Russian choir rocks Radford University

On Sunday, April 7, Radford University students and faculty were treated to a world-class performance by the choir Vita in Canto from Ural State University of Economics in Yekaterinburg, Russia.

The concert was described as a “cultural exchange” in the event program, and is part of a proud tradition at RU. Russian choirs have performed on campus in 1999, 2003 and 2009 (though this was Vita in Canto’s first tour abroad), and choirs from RU have performed in Russia in 2000, 2005 and 2012.

The Americans and Russians come together through music. Graphic by

The Americans and Russians come together through music. Graphic by Kate McHugh.

The concert was a joint performance by RU’s own student choir, led by David Otis Castonguay, and the Russian choir led by Yuly Kopkin. “Yuly has been a friend for many years,” Castonguay said when introducing the group.

The RU choir started with the university men dedicating “When I Hear Her I Have Wings” to “beautiful Russian women” — uttering that phrase in Russian, and causing the ladies of Vita in Canto to applaud and cheer.

The RU chorale sang a piece in Russian as a tribute to the visiting choir, then performed a rousing rendition of “Ain’t No Grave” with Cynthia Flanagan on the piano to introduce the visitors to traditional American spirituals.

RU’s madrigal singers tied things up, ending with the heart-wrenching “Fare Thee Well” composed by James Quitman Mulholland.

Then Vita in Canto took the floor, opening with the uplifting piece “Blessed,” and following with “Kihi Kihi,” a lively piece based on a Maori chant from New Zealand.

Repeatedly, the audience rose to applaud as the Russian choir worked their way through traditional Russian love songs, American religious music and pieces from around the world.

Vita in Canto worked together flawlessly, like a well-oiled musical machine. Some pieces showcased the talents of soloists Ekaterina Liberman, Ekaterina Greene, Eva Shkinder and Yulia Ismagilova, while Stanislav Sitnikov manned the piano. Assistant conductor Olga Malakhova took over for one lively piece, and provided rhythm with a shaker during other pieces.

The choir concluded their set with three U.S. pieces: “God Is Our Refuge,” “How Can I Keep From Singing?” and “Music Down In My Soul.” After bringing the audience to their feet one final time, conductor Kopkin drew thunderous applause by announcing an encore.

Though the music lasted only for an evening, this joint effort by RU and Vita in Canto symbolized something eternal — the ability of music to transcend borders and bring people together from all over the world.

Update: The names of the soloists have been updated after contact with a member of the choir. The previous piece listed the soloists asย Ekaterina Liberman, Ekaterina Smirnova and Yulia Troitzkaya.