‘Magnetic South’ series showcases new music

Yurko Dyachyshyn Myroslav Skoryk is Ukraine's most prominent composer. His music will be featured at the upcoming Magnetic South concert.

Playing new music can be risky. If it’s never been recorded, if the player has no opportunity to hear it in advance, if it’s written in a challenging style, if the melodies and harmonies are unfamiliar, then there’s a degree of uncertainty involved.

“That’s the beauty of new music,” says Yiorgos Vassilandonakis, a professor of music theory and composition at the College of Charleston. “There’s an element of danger.”

There is also an element of conspiratorial newness, he added. Musicians and listeners both get to experience something that will happen only once, a creative moment in time that never can be replicated.

There is nothing familiar to anticipate, yet once the sound issues forth, it becomes known. It’s this excitement of the new that Vassilandonakis, fellow composer Edward Hart and local musicians hope to convey with the Magnetic South series, now in its second year.

A joint effort of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra and the College of Charleston School of the Arts, Magnetic South is a showcase for contemporary classical music.

The 8 p.m. concert planned for Friday in the college’s Simons Center Recital Hall will offer music by living composers: “Dessau Dances” by Gordon “Dick” Goodwin (Hart’s teacher); “Four Songs on Poems by Seamus Heaney” by Louis Karchin (and featuring local singer Deanna McBroom); and three pieces for strings by famed Ukrainian composer Myroslav Skoryk, who will attend the concert.

The musicians will learn this difficult music quickly, Vassilandonakis said. As the conductor, he develops a picture of what he wants in his mind, then explains to the players where their parts fit into the texture, he said. “Some musicians are comfortable being uncomfortable,” he said. “Others not so much.”

New music can seem intimidating, but experienced listeners often are receptive to contemporary, cutting-edge sounds, Vassilandonakis said, “because they already have experienced lots of change.”

Hart noted that people with pop and jazz preferences also can be open-minded about new classical music. “They don’t necessarily know what Schubert should sound like, so the new stuff is welcomed,” he said.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, most concert music was new to listeners, Hart said. Familiar pieces were the exception to the rule. Beethoven would be shocked by today’s not-so-inventive programming, he said.

Skoryk, 75, is sure to be the star of the show, both men said.

Skoryk was born in Lviv, Ukraine, during the reign of Stalin. He and his family were deported to Siberia in 1947 because of their intellectual leanings.

Eight years later, he returned to Ukraine and enrolled at Lviv Conservatory. In the early 1960s, he attended the Moscow Conservatory and studied with the celebrated Dmitri Kabalevsky. After his schooling, he became a prominent teacher, composer and public figure.

His music is informed by folk traditions, according to cellist Natalia Khoma and pianist Volodymyr Vynnytsky, a musical couple who teach at the College of Charleston and hail from Skoryk’s same hometown of Lviv. The three musicians have known each other for many years.

Khoma said Skoryk is one of the most popular and important Ukrainian composers of all time. His music is accessible and imbued with lots of feeling, she said. He has written all kinds of music, including jazz, opera and many film scores. His most famous piece is called, simply, “Melody.”

On a recent trip to Ukraine with Hart, whose violin concerto was to be performed there, the Charleston contingent encountered a street busker.

“We came to the student, and asked, ‘Can you play some Skoryk?’ She played right away his ‘Melody.’ ”

Hart said he was amazed. Khoma said this instant familiarity was common throughout her country.

Vynnytsky said the connection to folk music is essential and inevitable, but that it’s expressed differently by each composer.

“It’s important to have this connection to something (culturally) deep,” Vynnytsky said. “If you pronounce very clearly who you are, it’s very easy to understand by other people in the world.”

The Ukraine-Charleston link is strengthening, he said.

Skoryk now is friends with Hart and Vassilandonakis, whose music is well-received by audiences in Ukraine. And now a Charleston audience will have a chance to hear Skoryk.

Vynnytsky himself just performed with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra on Friday and Saturday, offering Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

He will play a Viennese program with Khoma and violinist Nazar Pylatyuk at 7 p.m. March 21 at the Charleston Library Society.

The three musicians will offer the program “From Chaconne to Meditango” at 8 p.m. March 30 in the Simons Center Recital Hall. The recital is part of the Charleston Music Fest, which is co-directed by Khoma.