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Divide. Five acts about Khovanshchina

20 Dec 2023
Age restrictions

The Refitting Old Ships programme concludes with the world premiere of a new work by Anton Svetlichny commissioned and written especially for GES-2 House of Culture.



Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1881)
“Dawn on the Moscow River” (introduction to the opera Khovanshchina, 1880)
Сhamber ensemble version by Anton Svetlichny (2023)

Anton Svetlichny (b. 1982)
Divide. Five Acts on Khovanshchina
(2023, world premiere)
Commissioned by GES-2 House of Culture

In Divide, Svetlichny conducts a dialogue with the music of Modest Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina. This work, based on historical events of the late seventeenth century, the battle of the old and the new on the eve of Peter the Great’s reforms, is one of the most important masterpieces in the Russian operatic canon.

Performed by

Moscow Contemporary Music Ensemble | MCME

Fyodor Lednev conductor

Illustration: Masha Bazilevskaya

Svetlichny’s score is not so much a remake as it is an exercise in free recomposition that draws on the “composed interpretation” developed by the German composer Hans Zender (1936–2019). Zender’s method was based on paradoxical switches between different and often mutually exclusive means of treating a primary source—from careful preservation to total disassembly. The five parts of Svetlichny’s forty-minute Divide reproduce, on reduced scale, the proportions of the five acts of Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina—in the same way that Louis Andriessen composed De Stijl (1994) inspired by Piet Mondrian’s painting Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow (1930). Svetlichny organically fits Mussorgsky’s unorthodox harmonic and orchestral discoveries into new musical contexts, and the dramaturgy of the piece, situating, as Mussorgsky’s programme theorised, the “past in the future,” is closely and variously tied to the subsequent history of Russia.

The secondary title of Svetlichny’s work references several sources—Vladimir Rannev’s opera Two Acts (2014), and Five Moral Essays (1997) by Umberto Eco and Musorgsky: Eight Essays and an Epilogue (1993) by Richard Taruskin. In Divide, modern performing and composing techniques are combined with jazz practices, a deciphering of Konstantin Saradzhev’s symphonies for the bells of the Moscow Kremlin, and references to the soundtrack to Sergey Eisenstein’s film Ivan the Terrible (1944). The starting point for Svetlichny’s conception of Khovanshchina was a production of Mussorgsky’s opera staged at the Bavarian Opera in 2007 by Dmitry Chernyakov, to whom the author figuratively dedicates the score of Divide.

Anton Svetlichny (Rostov-on-Don, 1982) is a composer and pianist. He graduated with a degree in composition from the Rostov State Conservatory. He was a winner of the Saint Petersburg based Pythian games composing competition (2007). He is a member of the Resistance of Material group of composers and co-founder of the InEnsemble contemporary music ensemble.

Fyodor Lednev (b. 1971, Minsk) is a conductor. He graduated from the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, specialising in choir conducting (1995) and opera and symphonic conducting (1998). Since 1995, he has taught at the Rimsky-Korsakov Musical College in Saint Petersburg. As a guest conductor, Lednev has worked with the leading orchestras of Russia, including the Svetlanov State Orchestra of Russia, the Russian National Orchestra, the academic symphony orchestra of the Saint Petersburg Philharmonia, the musicAeterna choir and orchestra. Since 2019, Lednev has been the conductor of musicAeterna.

The Moscow Contemporary Music Ensemble (MCME) was founded in 1990 by the composer Yuri Kasparov alongside the leader of the Russian avant-garde Edison Denisov. MCME was the first Russian ensemble aimed at promoting twentieth and twenty-first century music and supporting contemporary composers. Since its founding, MCME has performed more than 1000 premieres.

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