For a second year, the distinguished British-Ukrainian bass-baritone Pavlo Hunka will be in Toronto to hold the Ukrainian Art Song Summer Institute at the Royal Conservatory of Music, August 13 to 19.
For those unfamiliar with this event, it’s the brainchild of Pavlo Hunka. Born in the UK to a Ukrainian father and a British mother, Hunka is passionate about promoting Ukrainian art songs. He established the Ukrainian Art Song Project (UASP) in 2004, with a mandate to discover, preserve, and promote these songs to classical music communities worldwide.
Hunka is a familiar figure to Toronto opera lovers. He sang with distinction at the Canadian Opera Company for several seasons in the 2000’s. Since establishing UASP, Hunka has returned on many occasions, to give recitals, masterclasses and to make recordings of these neglected songs, involving many Canadian artists.
Last year, the UASP reached a new level when Hunka established the Ukrainian Art Song Summer Institute. It took place at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, where for a week, nine young emerging artists participated in masterclasses and workshops given by Hunka and the Institute’s faculty members.
I recall attending a very enjoyable showcase concert at the end of the week, in RCM’s Temerty Theatre. The nine young artists, all with beautiful voices, solid technique and communicative power, sang their collective heart out to a sold-out audience. You can read all about it, here.
Participants in this year’s Institute are Olesia Verzole, soprano; Andrew Skitko, tenor; Ariane Meredith, mezzo; Douglas Graham, baritone; Julie Anna Gulenko, soprano; Olenka Slywynska, mezzo; Kateryna Khartova, soprano, and Allison Walmsley, soprano. Institute faculty members are pianists Robert Kortgaard and Albert Krywolt, as well as Ensemble coaches Melanie Turgeon and Anna Ferenc.
Hunka points out that five of the singers have no Ukrainian roots and are simply drawn to the Institute by the beauty of Ukrainian art song. The singers will be working on 21 songs, chosen by Hunka, with the theme of An Awakening – “These are songs that progress to an enlightenment, revealing a state that was unexpected at the beginning,” explains Hunka. The masterclasses are open to public auditing (free but advance reservation required on the website). The Showcase concert on August 19 is also open to the public as a ticketed event for purchase.
Since its founding in 2004, the UASP has gone a long way in its mission of bringing Ukrainian art songs to the public. The project has thus far led to four CD collections featuring 302 art songs from seven composers – Kyrylo Stetsenko, Mykola Lysenko, Yakiv Stepovyi, Denys Sichynsky, Stanyslav Liudkevych, Vasyl Barvinsky and Stefania Turkewich. The most recent release (2015) was Galicians 1, songs by the last four composers on the list, made possible by funding from the Ukrainian-Canadian communities. The artists recruited to participate in the project are all Canadian.
Since then, a further 81 songs have been recorded, forming the Galicians II collection, of songs by Ostap Nyzhankivsky, Nestor Nyshankivsky, Jaroslav Lopatynsky, and Myroslav Volynsky. This collection will be launched at the August 19 concert. The artists on this collection are Canadian singers Russell Braun, Benjamin Butterfield, Krisztina Szabó, Monica Whicher, Virginia Hatfield, Andrea Ludwig, Laura McAlpine, as well as Albert Krywolt (piano), Kinza Tyrrell (piano), Carolyn Maule (piano), Marie Bérard (violin), and Hunka himself. All 81 songs will be posted on the Ukrainian Art Song website beginning August 19. It will be available on iTunes and Spotify starting September 14.
Currently, a total of 388 songs have been recorded, with 612 to go, to reach the stated goal of 1,000 songs. In the coming months, all 388 songs and the accompanying music scores will be uploaded to the website: “We have created a world library of Ukrainian Art Song Music Scores. 302 songs are already posted on our website,” Hunka explains. “Over the next few years, the remaining 698 songs will also be posted in pdf format for all to download. The scores will appear in 8 different keys which should meet the requirements of every young singer in the world.”
“In addition to the scores, a literal translation of all song texts will be made available, with the English translation placed under the Ukrainian text,” Hunka continues. “This way, the singer will understand every word, and be able to phrase exactly as he/she wishes. For those who don’t read Cyrillic, all songs are transliterated in the score, plus a transliteration and pronunciation chart to clarify any consonants that the singer may not be acquainted with. In addition, I have recorded a short explanation of the chart. We will be recording all the song texts, speaking slowly, so that all the pronunciation challenges are clear.”
Such a project sounds extremely daunting, but anyone who knows Pavlo Hunka will know that he is a man on a mission. For him, this project is a labour of love. In an interview a few years ago, I asked point-blank, “Pavlo, what drives you? What made you take on this enormous project?” I never forgot his answer:
“The beauty of the music. But I also feel this music deserves to be heard on the world stage. My colleagues ask me, “why haven’t I heard this music before?” I am in a position where I can do something, and I want to do it. I have immense support from the Ukrainian communities here in Toronto and beyond…they don’t stop helping. What do I want it for? Ukraine deserves to be recognized as a cultured nation, a sophisticated nation, not just a war zone. It defines a nation and its people. Ukrainians don’t know how rich they are culturally. They are now starting to become aware of that cultural heritage.”