The memorable moments of the World Youth Choir 2018 session
Article by Tanja Rupnik | Translated by Nina Kompare | Photos by Luca Móczárk
Excellence and dedication of the World Youth Choir 2018
from 33 countries
and 5 continents
with 12 concerts
in 14 days.
Building bridges between people, nations, cities and countries
The World Youth Choir, one of the very finest young international choirs, concluded this year's three-week session right here in Ljubljana (two days earlier the singers had a concert as well in Koper as part of the Symphonic Voices cycle) and within its nearly 30-years existence appeared in front of the Slovene audience already for the third time, following the years of 1999 and 2003. On Sunday, July 23rd, 58 singers from 33 countries and 5 continents – »the chain of love«, as Gabor Móczár, the president of Europa Cantat called the singers in his introductory speech – rounded off another highly successful story of this exceptional international project.
»Artists for Peace«, directed by the world's most distinguished conductors
In addition to the World Youth Choir being an outstanding educational and social experience at the highest artistic level, its aim is of even more meaningful and globally relevant nature – raising new generations of »Global Citizens«. Ever since its creation in 1989, when the choir was for the first time conducted by the renowned Eric Ericson and Stefan Sköld from Sweden, the WYC unites talented young singers between the ages of 17 and 26, who with their concert tours embody their unique mission of equality, global unity and living in harmony. In 1996 UNESCO honoured the World Youth Choir with the name »Artists for peace«. »The theme of love and peace that the young artists carry with themselves as a legacy, is a true ray of hope and an important social example within our restless world of today. I have experienced the dedication and the unity of tens of choir singers, when I was a member of the World Youth Choir myself. It seems that no social – political circumstances, however difficult they are, cannot destroy this powerful, magical feeling that ovrwhelms the singers of the World Youth Choir. The only changing thing is the quality of the group, which is higher and higher every year.«, Kenyan conductor Ken Wakia summarizes his experience as the WYC singer.
35 organized international tours, more than 1000 singers from 65 countries and 46 world renowned conductors evidence the magnitude of the project, created by Jeunesses Musical International (JMI), International Federation for Choral Music (IFCM) and European Choral Association (ECA) Europa Cantat. The choir, besides participating at special events such as appearances at the Olympic Games (Barcelona 1992 and Hong Kong 2008) or the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony (Norway 2011), regularly meets in the summer (in the years 1998 – 2008 also in the winter), in different regions of the world (with a break between 2013 – 2016 due to the organizer's financial difficulties), and is conducted by either the most distinguished conductors of the world or international rising conducting stars.
Among these are the session 2017 conductors, Zoltán Pad (Hungary) and Ken Wakia (Kenya).
Zoltán Pad, the chief conductor of the Hungarian Radio Choir since 2014, had concerts with all the professional mixed choirs in Hungary and is a regular guest at professional choirs in Europe. He is associate professor at the Lizst Academy's Kodály Institute, where he is teaching choral conducting and choir literature. As choir master he worked with Sir Simon Rattle and The Berliner Philharmoniker, with Daniel Harding, Péter Eötvös and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Between 2009 and 2014 he was chief conductor of Kodály Choir Debrecen.
A World Youth Choir alumnus, Ken Wakia studied choral conducting with Dr. Jo-Michael Scheibe at the University of Miami in Florida, U.S.A., as a Fulbright Scholar. Since his return from the U.S.A. in 2005, he has conducted choirs in Kenya, the US and Europe, including Europa Cantat Junior Choir in Estonia. Ken is a familiar figure on the Kenyan and international music scene as an educator, singer and conductor and besides his active musicak life, he currently promotes local and international culture as the Cultural and Educational Affairs Specialist for the U.S. Embassy, Nairobi. He is the founder and conductor of the internationally acclaimed Nairobi Chamber Chorus and is also the founding director of the Safaricom Choir.
The Hungarian conductor Zoltán Pad and the Kenyan conductor Ken Wakia
The 2017 tour focused on the South Eastern Europe
Following a 9-day intensive rehearsal period in Pécs, Hungary, the World Youth Choir went on a tour of Central and South-Eastern Europe, with concerts in Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia. In this respect the project is the continuation of the successful regional cooperation, established by the Europa Cantat XIX International Choir Festival in Pécs in 2015 and directs a lot of its efforts towards geopolitical and cultural bridge-building in the region.
David McCune, a Canadian singer, was particularly impressed with this year's WYC session: I participated in the World Youth Choir in Germany last year for the first time, when the project involved fewer singers and only 6 concerts. In this sense this year's session definitely surpassed my expectations: bigger choir and 12 concerts in 14 days, and the music programme is, in one word, exceptional! I must admit, I'm rather tired, although the singers constantly feed on each other's energy. To be honest, it couldn't really be any different, we're not too fond of sleeping, except on long bus trips and during the wait at the borders. We would rather take the time for socializing and flirting – there's lots of energy and interest (laughs). Definitely intensity in all respects.«
The choir, besides participating at special events such as appearances at the Olympic Games or the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony, regularly meets in the summer, in different regions of the world.
WYC – »the dream of every conductor«
The young singers, selected in an international audition, presented a colourful concert programme, with works of the romantic period and contemporary pieces of diverse national musical characters – German, Hungarian, Serbian, Slovene, African and Afro-American. For the first half of the evening Zoltán Pad had chosen the classical works by composers of the hosting countries, counterpointing the more complex contemporary harmonies with two well known Romantic pieces by Mendelssohn: eight-part lyric motets Mitten wir in Leben sind and Denn er hat seiner Engel, composed in the style of the Venetian School.
