ListN Up: Lidiya Yankovskaya (April 1, 2022)

ListN Up is a weekly series of artist-curated playlists that offer an intimate sonic portrait of contemporary artists by showcasing the diverse and stylistically varied music that influences their creative practice. 

Russian-American conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya is a fiercely committed advocate for Russian masterpieces, operatic rarities, and contemporary works on the leading edge of classical music. She has conducted more than 40 world premieres, including 16 operas, and her strength as a visionary collaborator has guided new perspectives on staged and symphonic repertoire from Carmen and Queen of Spades to Price and Prokofiev. Her daring performances before and amid the pandemic earned recognition from the Chicago Tribune, which praised her as “the very model of how to survive adversity, and also how to thrive in it,” while naming her 2020 Chicagoan of the Year.

In a world that’s progressively more divided and more polarized, we need music more than ever before. One of the things I’ve been considering a lot lately is how music can foster dialogue – by telling stories, by transporting us into a different place, a different culture, a different sense of time, a different point in history. All of the selections that I chose for today’s playlist are selections that relate to storytelling or conveying some great idea. Perhaps ideas are stories that are too hard to put into words. Words have limitations, words have biases, words limit us in the way in which we can be transported into that story. In this music, some of the music includes words, but the music itself makes us go into somebody else’s skin or somebody else’s shoes – or perhaps makes us reconsider something that we think we understand. I hope that you will enjoy all of these works as much as I do. All of them are by composers whom I love dearly and admire. Many of these are pieces I have worked on in the past few years. All of them are works that move me greatly every time I hear or perform them.

Terra Nostra by Stacy Garrop, performed by Sarah Gartshore, Betany Coffland, Steven Soph, David Govertson, and the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra (Internationale (1989 Edition), conductor)

An oratorio for our time. An epic ode to humanity and to nature.

“Catchin’ Snakes at Burkett’s Creek” from Taking Up Serpents by Kamala Sankaram and Jerre Dye, performed by Chicago Opera Theater (Lidiya Yankovskaya, conductor)

An opera that travels to Appalachia and digs into the real America, exploring religion, family, and faith. The story is both exceptionally specific and entirely universal. The music, while living in a distinct and contemporary context, transports us to Appalachia through shape-note singing and a twangy electric guitar.

“Internationale (1989 Edition)” from An Atlas of Time by Wang Lu, performed by Boston Modern Orchestra Project (Gil Rose, conductor)

An exploration of sound, time, and place. A musical story of a life spanning two sides of the globe.

Samaagam by Amjad Ali Khan, performed by the Refugee Orchestra Project (Lidiya Yankovskaya, conductor)

An incredible combination of European and Indian classical music — a rare instance whereby two cultures are brought together in a way that fully celebrates both traditions and the endless possibilities of uniting and communicating through music.

“Cave of Wonders” from The Life and Death(s) of Alan Turing by Justine F. Chen and David Simpatico, performed by Jonathan MichieJonas Hacker, and the Orchestra of Chicago Opera Theater (Lidiya Yankovskaya, conductor)

The opera explores society’s cruel and petty destruction of one of the greatest minds in history. Here, Turing is young, in love, and full of intricate ideas and hope for the future.

“Ford’s Farm, 1896” from Alternative Energy by Mason Bates, performed by the San Francisco Symphony (Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor)

Where has technology brought us, and where will it bring us next? Incorporating electronics and found car parts, we travel from the creation of the first Model T to a future planet Earth, completely transformed by climate change.

Two Black Churches by Shawn Okpebholo, performed by Will Liverman and Paul Sanchez

One of the most powerful art songs I’ve heard in recent years. Sung exquisitely by Will Liverman.

“Death to Moby-Dick” from Moby-Dick by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer, performed by Chicago Opera Theater (Lidiya Yankovskaya, conductor)

One of the greatest operatic masterpieces, by two of the greatest operatic creators of all time.

“Leonie’s Aria” from Freedom Ride by Dan Shore, performed by Whitney Morrison and Josh Quinn

Soprano Whitney Morrison slays this performance. The opera is full of show-stopping arias that explore the endless bravery of the young people who stood up against Jim Crow, despite the terrible costs.

Concerto Grosso by Errollyn Wallen, performed by the Chineke! Orchestra

Errollyn Wallen is someone who tells stories through so much of her music — uniting traditional forms with opera, theater, and cross-disciplinary art. Interestingly, this is one of her rare works that is not directly imbedded in storytelling, and yet it still brings us on an emotional journey — isn’t that what a story is all about?


I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, funded with generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF. 

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