INTERVIEW: Myroslav Skoryk, on eve of Carnegie concert

Myroslav Skoryk, one of Ukraine's most prominent composers, is the author of a diverse and impressive oeuvre.

Although contemporary in its vocabulary and means of expression, his music often draws on the richness of Ukrainian folklore. The composer seldom quotes folk themes literally, but rather organically incorporates them into his works, thus synthesizing idiomatic folk rhythms and melodic gestures with the idiosyncrasies of his personal style.

Among Mr. Skoryk's most popular compositions are the "Concerto for Orchestra (Carpathian)," awarded the first prize at the 1991 Kyiv Composition Competition; "Hutsul Triptych," based on his beautiful score for the film "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors"; Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2; Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2; the Cello Concerto; and sonatas for violin and piano.

He has also written music for some 40 films, the best known of which are "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors," and the animated cartoon "How the Kozaks Cooked Kulish"; and for nearly 30 stage productions, including Lesia Ukrainka's "The Stone Host."

Mr. Skoryk also writes jazz and popular music.

His works are performed in Ukraine, the new independent states, as well as throughout Europe and North America, and most recently in Australia.

Born in Lviv in 1938, Mr. Skoryk entered the Lviv Music School in 1945, but in 1947, he and his parents were deported to Siberia and were not permitted to return until 1955. He was then accepted to the Lviv Conservatory, where he studied composition with Stanyslav Liudkevych, Vasyl Simovych and Adam Soltys. From 1960 to 1964 he studied at the Moscow Conservatory in the doctoral program with the celebrated Dmitri Kabalevsky. Upon graduation, he joined the faculty of the Lviv Conservatory and in 1967 the Kyiv Conservatory, where he remained as professor of composition until 1988.

In 1968 Mr. Skoryk was selected to be the secretary of the Ukrainian Union of Composers; in 1988 he became the head of the Lviv branch of this same organization.

He is also the music director of Lviv Chamber Orchestra, which for the past five years, has toured widely and has been especially well received at the Bayreuth summer youth festival in Germany.

Mr. Skoryk is the winner of the prestigious Shevchenko Prize and holds the title "People's Artist of Ukraine." After the death of Borys Liatoshynsky, Mr. Skoryk, despite his young age, became one of Ukraine's most important professors of composition. His many students include such prominent contemporary composers as Yevhen Stankovych, Ivan Karabyts, Oleh Kyva, Volodymyr Zubytsky and Jonas-Osvaldas Balakauskas.

He is also a respected musicologist, specializing in contemporary music. He is the author of numerous articles and two books, "The Modal System of Prokofiev" (1969) and "The Structural and Expressive Aspects of Chords in 20th Century Music" (1983).

Mr. Skoryk devotes a considerable portion of his time to reviving, editing and orchestrating works from the Ukrainian musical heritage of the 16th to 20th centuries, among them Mykola Leontovych's opera "Mermaid Easter," Anatol Vakhnianyn's opera "Kupalo," Denys Sichynsky's opera "Roksolana," Lviv lute tablature of the 16th century, spiritual concertos by unknown authors of the 17th and 18th centuries, and works by Hryhoriy Skovoroda, Dmytro Bortnyansky, Maksym Berezovsky and Mykola Lysenko. As part of his interest in the preservation and revival of Ukrainian music, in the spring of 1991 Mr. Skoryk organized a festival of works by Ukrainian composers living abroad. Since 1994 he has held a music festival in Lviv every spring or fall.

- Oles Kuzyszyn

On the occasion of the upcoming concert of Myroslav Skoryk's work at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday, October 1, an interview was conducted with Mr. Skoryk during his sojourn in Hunter, N.Y. Following are excerpts from the interview conducted on August 20 jointly by Ika Koznarska Casanova for The Weekly and Yuri Shevchuk for Radio Liberty.

In his characteristically unassuming manner, Mr. Skoryk expressed his views on a variety of issues, including his work and Ukrainian music in general.

Q: Can you give an overview of the kind of music you compose? How would you characterize your music?

A: The primary focus of my work is symphonic and chamber music. I have also worked in the genres of vocal-symphonic and incidental music, as well as composed popular music and jazz.

Clearly, I do not belong to the ultra-modernists, but I do want my music to be contemporary (in expression), yet without breaking with the classical tradition, all the while contributing to its further development.

I would also like aspects of my music to express distinctively Ukrainian elements, without necessarily incorporating folk melodies into my music.

Q: How would you place yourself within the Ukrainian musical tradition?

A: Clearly, Ukrainian classical music is based both on an indigenous musical tradition, as well as on the world classical tradition.

I would prefer to leave the discerning of influences on my work up to the critics. But I can say that I admire French Impressionist composers, as well as Prokofiev and Bartók, but also contemporary Ukrainian composers.

Within the Ukrainian classical tradition, I would mention Lysenko, Liatoshynsky, Revutsky and Liudkevych.

Q: You have produced a succession of film scores, one of the best known is the score for Sergei Paradjanov's award-winning film "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors." How did your collaboration with Paradjanov come about?