The two pieces by Hungarian composers Zoltán Kodály and György Orbán (the latter has Transilvanian roots) have taken the audience into the unique world of the Hungarian musical tradition, intertwined with the modern composing trends. Kodály's almost 12-minute Mátrai Képek (Mátra Pictures), based on Hungarian folk songs, and the audacity of Orbán's motet Cor mundum (A Pure Heart) filled the packed Slovene Philharmonic Hall with sounds of the past and the present, integrated in their unique musical styles.
Sancta trinitas (Holy Trinity), a prayer from the cycle Four Sacred Pieces, by the Slovene composer Nana Forte, and Vospojte (Sing), a piece of Serbian orthodox Liturgy, by Marko Tajčević, revealed the remarkable vocal and interpretative capacities of this year's WYC singers – from the ethereal sense and stunning intonation in Nana Forte's chord planes to musical virtuosity and the rich dynamic range in the Serbian melody – and won an overwhelming acclaim from the fascinated audience.
Zoltán Pad, being used to working with professional singers every day, could not confine his excitement about such an experience: »Conducting the World Youth Choir is the dream of every conductor, as it represents the fantastic combination of creativity and musicality, professioanalism and friendship… The singers in their prime singing years were standing opposite of me, and working with them has been absolutely amazing. I must admit, I haven't slept very well for a few nights in a row now, but I am going home with my batteries fully charged, filled with this wonderful musical experience and enriched by people's dedication – a combination that enables the very highest level of artistic creativity. Every single moment is unique and therefore emotionally very intense.«
»Conducting the World Youth Choir is the dream of every conductor, as it represents the fantastic combination between creativity and musicality, professioanalism and friendship…« (Zoltán Pad)
From the demanding choir repertoire to the light choral pieces
A special part of the event, before the second half of every concert, is the introduction of the singers from individual countries either through a musical entry, which expresses their own cultural identity, or with a simple wave or a bow. We met the two Slovene representatives, Tjaša Fajdiga, alto, and Aljaž Bastič, tenor, accompanied by the thought by Gábor Móczár, the head of the organization board, that the WYC is not the same without the Slovene singers.
The second half of the concert exhibited the singers' youthful openness and sincerity, leading them as a golden thread to the very last chord. Under the direction of the World Youth Choir alumnus Ken Wakia, the African songs with the accompaniment of the African drum and rattle, the a capella spirituals and the arrangements of contemporary popular songs were all exuding a message of love and peace and a true essence of the carefully selected singing group. Praises and worship songs like Wana Baraka (arr. by Shawn Kirchner), Kokoliko, Indodana (arr. by Michael Barrett and Ralf Schmitt), Wade in the Water (arr. by Allen Koepke) and Rockin' Jerusalem (arr. by Stacey V. Gibbs) were crescendoing the intensity of the second part of the concert right to the rendition of Cohen's Hallelujah (arr. By Evan Powers) with three soloists (Aljaž Bastič, Shih-Hao Ali and Elias Aaron Johansson).
By tradition, the final WYC concert is animated with subtle, well thought out performance variations, barely noticable to the audience. The singers like to play harmless jokes on the conductors by unexpectedly changing the text, shortening a phrase, skiping bars or adding special sound effects, which sometimes surpass the imagination even of the composer himself. Unfortunately, due to radio recording demands, we could not be a part of such playfulness at the concert in Ljubljana, but the audience of the previous evening in Opatija had the pleasure of the singers' humorous and spontaneous interventions. »During last night's concert the singers sprang several surprises on me, but, having myself been a member of the WYC in the past, I suspected that something was up (laughs). There were quite a few very creative ideas in my part of the programme: in Kokoliko, depicting the biblical story of Peter's denial of Jesus, the rooster didn't crow three times, but only once, the second time a cow mooed and the third time a sheep bleated… (laughs). In Wade in the Water the text suddenly changed to »wait at the border«. The truth is, we have crossed quite a few borders in the last few days.«, Ken Wakia, with amusement, described his impressions of the Opatija concert.
»The theme of love and peace, that the young artists carry with themselves as a legacy, is a true ray of hope and an important social example within our restless world of today.« (Ken Wakia)
The singers and the audience moved to tears
The prominent event, technically and musically realized to perfection, came to an end after nearly three hours of stage adventure. The singers made a circle and »embraced« the audience while singing Ukuthula, a Zulu prayer for peace, with tears streaming their eyes. It was a thank you to the audience and a goodbye to almost a month long unforgettable adventure. The feelings that overwhelmed the singers as much as the audience were emanating with the genuineness and intensity of such an experience. The World Youth Choir, with its impressive charge, propels a singer high above the clouds, so saying goodbye to the closest of friends and going back to the reality of every day is so much more emotional.
This is how Charlotte Botha, a soprano from South Africa, described her repeated participation at international choir tours: »Oh, this World Youth Choir bubble… Here we all live as in a bottled dream (laughs). After a few years' break, I joined the choir again this year as the soprano section leader, taking on a few organization tasks, so I took to the project in a slightly different, more mature way. I didn't get lost in the beginner's excitemet, typical of the World Youth Choir. At tonight's farewell party, I expect to be voted »mamma of the choir« by the singers (laughs). This very successful tour will definitely stay in my mind also because of the homorous concert in Opatija, when we swapped the double choir parts. Zoltán was forced to conduct the whole piece in a mirror fashion (laughs). I will also never forget turning into a vegetarian – one cannot have chicken every single day. On a more serious note: singing with a cool head and a warm heart! This is the theme of this singing summer.«
The fine young singers, selected in an international audition, presented a colourful concert programme, with works of the romantic period and contemporary pieces of diverse national musical characters (German, Hungarian, Serbian, Slovenian), African songs, spirituals and popular song arrangements.