(Professor, Choral Director)
On Dec 9th in Hertz Hall on the University of California, Berkeley campus, Marika Kuzma led two concerts that marked her retirement from the university choirs. It was one of many crowning moments in her twenty-five years of teaching in our Department of Music.
The 2014–15 year marked several milestones in her career as a choral director and Slavic Music scholar. Her edition of the Bortniansky Choral Concertos will soon be published by the international publisher Carus Verlag in Germany. Her compact disc of Bortniansky’s music on the prestigious Naxos label won rave reviews and an extensive interview in Fanfare Magazine.
Kuzma and the Music Department choirs enjoyed several triumphs this last year. On the concert stage: in early April, the Chamber Chorus peformed J.S. Bach’s Mass in B minor to two sold out audiences. In late April, the University Chorus and Chamber Chorus performed with the Berkeley Symphony under Joana Carneiro in a concert featuring the Mozart Requiem and choruses from John Adams Death of Klinghoffer with famous composer himself attending rehearsals and the concert. In September, the UC singers joined several choirs for a Beethoven 9th Symphony performance with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra conducted by Gustavo Dudamel that was broadcast internationally. In November, Kuzma conducted West Coast premieres of music by UCB alumnus (and her former assistant) Trevor Weston and the Mendelssohn Lobgesang Symphony-Cantata with the combined choirs, full orchestra, and soloists Jennifer Ashworth (UC alumna), Tonia D’Amelio, and Simon Peterson.
For her final concerts, Professor Kuzma presented a program of all-Ukrainian carols representing diverse traditions and musical styles of her heritage. As she herself wrote in her program notes: “When I was growing up in a Ukrainian-American community in New England, my mother would tell tales of the Christmas season in Ukraine. While she cooked borsht and perohy in our kitchen, she would recite poetry about carolers in the Carpathian mountains, and her eyes would become misty. The poems told of magical carolers and musicians who would weave through snowdrifts going door to door, their carols ringing through the valleys. My mom also recounted stories of celebrations in her home city of Lviv in Western Ukraine. On the eve of Epiphany, she would sit with her father in his office overlooking the city’s main market square. They would look out and listen to church bells pealing and watch all of the region’s choirs gather to thunder out songs well past midnight.”
Kuzma wanted these concerts to recreate the magic of that culture and that moment. “After a time when Ukraine’s town squares were marked by dramatic protest and violence, during a time of strife in the ‘border’ regions of Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, these concerts affirm and celebrate a people united in song and good will.”
The UC choirs sang liturgical pieces, arrangements of folk carols by the composer-ethnographers, and newly-composed carols by contemporary composers currently living in Ukraine. The concerts also included very special guest artists: True Life Trio (a Berkeley based women’s ensemble), world-renowned bandurist Julian Kytasty, “Koliadnyky” from the village of Kryvorivnia and Verkhovyno in the Carpathian Mountains, and projections by the photographer-videographer Volodymyr Kliuzko.
The Berkeley concerts ended with Kuzma’s Chamber Chorus singing in Ukrainian the words “Let our song resound: a song of peace, joy, and good fortune.” The final chords, with both choirs surrounding the full house, rang out “Z novym rokom vas!” “Happy New Year!”
The concerts were enthusiastically received by audiences totaling over a thousand people and were met with immediate standing ovations by the campus community who came both to hear the rich, unusual program and to bid Marika Kuzma farewell as the director of choirs at Cal.
The concerts were poignant and bittersweet for Ms. Kuzma in many ways. “The inspiration for this concert came from my mother’s memoirs. As it happens, Oksana Kuzma passed away just over a month ago: the woman whose voice I heard singing in church and who sang to me when I was a child. I feel blessed to have her memory and fortunate to share this music with the students and the Bay Area community.”