A: Actually, we had never met before. Paradjanov came to Lviv and visited the music department at Lviv Radio in order to hear the work of Lviv composers. Upon listening to one of my compositions, he simply stated that I was to be the one to write the score for his film.

Q: As for your other work for films?

A: I simply can't recall all of them.

Among some of the directors I've worked with are Denysenko, Dakhno and Muratov. I no longer write for films; the last time was a few years back, for the Hal-Film Production "Yim Surmy Ne Hraly."

Q: You have also worked for the theater.

A: I did a lot of work for the theater. A significant portion of my work for the stage had been written for the Ivan Franko Theater in Kyiv.

Q: Among your lighter works are songs that were quite popular in their day, such pieces as "Ne Topchit Konvaliy," "Namaliuy Meni Nich," etc.

A: Yes, they're part of my earlier work; they were written in 1963-1965. I founded a group in Lviv that performed these works. I write less now, but I do return to this genre from time to time.

Q: What is your reaction to Vika's parody of your work, specifically, the songs "Ne Topchit Konvaliy" and "Namaliuy Meni Nich"?

A: (Laughs). Why not?

Q: To a certain degree, it's a form of legitimization.
You were actively engaged in the first Chervona Ruta festival. In what capacity?

A: Chervona Ruta was a festival of the renaissance of Ukrainian music. It was quite an extraordinary phenomenon for the time. Among the organizers was Taras Melnyk, a former student of mine. I was head of the jury at the festival.

Q: There is a borrowing of genres from mass culture, e.g., industrial trash music, reggae, that have never been indigenous to Ukrainian musical culture. How do you perceive this phenomenon?

A: I think it's very positive. It's not just a question of borrowing or imitating, but rather a manifestation of an over-all enrichment. Moreover, once such music is coupled with the Ukrainian language, then it already undergoes a transformation, taking on a distinctive character. The best of it is not imitative; it comes through as distinct and original.

Q: Would you comment on the state of music in Ukraine today?

A: Ukraine has many good composers -Stankovych, Sylvestrov, Zubytsky, Karabyts, Kyva, just to mention a few. Their music and Ukrainian music in general, is on a very high level. But, of course, it's very difficult to make it, to have one's work performed, and gain access to the world market.

Once it is performed, however, it is almost invariably well received abroad. Indeed, I would even dare to say that often it is of a higher caliber than that which one encounters in countries with a highly developed musical culture.

Essentially, Ukrainian music is in need of promotion. What it lacks most is connections, marketing, agents and other such commercial factors that are so difficult to achieve.

On another level, the tradition of musical culture and upbringing in Ukraine is quite strong. The problem at present is that people who are in this field - musicians, performers, professors - find themselves in a difficult financial situation. Quite simply, it's very hard to make a living.

There is a concert-going public, but if one takes into consideration, for instance, the price of tickets, in comparision with prices in the West, they are very inexpensive, and thus are insufficient to cover the salaries of the performers.

Q: And so, many leave?

A: Yes, unfortunately, that's the case. Hopefully, this is a transitory phenomenon.

* * *

Since his arrival in the U.S. in August, Mr. Skoryk was present at the world premiere of his newest work, Partita No.6, written for and performed by the prestigious Leontovych String Quartet at the chamber music festival at Music Mountain in Connecticut on August 11.

Mr. Skoryk was featured as a composer of jazz and popular music at the final concert of the summer season at the Grazhda, under the auspices of the Music and Art Center of Greene County, where he appeared as duo pianist with Volodymyr Vynnytsky on August 24.

On the same day, Mr. Skoryk's work "Melodiya," was performed at the Lviv Opera Theater as part of the fifth anniversary celebrations of Ukraine's independence.

In mid-November, Mr. Skoryk plans to attend a festival of contemporary music in Lviv, organized by the Lviv branch of the Composers' Union, for the Lviv premiere of his work Partita No. 6. Among participating composers from abroad will be the renowned Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki.

Mr. Skoryk returns to Sydney, Australia, at the end of November, where he is currently taking a respite from his professorial commitments at the Lviv Conservatory, in order to devote more time to creative work.

* * *

The concert program of Mr. Skoryk's music at Weill Recital Hall will feature: pianist Mykola Suk, Partita No. 5; The Leontovych String Quartet, Partita No. 6 (New York premiere), and "Melodiya"; Oleh Chmyr, three Ukrainian songs for baritone and piano; pianist Volodymyr Vynnytsky, "Burlesque"; Mr. Vynnytsky and cellist Vagram Saradjian, "A-RI-A"; and, duo pianists Messrs. Skoryk and Vynnytsky, "Three Extravagant Dances" and three jazz pieces for piano.

The concert is jointly sponsored by the Music and Art Center of Greene County, under the direction of Ihor Sonevytsky, and the Ukrainian Institute of America in New York.

Tickets, at $20 and $15, are on sale at the Carnegie Hall Box Office.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, September 22, 1996, No. 38, Vol. LXIV

| Home Page | About The Ukrainian Weekly | Subscribe | Advertising | Meet the Staff |