"A Sip of Living Water;" a concert by the parish choir of the Church of All Russian Saints

One American, who later converted to Orthodox Christianity, while still a Protestant, told of his first time in the Church of All Russian Saints in Burlingame, where he was elated by the splendid singing of the choir. The beauty of the service and the adornment of the church strengthened the notion within him that Orthodox Christianity must be the true faith if people could pray to God so beautifully.

Most of the music we hear is that of the so-called "mass culture," which empties the soul of man. But there is another kind of music which does not rely on commercial success, which cleanses the soul and forces one to think of eternal values: religious music.

An icon taken out of the church and displayed in a museum remains an icon—a religious item, but it is viewed as a special work of art with a religious theme. Similar in this way to an icon is church music that is performed in public, which becomes an independent work of art yet does not lose its religious, spiritual meaning.

The public performance of religious music is not a common event, but on the eve of Thanksgiving, the choir of the Church of All Russian Saints in Burlingame, CA, gave its first concert of church music. This important event in the life of Russian society in and around San Francisco and the Bay Area was held on November 14, 2004, at Burlingame Methodist Church.

The audience, gathering from San Jose and Walnut Creek to San Francisco, began arriving long before the start of the concert. Russian Orthodox Community Services and St Olga House chartered a bus to bring people wishing to attend the concert. Among the attendees were not only Russians but Americans as well. Fifteen minutes before the beginning of the concert, the house was filled to capacity, but people kept streaming in, seeking out seats with difficulty.

Not long before the beginning, Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco and Western America arrived. The choir director, Andrei Roudenko, receiving Vladyka's blessing, assumed his place, the choir rose to its feet, the audience fell silent, and the magnificent chords of Dimitry Bortniansky's Da voskresnet Bog ["Let God Arise"] rang out. The audience heard the familiar composition in a new way, savoring the beauty of the choir singers' voices and the harmony of Russian church music.

During church services, one concentrates more on prayer, and the singing of the choir is taken in as beautifully-rendered prayer. But at a concert of church music, one listens to the beauty, the harmony, the sounds of the choral voices and that of the soloists.

The pure female voices of the soloists Olga Medvedko and Alexandra Rozhkovsky in Ledkovsky's Angel vopiyashe ["The Angel Cried"] recalled the lines from the poem of A. Blok:

A girl sang in the church choir

Of all who are weary in foreign lands,
Of all the ships gone out to sea,
Of all who have forgotten their joy.

[English translation from ed.]

And here we are, like those ships, far from our native shores, having taken root in foreign soil through the strength of the Russian spirit, the Orthodox faith, Russian culture, but our souls fly to our homeland, and we pray for Russia...

The climax of the concert was the multi-voiced performance of the Velikoye Slavoslovie ["Great Doxology"] by Strumskii. Upon the foundation of the bass voices, the women's voices floated gently, while Paul Roudenko's magnificent baritone streamed forth.

Thanks to the efforts of the founders and veterans of the choir, it was represented by various waves of the Russian emigration; side by side with senior singers were adolescents continuing the traditions of the Russian diaspora. Many participants in the amiable ensemble are bound by familial ties. Their selfless efforts during rehearsals and during church services bring joy not only to the audience and to the parishioners, but to the singers themselves. The choir is the pride of this parish. From the moment of the establishment of this Orthodox church in Burlingame in 1952 to this very day, a total of twelve choir directors have taken the helm.

Today's director is known by the parishioners as a humble, warm person, a talented musician, a scholar of church music. But surely not everyone knows that Andrei Vladimirovich Roudenko began singing in his church choir at the age of seven, working as a musician for a great many years, and attained great mastery in his performance of classical and church music. Until his appointment as choir director of the Church of All Russian Saints in June, 2001, he founded and served as the Music Director of the Russian Chamber Chorus in Boston. There, A.V. Roudenko was a member of numerous musical societies, took part in festivals of choral music and participated in many conferences on Russian church music. In 1995, he debuted as the choir director in Boston Symphony Hall during a concert of Russian church and folk music together with the Russian baritone Dmitry Khvorostovsky. Andrei Vladimirovich worked in Russia as well, directing the Karelian Academic Choir, directing a joint performance of his own Russian Chamber Chorus and of "Voskresenie" Choir in Moscow, and also produced a recording of Rachmaninoff's Vespers.

In the first part of the well-arranged program were the works, performed in chronological order, of church music of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The succession from the Italian Baroque style of Bortniansky's Da voskresnet Bog to the severe, even ascetic musical compositions of S.V. Rachmaninoff, A. Nikolsky and F. Rozhnov reflected the return of ecclesiastical music to the firm roots of ancient Russian chants. From the St Petersburg School, with its free composition, heard in the music of P.I. Tchaikowsky and A. Rozhnov, the program moved to the compositional style of the Moscow School, marked by the revival of Russian national patriotism during the second half of the 20th century, characterized by the music of S. Trubachev, S.V. Rachmaninoff, F. Stepanov and A. Nikolsky. The second half rang out with splendid works, more varied in arrangement, multifaceted in their musical sound, glorifying the Lord God, the Mother of God and the Saints and manifested in the music of Nikolsky, R. Chesnokov, Ledkovsky, Bortniansky, A. Lyadov and Nikolaev-Strumsky.

After the conclusion of the concert, the Parish Rector of the Church of All Russian Saints, Fr Stefan Pavlenko, remained to bless and greet the guests, who lingered for a long time, sharing their impressions, congratulating the singers on their successful debut, thanking them for the joy they offered--like a sip of living water in a spiritual desert--and wished the musicians further success. One wishes to thank and congratulate yet again the church choir and its director on their first concert, for all their work brought fruits a hundredfold in return. A great bow to them!

A parishioner