WASHINGTON —Written by Yaro Bihun. Myroslav Skoryk, Ukraine’s best known contemporary composer, was honored here with a special concert celebrating his 70th birthday. Part of The Washington Group Cultural Fund’s 2008-2009 Music Series, the concert was held Nov. 9 at the historic Lyceum building in Alexandria, Virginia.

The concert featured not only a selection of Skoryk’s well-known and cherished compositions but the composer himself. He performed along with violinists Oleksandr Abayev and Yuri Kharenko, violist Borys Deviatov, cellist Natalia Khoma and pianist Volodymyr Vynnytsky. This same ensemble performed a week earlier at a similar Skoryk anniversary concert program at the Ukrainian Institute of America in New York City.

The concert began with two pieces for violin and piano, Poem and Carpathian Rhapsody, performed by Yuri Kharenko with the composer himself at the piano. His Partita No. 6 for String Quartet concluded the first half of the program.
After intermission, Oleksandr Abayev and Volodymyr Vynnytsky treated the audience to the very popular Melody for Violin and Piano. TWG Cultural Fund Director Chrystyna Kinal drew attention to this piece in her welcoming remarks to the audience at the beginning of the concert, when she spoke about the deeply Ukrainian character found in Skoryk’s compositions. As an example of this, she quoted from an e-mail received a few days before the concert from Svitlana Shiells, a former director of the Cultural Fund. Ms. Shiells has been living in Vienna, Austria, where earlier this year she taught a course on the Asian influences on Russian and Ukrainian art. When her students asked her to describe her feelings about Ukrainian art, Ms. Shiells said she could not adequately put her feelings into words. Instead, she let them listen to Skoryk’s Melody, which, she told them, “captures all of the pride, pain and heavenly beauty of Ukrainian culture.”

Next on the program, Volodymyr Vynnytsky joined with Natalia Khoma in Skoryk’s A-RI-A, and followed with continued with a solo piano piece, Burlesque.

Myroslav Skoryk’s Concerto No. 3 for Piano and String Quartet, in which the composer joined the ensemble as a percussionist, received a standing ovation from the audience, as did his three Jazz Pieces for piano four hands with which he and Volodymyr Vynnytsky concluded the concert.

Celebrating Mr. Skoryk’s birthday every five years is becoming a tradition in Washington. In 2003, his 65th anniversary was marked with a concert at the Ukrainian Embassy, featuring the composer and baritone Oleh Chmyr. And in 1998, the TWG Cultural Fund commemorated his 60th birthday with a concert featuring his works as performed by Volodymyr Vynnytsky and the Leontovych String Quartet at the historic Dumbarton United Methodist Church in Georgetown. He was there as well.

Myroslav Skoryk’s works are frequently performed by many of the artists in the TWG Cultural Fund’s Music Series concerts – most recently by violinist Solomia Soroka who included the Allegretto and Dance from his Hutsulian Triptych in her program in April. Eight years earlier, in her debut with the TWG Cultural Fund, Ms. Soroka’s performance of Skoryk’s works piqued the interest of Washington Post music critic Joseph McLellan, who, admitting in his review that he had “never heard a note composed by Myroslav Skoryk” before this performance, characterized him as “an original, a composer with a distinct identity, a mastery of many idioms – jazzy, folk-style and moderately avant-garde – that he uses to shape works embodying piquant contrasts, convincing climaxes and sometimes impish wit.”

Skoryk’s many compositions include orchestral works; concertos for violin, piano and cello; sonatas for violin and piano; and numerous compositions for the keyboard. He has written music also for some thirty stage productions and forty films, the best-known of which is the classic Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. Among his most recent monumental works are the opera Moses, based on Ivan Franko, and the cantata Hamalia, based on Taras Shevchenko. He also writes jazz and popular music.

Myroslav Skoryk was born in Lviv, where he received his musical training from childhood through the Lviv Conservatory. In the early 1960s he studied for four years at the Moscow Conservatory, by returned to teach at the Lviv Conservatory and later in Kyiv. He is a respected musicologist and the author of numerous articles and two books, the founder of the International Festival of Contemporary Music “Contrasts” and currently heads the Kyiv Music Fest international festival.

The Cultural Fund of The Washington Group, an organization of Ukrainian-American professionals, was formed in 1994 to promote Ukrainian culture in the Washington metropolitan area. Since then, it has organized more than one hundred events – concerts, art exhibits, book presentations, lectures, and the like. Many are sponsored in cooperation with the Embassy of Ukraine. Laryssa Courtney was the driving force behind the Fund’s formation and was its director for the first ten years. The reins have since passed to Svitlana Shiells, Marta Zielyk, and this year to Chrystyna Kinal.

Photo caption: Composer Myroslav Skoryk (r) and the artists performing his Concerto No. 3 for Piano and String Quartet accept the applause of the Washington area audience celebrating his 70th birthday concert. The performers are (l-r): violinists Yuri Kharenko and Oleksandr Abayev, cellist Natalia Khoma, violist Borys Deviatov and pianist Volodymyr Vynnytsky.

Reprinted with permission from The Ukrainian Weekly.