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The Fourth Pan-European Orthodox Liturgical Music Conference

"S.V. Rachmaninoff and Sacred Music"
(to the 150th anniversary of the composer)

Conf 2023

The Fourth Pan-European Russian Orthodox Liturgical Music Conference took place from January 26 to 29, 2023. This time we managed to organise the Conference in person in London at the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God and the Holy Royal Martyrs after a two-year period of holding online events.

This time it was vital to hold the event in person as after a period of online activities the interest to this work started to decrease. One of the most significant disadvantages of online meetings in the sphere of liturgical music is the lack of conducting rehearsals and various singing activities. Despite our continuous efforts during last years (online conferences, series of webinars and even a preparatory course of a liturgical school) this live event in London proved the necessity of the continuation of this work across the European continent, especially after a difficult period across the globe.

The topic of the Fourth Conference was «S.V. Rachmaninoff and Sacred Music» and was dedicated to the 150 th anniversary of the great composer, which is celebrated this year. The participants joined together in a choir to sing two hierarchical services over the weekend (Vigil and Liturgy), under the direction of highly qualified conductors. Participants listened to the interesting speeches, discussed common problems, and sang some of Rachmaninoff’s works. In addition to this, at roundtables participants talked about problems related to maintaining the traditions of singing in Orthodoxy, as well as the importance of the role of the choir conductor. Preparatory general rehearsals served not only to expand participants' repertoire but to impart useful practical knowledge. The event was open to all choir directors, singers, readers, and all people interested in Russian Orthodox liturgical music.

The majority of people were able to take part in all four days. However there was a small number of people who joined only for three or two days, or for particular sessions. All total the event drew more than 35 participants. Despite the main working language of the conference being Russian, we offered a synchronous translation to English over the course of four days, so that non-Russian speakers could also benefit from this event. Participants who benefited from the translation expressed their appreciation; their attendance showed that music and church singing education is in high demand across all Orthodox communities in Europe. Participants came from the UK, Germany, France, USA, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland.

The following lectures were delivered:
o «S.V. Rachmaninoff: Life outside of Russia» (E. Ledkovskaya);
o «The Divine Liturgy: A Choristers’ Guide» (V. Gan);
o «Tradition and Custom in Church Singing» (Fr. Ioann Drobot);
o «Semiotics and Semantics of S.V. Rachmaninov’s Works» (A. Shipovalnikov);
o «S.V. Rachmaninoff and F.I. Chaliapin as "Icons"; of the Russian Orthodox Diasporas: to the 150th Anniversary of the Great Musicians» (Dr. S. Zvereva).

Several workshops and roundtable discussions were organised:
o Roundtable #1 «The Emigre Liturgical Music Tradition: 21st Century Challenges» (mode
M. Malinine, I. du Quenoy);

o Roundtable #2 «Choir Conductor’s Role in the Service» (moderators: P. Fekula);

o Workshop «Theory and Practice of Reading in the Church» (Fr. Ioann Drobot);

o Workshop «Interpretation of a Sacred Piece of Music» (moderators: P. Fekula, A. Shipovalnikov).

The Conference also featured a Masterclass on Conducting (by P. Fekula) and two
Workshops on Vocal Techniques (by O. Tereshchenko). All these activities raised huge interest and provoked peaceful and fruitful debates about the possibility of further collaboration across Europe to strengthen the liturgical music tradition.

Outcome of the event:
This Conference turned out to be again an extremely important event, both in terms of improving church singing in European parishes and in the field of strengthening spiritual ties between singers / choir conductors. On top of that it was vital to provide people with the opportunity to gather together after a period of uncertainty and to provide a chance to work, to sing, to share their concerns, and to improve their skill levels.

Our work remains critical to the flourishing and even survival of church music life in ROCOR’s European parishes, and as such the Committee is committed to continuing and expanding its work. Our next major project includes launching a school of liturgical music in Europe, which we are planning to organise in Germany this summer for the first time. We fully expect that some of those who attended the Conference in London will attend the school as students.

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