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On Sunday, March 11, 2012, San Francisco's Holy Virgin Cathedral Choir will present a Concert of Sacred Choral Music of the Russian Orthodox Church at the Star of the Sea Catholic Church (Geary Boulevard and 8th Avenue) at 2:00 pm. The Editors of Russkaya Zhizn [Russian Life] interviewed its Choir Director, Vladimir Vladimirovich Krassovsky.

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RZ: Tell us about the concert tradition of the choir of the Cathedral of the Mother of God Joy of All Who Sorrow. Why is this tradition so important?

VK: Our parish was founded in 1927 by refugees. Soon after the celebration of its 10th anniversary, a choir director renowned throughout the Far East, Valerian Stepanovich Luksha, arrived. Valerian Stepanovich, who hailed from St Petersburg, was a student of the famous director and composer Alexander Arkhangelsky, who would organize series of grand concerts of sacred music in St Petersburg. This pre-Revolutionary tradition was strengthened in the Far East, specifically in China. Of course, this tradition also survived in Europe after the bloody Revolution of 1917. Mr Luksha came to San Francisco in 1939 and became the Cathedral Choir Director, and immediately commenced organizing sacred and lay concerts, which greatly helped invigorate parish life.

In 1951, Mikhail Sergeevich Konstantinov and his family arrived in San Francisco. The entire family sang in church. Through the intercession of the Cathedral Rector, Protopriest Mikhail Polsky, because of the small size of the Cathedral (on Fulton Street), they began celebrating early Liturgy at a chapel set up on the right side dedicated to St Nicholas. Konstantinov began conducting these early Liturgies. In 1953, when Luksha left, he became the official Cathedral Conductor. He continued the pre-Revolutionary tradition by organizing regular sacred-music concerts. Proceeds from these events made a significant contribution to the construction of the new cathedral. In 1969, he took your humble servant under his wing as a student, and in 1970, asked the late Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev) of San Francisco and Western America to appoint me the director of the SS Cyril and Methodius High School Chorus. In 1974, this chorus gave its first concert at the Russian Center of San Francisco, which was filled beyond capacity. Sixty children sang. These were already second-generation church singers. The Cathedral Choir continued to give concerts, and now the High School Chorus began to as well. In 1979, Mikhail Sergeevich retired and handed his duties over to me, with the blessing of the Hierarchy.

We continue to fight to preserve our traditions. Today, when 3rd- and 4th-generation immigrants are singing in the churches of the Russian diaspora, it is becoming more and more difficult. That is why it is so important to continue these sacred-music concerts or any other endeavor which ties us to our past, to our roots, to our much-suffering Motherland.

RZ: How is the concert tradition being renewed at our cathedral?

VK: You used the right wordrenewed. Yes, after a hiatus of about 10 years, we once again decided to give concerts during Great Lent. For this was a beloved event in our Russian Orthodox community here. The fact is that over the last ten plus years great changes have taken place in our choir. Generations have turned, so to speak. Many of our singers of the older generation have retired, fallen ill or moved on to the celestial choir in the abodes of the righteous. Some young singers got married and started families. Now their children are growing and there are several families whose children sing in the choir. The average age of the singers has gone down, fortunately. I always tell new singers to hold firm and be patient, since it takes from three to five years to become a knowledgeable church singer. This is a special brand of knowledge and a special service to the Church.

I am happy to see that even in our silent period, as far as liturgical music concerts are concerned, the tradition of holding such concerts did not end in our diocese. We have very active and idealistic choir directors in some parishes who continued to stage concerts. Our Cathedral Choir consists of two parts: the permanent singers and the inter-parish singers who eagerly come to sing at our big diocesan celebrations and participate in our concerts. Many are graduates of SS Cyril and Methodius HS chorus and even direct their own parish choirs. What we have is a big, choral family.

RZ: What rules of thumb do you follow as you put together a concert repertoire? How many singers will participate?

