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Valentin Silvestrov

Valentin Silvestrov (born in Kiev in 1937) found his way into music relatively late on, around the age of 15. Self-taught at first, he would eventually study composition and counterpoint at his hometown's conservatoire from 1958 to 1964. Silverstrov is one of the main representatives of the Ukrainian avant-garde, which crystallised in the 1960s under a hail of sharp criticism from the ultra-conservative Soviet musical establishment. In the 60s and 70s, his music was hardly heard at all at Kiev, but it was played a little in other Soviet towns – in Russia – and later, even in the West. It was in 1967, at the age of 30, that he won the Koussevitzky Prize, for his symphony in particular. In 1970, he received an honorary title from the city of Utrecht - at the prestigious Gaudeamus festival - for his Hymn for six orchestral groups. Despite his acclaim "in the West", the composer was not permitted to leave the Soviet dictatorship and his music received no official recognition in his own country, to the point of sometimes even being banned. The enthusiastic support of several artists meant that some of his works could be performed, at least from time to time.

The situation would change radically at the start of the 1980s, when thanks to a relaxation of the regime,  the composer's international recognition finally helped him emerge from obscurity. In 1985 the first performances of Postludium for piano and orchestra and in 1988 the symphony for baritone and orchestral Exegi monumentum took place in the USA, as did a concert for the composer's 50th birthday in New York. Silverstrov became a visiting composer at the Almeida Music Festival in London, Gidon Kremer's Festival Lockenhaus in Austria, and at various festivals in Denmark, Finland and Holland. Later, he would become composer-in-residence in Hungary, Poland, Austria, Switzerland, Holland and at the prestigious Weimar Staatskapelle in Germany in 2017/18.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Silvestrov saw his national and international fame increase: he was feted at Moscow's Music Alternativa Festival and then at the "Sofia Gubaidulina And Her Friends" festival in St Petersburg in 1994, and then a year later again at Moscow alongside Sofia Gubaidulina and Arvo Pärt. A music festival was held in Kiev for his sixtieth birthday. Throughout the 1990s, his music was performed in many European concert halls, but also in Japan and the USA. From 1998-1999, he lived in Berlin, where three of his major works were premièred:   Metamusic (1993), Dedication for violin and orchestra (1993), and Symphony no 6 (2002). For his 80th birthday in 2017, many concerts were organised across North America, Europe, Russia, Ukraine and Japan: Gidon Kremer will perform Dedication, Vladimir Jurowski will conduct Symphony no 3, Roman Kofman the Symphonies nos 5 and 7, John Storgårds Symphony no 8. His violin concerto will premier at Weimar in January 2018.

Both in his early avant-garde period and after his stylistic turn in the 1970s, Silvestrov has always maintained his independence. In recent decades he has dispensed with the conventional compositional devices of the avant-garde and discovered a style akin to post-modernism. The name he has given to this style is metamusic, or metaphorical music.

His more recent works show an affinity with the fin-de-siècle, especially Gustav Mahler, with whom Silvestrov is frequently compared.  Silvestrov believes that melody is an important precondition for the survival of Music – a view that reveals the lyric basis of his art regardless of the period in his career, and which can also be seen in his vocal music, which plays a special role in his musical output: he has composed many song cycles, large and small.

Since 2001/02, Silverstrov has been working with smaller forms, in an attempt at reaching "purity". He has composed several cycles (Families, Colonies) for various small ensembles, in particular 260 cycles for piano: waltzes, lullabies, postludes, nocturnes, barcaroles, pastorals, serenades, etc. He calls the short pieces "bagatelles", in which he wishes to capture the "melodic moment". Since 2005, and after a fairly long break, Silverstrov has applied himself more and more to choral music, in particular the spiritual, even if it is not intended for votive use in the proper sense. During the political unrest in the Ukraine Silvestrov fought for his country with 'musical means', composing numerous choral works, 'Majdan Hymns' (Maidan Nezalezhnosti being the Ukrainian name for Kiev's Independence Square), and 'Prayers for the Ukraine'.

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