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Choir Gives Voice to Lost Tradition

Music * The Chorovaya Akademia, which will sing Sunday in Costa Mesa, revives Russian liturgies.


Alexander Sedov had to wait for the fall of communism to realize his long-held dream of creating a choir devoted to Russian religious music.

"During the Soviet era, it was impossible to do liturgical music in this way," said Sedov, founder of the acclaimed men's a cappella choir Chorovaya Akademia. "As soon as the opportunity arose, in 1989, I fulfilled my dream."

The choir--whose members are professional musicians and mostly graduates of Moscow or St. Petersburg conservatories--comes to the Orange County Performing Arts Center's Founders Hall on Sunday.

"Of course, the group that the audience will hear in [Costa Mesa] and elsewhere didn't happen all at once," Sedov said in a telephone interview from Lincoln, Neb., one of the stops on the choir's 31-city tour of the United States.

"In the beginning there were many auditions, and I was very strict about choosing the right people. Today's group of 16 singers have been working with me for six years."

Chorovaya Akademia is Russian for Singing Academy. Sedov chose the name to honor a famous men's chorus associated with the Moscow Synodal School, a choral academy that later merged with the Moscow Conservatory.

Composers associated with that group or the school included Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. Rachmaninoff will be represented on the Sunday program by selections from his 1910 "Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom."

"Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff never intended their [religious] music to be performed as part of a church service," Sedov said. "The Rachmaninoff Liturgy was created exclusively for concerts. He conducted the premiere. The Synodal Chorus and the opera chorus of the Maryinsky Theater performed it. It was a wonderful celebration."

Sedov has done a little trimming, however.

"The full liturgy goes on for an hour and 20 minutes, and so what you hear is my concert version, made up only of certain portions of it."

The choir will sing it dressed in the formal kaftan of the Moscow Synodal Choir. They will change to tuxedos for the second half of the concert, which includes secular music by composers from the Moscow school who also did work with the synodal chorus or school.

"The second part is very joyous," Sedov said. "We can never have enough joy."

Indeed, giving pleasure and joy are critical today in Russia, where economic and social conditions are grim.

"In Russia today, some people do very well and some not very well," Sedov said. "We can say, 'We live not bad.' We have a lot of concerts. We have a wonderful rehearsal space, which the Moscow Society of Musicians has given us. We work under the auspices of the [Moscow] Philharmonic. So the space for creativity is unlimited."

Born into a musical family in 1961, Sedov studied at the Moscow Conservatory. His choral group performs throughout Russia and Europe and won first prize at the Black Madonna International Festival of Religious Music in Poland in 1991. The group made its American debut in 1993 and returned in 1995, the year it released a best-selling "Ancient Echoes" album for RCA Victor Red Seal.

"There is enormous interest in what we do," Sedov said. "Choral singing is traditional in Russia. Russia has always in the past and will continue to give birth to great voices. And since these people with these great voices sing from childhood, they sing with their entire souls.

"For them, to sing is to breathe. So this makes an incredible impression on the audience."

* Alexander Sedov will conduct his Chorovaya Akademia in music by Rachmaninoff and other Russian and European composers on Sunday at 4 p.m. in Founders Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. $32. (714) 556-2787.

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