‘We have our own Chaliapin’: Kazan Conservatory opens festival of sacred music

While everyone else is celebrating Chaliapin's anniversary with opera retrospectives, the conservatory remembers where his gift was discovered

On Sunday, February 12, the Cathedral of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God opened its doors for a concert of sacred music for the first time in its updated history. This was the opening of the festival “Soul and Motherland”, dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the birth of Fyodor Ivanovich Chaliapin. What kind of “special” Chaliapin is for Kazan musicians, what the great bass of the regent of the church choir in Moscow asked for, why the format of sacred music was chosen (frankly, not the most popular), how spiritual music changes the listener and performer — read in the material of Realnoe Vremya.

8 concerts, 8 choirs, 2 cathedrals, 6 concert halls

The festival of spiritual choral music, which is organised by the Conservatory with the blessing of Metropolitan Kirill of Kazan and Tatarstan, promises to become a major event in the cultural horizon of Kazan.

The concerts will last until June and will be held in two temples and six concert halls. 8 concerts, 8 choirs, unique programmes — the Kazan listener, not spoiled by the abundance of concerts of sacred music, will have plenty to choose from. The choir from Gnesinka will come to visit, and the bishops' choir of the Saratov Metropolia will also bring its programme. Entrance to the concerts opening and closing the festival will be free.

“We, the people of Kazan, have an amazing exclusive”

The format of the festival is not the most mainstream — spiritual choral music is not as well known to a wide audience as, say, opera or romance. The artistic director of the festival, Rector of the Kazan State Conservatory, Professor Vadim Dulat-Aleev explains in a conversation with Realnoe Vremya how its concept was chosen:

“Our festival is an anniversary, we are holding it in honour of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Fyodor Ivanovich Chaliapin, the great opera singer. It was not difficult to assume that various opera festivals, competitions of singers, musical theaters, students of vocal departments would be held throughout Russia. This is the opera Chaliapin that the whole world knows. But when the question arose about how to celebrate this date, we started from the fact that we live in Kazan. We have our own Chaliapin, who was born and raised here. We, the people of Kazan, have the amazing exclusive, which is reflected in the biography of the singer — the first steps of the great Chaliapin in music are connected with our city. It was singing, but not on the opera stage, but in the temples of Kazan as a chorister of the church choir. Many of these temples have not only been preserved, but also remain active. Only Kazan can show on its map the places where Chaliapin sang when he was still not an opera singer! It was impossible not to reflect this, and we built the concept of the festival based on this exclusive fact.”

Denis Rogov, regent of the Bishops' Men's Choir of the Kazan Diocese and associate professor of Choral Conducting at the Kazan Conservatory, agrees with the importance of honouring the memory of Fyodor Chaliapin in this way. We have already said that Chaliapin was taught musical notation by the choir director of the church choir. Denis Rogov says it was a general practice:

“Where else could the singing boys from low social strata comprehend it? It was one of the few start in life for them — the opportunity to learn to read and sing. Everyone started with a church choir — they even taught musical notation in Sunday school. All the singers of that time acquired singing skills in the choir. And by the way, Chaliapin did not forget about this until the end of his life. He came to the Synodal Choir in Moscow and asked the regent: “Let me sing. To 'clean' ears.”

Yury Karpov, conductor of the Kazan Conservatory Students' Choir, Professor of Choral Conducting, is in solidarity with colleagues:

“Of course, Chaliapin is known all over the world primarily as a great opera artist. But we, his countrymen, of course, cannot forget about the roots that nurtured Fyodor Ivanovich's talent. We must preserve not only the image of Chaliapin at the height of fame and success, but also the memory of him as a young man, a young man who began his professional steps in this city as a chorister of the church choir.

“We must preserve not only the image of Chaliapin at the peak of fame and success.” Photo: Maksim Platonov/realnoevremya.ru

“Without the metropolis, the project would not have been possible, their role is very great!”

So, the concept of the festival creates a kind of interconnected large canvas that unites the biography of Chaliapin, the possibility of joint participation of student and diocesan choirs, and the possibility of performing sacred music both in the church and on the concert stage. As Vadim Dulat-Aleev argues, all this creates such a space of high spiritual culture, which is very necessary today. For those who still don't really know how this music sounds, a unique chance to discover this layer of Russian culture is created.

The rector of the conservatory also shared what idea they started from when choosing the name of the festival. Chaliapin reflected his impressions of singing in the church choir in detail in his autobiographical book called “Mask and Soul”. Thus, the name of the festival — “Soul and Motherland” echoes the title of the book, continues it and captures the memory that Chaliapin's homeland is the city of Kazan, and if we take it more broadly, our whole country. And a deep meaning is laid in this continuity.

Vadim Dulat-Aleev expresses special gratitude to the Tatarstan Metropolitanate, which actively and willingly joined in the organisation of the festival:

“It was very important that spiritual choral music was played not only on the concert stage, but also in churches. After all, it is priceless when music sounds in the place for which it was written, there it can be fully revealed. And when spiritual choral music sounds in the temple, then the musicians will feel themselves differently, and the sound turns out to be very special. Therefore, the most important moment for this festival to take shape was our appeal to the Tatarstan Metropolis with a request about whether it is possible for our student choir to perform spiritual music in the church. We are very grateful to the Metropolitanate and personally to Vladyka Kirill for supporting this project. The opening of the festival takes place in the Cathedral of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God. Without the metropolis, the project would not have been possible, their role is very great! The festival is held with the blessing of Metropolitan Kirill of Kazan and Tatarstan.”

