"Paris to Kyiv" project's European tour includes stops in Ukraine
by Roman Woronowycz
Kyiv Press Bureau
KYIV - The name for the "Paris to Kyiv" project came from a trip to Ukraine by Alexis Kochan to Ukraine in the late 1970s, when the country was still a Soviet republic hidden behind the Iron Curtain. She arrived in her ancestral homeland from an initial visit to Paris on one of the few flights to Kyiv that did not go through Moscow. The itinerary allowed Ms. Kochan the chance to starkly compare the contrasts between Paris, cultural center of the West, and Kyiv, the historic cultural heart of Eastern Europe, but very much under the influence of the Soviet "culture" at that time.
Ms. Kochan gave life to the lasting impressions and influences from that trip some 20 years later, when in 1996 she put together her first line-up of the Paris to Kyiv project. With differing musicians in tow through the years, the project has toured the North American continent from shore to shore since then.
Today the music the group performs is particularly popular with CBC radio audiences in Canada. And now - some seven years after the project was launched, the ensemble has played Ukraine.
First European concert tour
In May group members performed in their first European concert tour, which first took them to Belgrade, before stops in Kyiv, Lviv and Chernihiv during the second half of May, where they played to fantastic receptions and standing-room-only crowds at small and medium-sized venues. The tour finished in Poland, with appearances in the cities of Warsaw, Wroclaw and Krakow.
"What was very special about his was that we have been doing this music around North America - in Flim Flam, Los Angeles, Winnipeg, Edmonton, New York - but it was the first time we presented this music in Ukraine, from which much of the music hails," explained Julian Kytasty, the renowned Ukrainian bandura player, who has collaborated with Ms. Kochan almost from the start of the project.
The Paris to Kyiv quartet is non-traditional in many ways. First, the songs they play are not your grandmother's quaint Ukrainian ethnic melodies, but jazz-laced syncopations with a good dose of improvisation. The musical ensemble's varied ethnic make-up - a Serb, two Ukrainians, a Canadian and a Brit - brings uncharacteristic foreign ethnic influences to the Ukrainian folk melodies that compose the soul of the music.
The instruments reflect the unorthodox mix as well, with Mr. Kytasty switching between voice, sopilka and bandura; Richard Moody alternatively on jazz violin, viola and guitar; Martin College moving among an assortment of Celtic instruments; Nenad Zdjelar, who played with the Belgrade Opera Symphony before turning to blues and jazz, on double bass; and Alexis Kochan, lead vocalist and the founder of the project, blending the mix with her vocals.
A linkage of historic capitals
Adding to the discordance is the unusual name, which suggests the linkage of two European capitals, but ones with varying European cultures.
The project is the outgrowth of Ms. Kochan's interest in the roots of traditional music and her longtime involvement with Ukrainian folk songs as a well-known Canadian vocalist. At the heart of the music are traditional Ukrainian folk songs and medieval chants that Ms. Kochan and Mr. Kytasty originally discovered in various written sources, which they have been collecting for years, and brought to life by using the talents of the group to incorporate different cultural influences into a fresh and unique style.
"The essence of the project is for Alexis and myself to find and define these Ukrainian melodies that we want to work with and develop a very open-ended arrangement, so that each of these players can then add something from their own musical world," Mr. Kytasty said.
The Ukrainian American underscored that the other ethnic influences are not simply spice to add to the musical flavor, but important ingredients.
"Martin may throw in a little flash of something that sounds vaguely Celtic, Richard might take off from a Ukrainian dance melody into a jazz viola solo. Nenad may create a beautiful bass line flowing out of a 'shchedrivka,' or a medieval Ukrainian sacred chant," Mr. Kytasty added.
Audiences in all three countries reacted to the non-traditional music enthusiastically. Mr. Kytasty said that most interesting was how some in the audience at the Belgrade concert at the annual Ring-Ring Festival Serbia, who gave nonpareil support for the music, expressed in private some uncertainty as to how crowds in Ukraine would react to the new way in which the ensemble presented Ukrainian traditional music.
Wonderful reception in Ukraine
However, it was an unfounded concern because the group was heartily greeted in Ukraine and avidly supported. Mr. Kytasty said that even a professor of traditional bandura music at Kyiv's Tchaikovsky Conservatory came away impressed.
"I think people got what we were doing right away, from the first note," explained Mr. Kytasty about the series of concerts in Ukraine. "They were like no audiences we had ever played, especially in Chernihiv, where many music students turned out. It was like giving a drink of water to a person stumbling in the desert."
Mr. Kytasty said that while this particular concert tour is now finished, the Paris to Kyiv project will continue.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, June 22, 2003, No. 25, Vol. LXXI
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