VK: Once, in the 1970s, some priests together with an eminent protopriest just arrived from Moscow, a graduate of Moscow Theological Academy, who said to me You encompass the entire thousand-year history of the Russian Church! You have a splendid bouquet, with multi-colored and fragrant heavenly flowers! How were you able to preserve the style and manner of pre-Revolutionary Imperial Russian singing?! These words of undeserved praised I cherish in my soul. Feeling the love and goodwill of this important batyushka, I remembered the words of Holy Apostle Paul Remember them which have the rule over you, and I began telling him about my teacher and guide, the fervently-loved, unforgettable Mikhail Sergeevich Konstantinov. After my brief story, the priest said to me If he left such a legacy, then he was a great man, a faithful son of Russia.

These words by the priest a bouquet of multi-colored and fragrant heavenlynot earthly!flowers, probably describes my general approach to selecting a program for a concert. The history of the Great Local Russian Orthodox Church is over a thousand years old, and it is inseparable the many centuries of Russian history. Everyone knows how incredibly rich the history of Russia and her Church is. Church singing developed under the influence of all of this. There were various schools, tendencies Our Vladyka Anthony (Medvedev) of blessed memory often repeated a phrase characterizing the various song types: The Muscovite Znamenny melody is the podvig of holy monks, the Kievan chant is the blood of the martyrs crying out to the Lord, the Valaam chant is children speaking with God. So these words compare the various moods of the music. There are enormous fields of these multi-colored heavenly flowers, and we should choose the best from each of them.

This concert piously marks the repose of the great maestro, talented singer and director, divinely-inspired and prolific composer, guide and teacher, Mikhail Sergeevich Konstantinov. This concert includes almost exclusively his compositions and harmonizations. You will hear the triumphant Kto est Sei Tsar Slavy [Who is He, This King of Glory?], which he wrote specifically for the 50th anniversary of the establishment of our parish and the great consecration of the new cathedral. In his memoirs of this celebration, Protopriest Nikolai Dombrovsky wrote: Divine emotions filled the soul at this moment and will never be forgotten. You will hear Dostoino est [It is Fitting], in the ancient chant of Tsar Feodor, a grand troparion to the Nativity of Christ, two variations of Razboinik blagorazumny [Wise Thief], which is sung in our Cathedral on Great Thursday: the Kievan chant with a solo bass and a childrens trio with choir. The program includes music from all-night vigil, the Liturgy, the Festive cycle, the Lenten Triodion. Since this concert is being held during Great Lent, we will not sing anything from the Paschal Triodion.

Our choir now boasts a good number of young singers, and for most of them this will be their first concert. About 55 singers will participate.

RZ: Tell us about the concert itself, what do you wish to accomplish, what do you strive for and what results to you expect?

VK: Three years ago I was invited to participate in a conference called Research on Russian Sacred Music and read a lecture on the preservation of the church music tradition on the West Coast of America. Svetlana Georgievna Zvereva, a very famous historian from the highest scholarly circles of Moscow and a dear friend, organized the event. The program included attending a concert of spiritual music by the newly-formed Choir of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in the city of Saratov, Russia, held in Bolshoy Hall of Moscow Conservatory. Bishop Longin of Saratov (he is now a Metropolitan) was there; he is a great scholar and connoisseur of church singing. But to my sad amazement, all the traditions we cling to have been lost there. Despite this, the choir sang magnificently, spiritually, and most importantly prayerfully, and yet, this seemed like nothing more than a concert, just like any other. His Grace Bishop Longin was sitting somewhere about the 20th row. There was resounding applause between pieces, shouts of elation, crashing like a rock through a window. There was no prayer to open the concert, no greeting of the bishop, no one welcomed him in short, I was very disappointed.