Guests from Moscow and Saratov, university groups and concert venues

Two concerts will be held in the temples — the festival opened, as we have already written, in the renovated cathedral of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God, and it will close with a gala concert in one of the cathedrals of Sviyazhsk. Both student choirs and diocesan choirs will perform. And there was an active response to the idea of the festival from different cities of Russia. The organisers are waiting for the choir of the Gnessins Academy of Music, the choir of the Saratov Metropolis, which is led by rector of the Saratov Conservatory Alexander Zanorin, to visit them. All choirs will gather at the gala concert in Sviyazhsk in June.

Yury Karpov is waiting for a meeting with colleagues from other cities:

“First of all, it will give our choir auditory and performing experience, the opportunity to hear each other. Of course, we Kazan choirboys know each other well. But, for example, the choir of the Gnessin Academy has not been with us for twenty years. And, of course, it is very interesting to sing on the same platform with this collective. Moreover, we have something to show, something to share with each other. And I expect a lot of useful things from the festival “Soul and Motherland”, from our meetings — first of all for students.

There will also be concerts at other venues in the city. In this regard, the Rector of the Kazan Conservatory thanks his colleagues — rector of the KFU Lenar Safin, rector of the Volga Region Academy of Sports and Tourism Rafis Burganov, rector of the KNRTU (KAI) Timur Alibayev, who responded and agreed to provide their halls for choral sacred music to be played in them. Of course, the Big Concert Hall named after Saidashev will not remain aside — there you can hear the famous Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom by Sergei Rachmaninoff, a major work, one of the most complex in world choral music.

“The festival does not set itself commercial goals”

Talking about which audience the concerts of the festival are designed for, Vadim Dulat-Aleev agrees that this music is not familiar to the general public. But then just there is an opportunity to hear it, to learn and, maybe, to feel it:

“The festival does not set itself commercial goals. Part of the festival concerts, including its opening, will be charitable, free for listeners. We hope that the audience who is interested in Chaliapin's story will come. There are listeners who are interested in spiritual music in principle — there are not so few of them. The congregation of churches who come to church services, I think it will also be interesting to hear this music playing in concert halls. In general, music written on spiritual poems and plots is not always music for church services. These works also sound good on the concert stage. Spiritual works create a special mood for those who listen to them. They are transferred to high spheres, invited to inner, spiritual work, immersed in a dialogue with themselves and, perhaps, with God.”

Denis Rogov, however, hopes that the concerts will be in demand among the public — at least because of the rarity of this format:

“There are few concerts of sacred music in Kazan. Recently, the situation has begun to improve, but literally until recently, everything was limited only to the Smolensky Festival of Sacred Music, which is still held every two years. Moreover, the Orthodox church in Kazan was rarely used as a concert venue. This is despite the fact that the tradition of sacred music concerts was formed in Kazan even before the revolution.

By the way, at these concerts, the listener behaves differently than at a concert of ordinary classical music: for example, he understands without words the intention of the conductor to play the entire programme without applause, even if it happens in a concert hall. Denis Rogov says optimistically:

“In many regions of Russia, concerts of sacred music are held quite often and have become a tradition. In this regard, it is very joyful that Vadim Robertovich put forward this initiative on the part of the conservatory — after all, it was his idea. And it was supported — not just supported, but also blessed by Metropolitan Kirill. By the way, he also initiated at one time that there should be more concerts of choral sacred music in Tatarstan. And so all the stars came together, the result is the festival!”

“Performing sacred music changes a person”

By the way, the Conservatory and the metropolia are traditionally quite deeply connected. Today, both students and graduates of the Conservatory sing in the male and mixed episcopal choirs of the Kazan Diocese. This interaction begins literally from the first courses, and the teachers of the conservatory see a positive moment in this — young musicians gain singing experience, broaden their horizons, and can earn extra money (which is also important for a student).

Denis Rogov says that singing students in the church choir is a mutually beneficial cooperation: the church receives qualified performers, and students get excellent practice, not only choral singing, but also conducting (especially if we have a student from the conducting and choral department).

“Because the service goes on every day, and purely physically, as the head of the choir, I cannot go to every service. Therefore, students often come out to conduct at everyday, so-called small services. It always has been!” says Denis Rogov.

Yury Karpov, as a teacher, speaks positively about student “practice” in church choirs — already from a methodological point of view:

“The whole domestic choral culture, in fact, came out of spiritual singing practice. The centuries-old history of the musical culture of Russia is, first of all, the culture of temple singing. And before the revolution, everyone sang: the discipline of “Church singing” was a compulsory discipline in gymnasiums and schools. For a current student, singing in church choirs is a good experience. Firstly, they remain in the context of academic choral sonority, a characteristic acoustic situation. This is one of the branches of their professional development, formation. Besides, it is an opportunity to go through a large amount of choral literature, to learn it in practice through your own voice. After all, spiritual and singing literature is a colossal and stylistically very diverse layer of music. The very process of temple singing develops the performing mobility of young musicians. They learn to quickly navigate the performing situation, learn to masterfully read from a sheet, learn to match the very pace of the ritual action. This is a huge practice for students!”

And finally, Denis Rogov concludes our conversation with a reminder that spiritual music also gives a certain moral support to a young person:

“Of course, there is also a spiritual component in the work in the church choir. The element of educational work is normally present in any musical group. Performing sacred music changes a person. That is why, by the way, it is very important that it is sung not only by the church choir, but also by the secular, and especially by the educational team. Because, in fact, what we sing changes us. If the collective sings vulgar music, then so its members will be brought up. And if you let them learn from the best examples of classical music, including spiritual music, it will help to grow not only a professional musician, but also a person with healthy ethics and morality. I'm sure of it.

Lyudmila Gubaeva