London-based Ukrainian composer Natalia Tsupryk wrote her beautifully contemplative choral piece A Quiet Night (Tyhoyi Nochi) in 2022, to mark six months since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. She chats to BFC member Emma Gregg.
For me, becoming a professional musician was almost automatic. I was born in Kyiv, and started playing violin and piano at the age of four or five. My parents are not musicians, but they wanted me to have a musical upbringing. I graduated from one of the best music schools in Ukraine (which doesn’t sound very modest, I realise!) then studied classical violin performance to degree level in Vienna. But I always felt I would prefer writing music to performing.
I got my first real composing gig at 22. It was a play at a big theatre in Kyiv. I am still working with them now. I don’t know how they trusted me with a three-hour play when I’d done literally nothing before!
Ukrainian folk music is most definitely evolving. Sadly, it has been suppressed for many centuries by the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union, so it is only now emerging for both Ukrainians and foreign audiences. It has a great future.
As a string player, I use strings in everything I do. I like to perform the lines I write for different string instruments, experimenting with the sounds they can make. This includes violin, viola and cello.
A Quiet Night was commissioned as a musical expression of solidarity with the people of Ukraine. The talented British choir Sansara invited me to compose it, and I am incredibly grateful to them for all their input. For the lyrics, we used an extract from a poem called The History of Snow by Serhiy Zhadan, a renowned Ukrainian poet:
It is us who sing in the quiet of the night
when the inner town is silent
burying the seeds of our sighs
in the breath of black earth
We also used fragments of a speech by Volodymyr Zelensky in the ‘drone’ part that’s sung in the background.
The war in Ukraine most certainly debilitated me in the beginning. It was challenging to step away from it and make art when more pressing and worrying things were on my mind. After a couple of months, I adapted to the new reality and managed to start using music to talk about the war and beyond. I still struggle with this now, though.
What matters to me is to be able to talk to people with music. I find it gratifying that my music makes people feel certain things, and even helps them. A Quiet Night has been received very well. I’m not sure what I hoped for – or if I hoped for anything at all – but seeing so much interest in it has been wonderful.
Brighton Festival Chorus, conducted by Music Director James Morgan, will perform A Quiet Night by Natalia Tsupryk, at a concert with the London Mozart Players at All Saints Church in Hove at 7.30pm on Saturday 23 November 2023. The programme includes Puccini’s Messa di Gloria and works by four other female composers: Clara Schumann, Kerensa Briggs, Libby Croad and Mia Makaroff. Tickets and further details available here.
Text: Emma Gregg. Photos: instagram.com/zupryknatalia/