In pre-Revolutionary times, concerts of sacred music were markedly different from classical or folk concerts. The word sacred defines both the format and the execution of the concert. During Great Lent, concerts gave one the opportunity to concentrate and be enveloped in spiritual contemplation. Bishops were greeted with prayer, solemnly. The singers are inspired by the presence of clergy in the first rows, as representatives of the Church, who understand and support the art of church singing. At the beginning of the concert, as before every good work, there is a prayer and a benediction. There is silence in the audience during the concert, no applause (except to conclude each section of the program). This establishes a prayerful mood in the auditorium, which gives the listener, who is now outside of the environment of a church service, the ability to more profoundly grasp the meaning and richness of our wondrous, centuries-old divine services.

The result? A spiritual uplifting experience, some glimmer of light in ones own spiritual life for Orthodox and even heterodox audience members. You want every person leaving the performance to feel joy and spiritual consolation from this bouquet of multi-colored, fragrant heavenly flowers.

RZ: Tell us briefly about the life of Mikhail Sergeevich Konstantinov, and his significance in Russian Orthodox choral culture.

VK: Mikhail Sergeevich was born in Novo-Georgievsky Fortress (near Warsaw), the youngest of four brothers, in 1904. His family was profoundly religious and church-going. He grew up in Kiev, across the street from Nikolsky Monastery, not far from the ancient Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra. At Nikolsky Monastery he served as an acolyte, and read and sang at services. He often attended services at the Lavra and absorbed the singing in the ancient cathedrals under the direction of renowned directors such as Kamshevsky, Goncharov and Grinchenko.

At the age of 14, being a great patriot, he and an older brother enlisted in General Denikins army. After military service, he enrolled in Kiev Conservatory, then Lysenko Institute to study choir directing. He graduated both with flying colors. He began to direct the Simferopol Orchestra and became first tenor at Kiev Opera (he sang the Lensky Aria over 200 times). He became a Laureate of All Ukraine, and won the All-Union Competition in Moscow, but because he staunchly resisted joining the Communist Party, the award was given to someone else.

At the same time, he directed choirs in Nikolsky Church at Askolds Tomb and the famous St Andreis Church. He remembered New Hieromartyr Vladimir, Metropolitan of Kiev, and Metropolitan Flavian.

During World War II, the Konstantinov family was evacuated through Rumania to Europe. His entire library of musical notes was destroyed during the bombings. In Europe he directed choirs and became the first soloist in the famous Black Sea Cossack Choir under the direction of Boris Mikhailovich Ledkovsky. Their friendship lasted for the rest of their lives.

In Europe, he began to reconstruct his musical collection from memory, and began to compose music and harmonize ancient chants.

In 1951, the Konstantinov family was invited by the group Zealots of Church Singing to come to San Francisco. The entire family began to sing in our cathedral choir, then directed by Luksha. After the latter left, Konstantinov became the director. He labored selflessly, idealistically, humbly, sparing no effort of his own, until 1979. He died having communed of the Holy Gifts of Christ on June 11, 1982, and buried at the Serbian Cemetery near San Francisco. I am pleased to say that on the day of his ceremonious funeral, held on a weekday (Monday), two bishops served with a host of diocesan clergymen and an overfilled church, and the choirs were filled with 92 singers.

Konstantinovs importance, in both his life and work, is enormous. In addition to the sacred music legacy he left behind, he educated an entire generation of church singers and instilled in them a devotion and love for their craft. Thinking about him and praying for the repose of my mentor and teacher, I remember the words of the prayer behind the ambo, sanctify those that love the beauty of Thy house. Glorify them inreturnby Thy divine power prayer. And so 30 years have come and gone, and I truly and dearly miss him. When they asked the late Vladyka Metropolitan Laurus about what one can do to fill the void left behind by the loss of a beloved mentor, a source of inspiration, a teacher, he replied You must become like him. I feel that this is beyond my ken.

RZ: God help you in your work!

The Editors of Russkaya Zhizn reminds its readers that the Cathedral Choir is renowned the world over, and has been featured on BBC Radio and the Voice of America. We invite our readers to attend this event.