir since its inception, maintaining the highest artistic standards. The members of Arte Corale, all of them graduates of the Moscow Conservatoire or the Moscow Academy of Music, have made singing their career. The colour of their voices is distinctively Russian. Plangent tenors and cavernous baritones and basses create an emotional power, while the demands of the solo passages are met with full authority and expressive weight. In fact the group's very first official concert earned it an exceptional honour, the title "Soloist Choir".
At the heart of Arte Corale's repertoire are the hymns known as 'Znamennyi Rospev', similar to Gregorian chant, which came into being between 1000 and 1600. The following centuries brought new influences and more complex musical forms from other countries, and in the 1800's an emphasis on overtly dramatic effects. Since the second half of the 19th century, composers have returned to the essence of the Russian Orthodox liturgy, reviving a purer style based on traditional chant. Arte Corale includes these more modern works in their performances.
In post-Soviet Russia over 10,000 churches have reopened and there has been a mass revival of formal religion. Arte Corale's appearances attract congregations that often fill churches to overflowing. The choir's tours outside Russia, throughout Europe and North America, also draw large audiences. These tours not only embody the new atmosphere of cultural exchange between Eastern and Western Europe and the New World, but also raise money through benefit concerts for the restoration of Russian churches as the harmonies of unaccompanied male voices express the joys and sorrows of an enduring culture.