WASHINGTON —Written by Yaro Bihun. “Simply put, there is no musical organization in New York that produces more intellectually enticing or more viscerally satisfying programs than Continuum.”

So wrote The New York Times not too long ago about this ensemble, which over the past forty years has sought to acquaint its audiences with the works of 20th century composers.

And the Times reviewer’s assessment would hold true for the group’s concert here October 16. It was the first concert of The Washington Group Cultural Funds 2005-2006 Music Series, featuring a trio of Continuum musicians — pianist Joel Sachs, clarinetist Benjamin Fingland and violinist Airi Yoshioka — who performed a unique program devoted exclusively to works of 20th century Ukrainian composers.

The names of four of the six composers on the program, if not the particular pieces performed, are fairly well known: Boris Lyatoshynksy, who introduced modernist music to Ukraine after World War I, two of his students — Valentin Sylvestrov and Leonid Hrabovsky — and Virko Baley, who founded the Nevada Symphony Orchestra and strove to introduce the works of contemporary composers in Ukraine and other countries of the region to the American audience.
The other two composers, both of Kharkiv — Alexander Shchetynsky, the youngest in the group (born in 1960), and Valentin Bibik, who died two years ago in Israel — are not as well known here.

Before beginning the program with Shchetynsky’s Prayer for the Cup, a quiet contemplative piece for piano, Joel Sachs, who also serves as co-director of Continuum, briefly explained his ensemble’s relationship with Ukrainian composers. The interest began in 1979, he said, during a visit to Moscow, where the wife an American diplomat introduced him to Alfred Schnittke and other “nonconformist” composers of the Soviet Union. Later, they would pass to him their “bottom drawer” works, composed with no hope of being performed in the USSR, so that they would be performed in the West. Later Virko Baley would play a role in this relationship with Hrabovsky, Sylvestrov and other Ukrainian nonconformist composers.

The second piece on the program — Valentin Bibik’s Signs Quasi Sonata, Op. 19, for clarinet and piano, which was composed in 1999-2000 — may well have been a world premiere, Sachs said, with a proviso that his research into that possibility is not yet complete. He explained that Bibik would often mail Continuum manuscripts of his just-completed compositions before they were performed elsewhere.
Closing out the first half of the program, Sachs and Airi Yoshioka played Lyatoshynsky’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 19.

After intermission, Airi Yoshioka performed Postludium No. 2, a violin solo piece by Sylvestrov; it was followed by another solo composition, Hrabovsky’s Hlas II: Obituary for Dmitri Shostakovich, performed by Benjamin Fingland on the bass clarinet. The concert concluded with the trio version of Virko Baley’s Dreamtime Suite No. 1.
The program and its performers were introduced at the outset by the TWG Cultural Fund’s new director, Marta Zielyk. She explained the Fund’s mission of acquainting the nation’s capital with the culture of Ukraine and acknowledged the presence in the audience of the Ukrainian Embassy’s chargé d’affaires, Sergiy Korsunsky. The Music Series and some of the other TWG Cultural Fund activities are conducted under the patronage of or in cooperation with the Embassy of Ukraine.

The next concert in the Music Series, November 13, will be a U.S. debut by Maxim Brylinsky, who at age 17 in 2002 won 2nd prize at the international violin competition “Premio Paganini” in Italy. He and harpsichordist Kotono Sakakura will perform works of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Paganini and Skoryk.
In early 2006, the series will present pianist Volodymyr Vynnytsky, on February 12, and the winners of the Horowitz International Competition for Young Pianists, on April 9.
All of the concerts in the Sunday afternoon series are at The Lyceum, a few miles south of Washington, in “Old Town” Alexandria, Virginia.

Photo caption: Airi Yoshioka, Joel Sachs and Benjamin Fingland of the Continuum ensemble at the conclusion of their concert of 20th century Ukrainian composers in Washington.

Reprinted with permission from The Ukrainian Weekly.