NEW YORK – The newly formed Women’s Bandura Ensemble of North America gave its first full concert performance, titled “Expanding Traditions,” at The Ukrainian Museum on Saturday, February 13.
The concert concluded the museum’s epic exhibit “The Ukrainian Diaspora: Women Artists, 1908-2015” and was produced in association with Bandura Downtown.
Founded in 2015, the ensemble has 20 members from New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio and Ontario. This concert featured members of its East Coast group: Luda Yurkevych, Terenia Kuzma, Alina Kuzma, Sofia Milnikiewicz, Kalyna Leshchuk, Sana Shepko, Joanna O’Flaherty, Christina Jamherian, Zoya Shepko, Irene Kuzma, Olya Fryz and Larysa Krasij.
In his introduction, world-renowned bandurist Julian Kytasty expressed the uniqueness of not only of the ensemble, but also of the rare appearance of any bandura ensemble in the New York City area.
The ensemble opened with an a cappella “Oy Na Hori Lyon,” their 12 strong voices reflecting the traditional vocal style that they utilized for this lively song. Playing their banduras, the ensemble then sang “Oy Harna, Ya Harna.” For this piece, Sana Shepko on violin provided a lovely counterpoint to the lilting melody.
Next, the ensemble launched into “Homin Stepiv,” an instrumental work that paints the musical imagery of a rider mounted on a horse, together traversing the vast steppes of Ukraine. Listening to the ensemble playing this composition was a much different experience than hearing it played by a soloist. The arrangement called for the bandurists to play in sections, akin to the way a symphony orchestra would be divided into sections. One section played the stepping bass, another – the melody, and soloists added the flourishes that decorate this classic composition by Hryhory Kytasty. Exclamations of “Wow!” interspersed the enthusiastic applause that followed the conclusion of this piece.
The trio of Luda Yurkevych, Terenia Kuzma and Alina Kuzma performed “Ne Dayut Spat Soloviyi,” their voices blending exquisitely throughout this piece about falling in love.
The ensemble followed with “Proshchay, Proshchay,” an expression of the yearning for one’s homeland as one emigrates to a new land. This evening saw the revival of the song – it was last performed 40 years ago. Next was “Zoraly Divchata,” a traditional song in which the women prove they are better at farming than the men.
“Moths,” an experimental composition written by Julian Kytasty for the Poltava-style bandura, was played by Alina Kuzma. The intricate melody highlighted her control of the instrument, as well as the composer’s skill in weaving the themes into an artful piece.
The ensemble returned to play “Balaio,” a Portuguese melody arranged for bandura by Olya Herasymenko. “Vyrostesh Ty Synu” was performed next and was dedicated to the Maidan. The song tells of the worries and travails that young Ukrainian soldiers and their families face today.
Starting the instrumental “Bandurna Rozmova” in unison, the ensemble split into two opposing groups. This led to one side challenging the other with more and more intricate and involved phrases before returning to unison closing. The work could be described as “Dueling Banjos” for bandura.
Accompanying herself on bandura, Terenia Kuzma gave a stellar performance of the nostalgic “Nahaday Banduro Spivamy.” The audience responded with numerous acclaims of “Brava!” and enthusiastic applause for her vocal performance of this poem by Nina Kalyuzha that was set to music by Hryhory Kytasty.
Olya Fryz led the ensemble into her delicate arrangement of the love song “Oy Hylya, Hylya.” For their final piece, ensemble members re-arranged themselves into a bandura quartet with the other members behind them as vocalists. Together, they sang the traditional “Oy Khotila b Mene Maty.”
The response to this moving performance was a standing ovation by the sold-out house. Following closing comments by Hanya Krill, the programs director at The Ukrainian Musuem, the audience again responded with a standing ovation. Something then happened that rarely occurs at such events: the audience sang “Mnohaya Lita” to the ensemble, as a token of appreciation and to wish the bandurists an auspicious future in their musical endeavors.
The debut of the entire Women’s Bandura Ensemble will be on October 29 in Detroit and October 30 in Cleveland, with planned concerts at Wesleyan University and in New Jersey. Further information and a mail list sign-up can be found at the ensemble’s website, www.banduristka.org.