Illustration – Photo: wikipedia

Premieres by Saint Ephraim Male Choir at Mass, free concert

Saint Ephraim Male Choir is celebrating its 20th birthday this year and will premiere two new works when it participates in the evening Mass at St. Teresa of Ávila Parish Church in Budapest’s District VI on February 19 at 6.30pm, then follows the service with a free concert.

The new compositions have been written especially for the choir by György Miklós Fehér, whose works have been sung by the choir for more than 10 years. He has composed the four-part Mass for men and organ, with the organ to be played by Anastasia Bednarik. Following this, Fehér’s “Requiem” will be performed.

The composer was born in Budapest in 1951. He studied piano, oboe and composition at the Bartók Conservatory in Miskolc from 1956 to 1971, then in Budapest and later again in Miskolc, and finally in 1976 at the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music where he received his diploma in composition.

Hungary’s most popular chamber vocal ensemble was established in 2002 by singer and conductor Tamás Bubnó, Hungarian Artist of Merit and Liszt Award laureate. He undertook doctoral research into the origin of Greek Catholic melodies in Hungary and the Carpathian area. The choir’s name comes from Saint Ephrem the Syrian (306-373 AD), who was a celebrated hymn composer, aptly nicknamed “harp of the Holy Spirit’ by his contemporaries.

The choir is the only professional Byzantine musical ensemble in Hungary. It is comprised of members from various Greek Catholic choirs working in Budapest (the Rózsák Square Greek Catholic Choir, the Csepel St Ephraim Chorus), as well as professional singers who love Byzantine liturgical music in an authentic manner.

They consider the establishment of intercultural dialogue to be a kind of peace-building role between the East and the West, but at the same time they put great emphasis on the playing of new compositions of European contemporary music and the nurturing of the Hungarian male tradition (Liszt, Bartók, Kodály).

From the very beginning, the promotion of Hungarian contemporary classical music and the presentation of new works have been of paramount importance for the vocal formation, which is unique in Hungary. Several contemporary masters, among them László Sáry, Barnabás Dukay, Miklós Mohay, Péter Zombola, Péter Tornyai and Boldizsár Csiky, have composed works for the ensemble.

In May 2003 the choir was invited to the Polish Hajnówka orthodox music festival – the first choir from Hungary to be asked – and, to their own surprise, took the second prize competing against the Slavic, Baltic and Balkan choirs who are far more steeped in this great tradition. The choir regularly participates in Greek Catholic liturgies and is a resident performer at the programmes of the National Ruthenian Minority Government.

They have been invited to many important Hungarian festivals (Valley of Arts, Zemplén Festival, Óbuda Summer Festival, Mother of the Hungarians Church Music Festival) as well as to Poland, Macedonia, Romania and Ukraine. In May 2005, the choir gave concerts in St Petersburg and Moscow as part of the Russian Hungarian Cultural Season.

In 2012 the Saint Ephraim Male Choir received the Pro Cultura Minoritatum Hungariae Award for nurturing Ruthenian ethnic culture, and in 2014 it received the Hungarian Heritage Award. In the same year, the General Assembly of the Capital of Budapest awarded the choir the Budapest Brand Award for its outstanding cultural and artistic activity.

The choir has performed with renowned musicians such as the British a cappella vocal ensemble The King’s Singers and Lebanese singer and musicologist Abeer Nehme. It is also a regular contributor to the productions of the State Folk Ensemble and the Danube Artists’ Ensemble, and is happy to participate in other genres with performers and composers such as Anna and the Barbies, Bea Palya, László Dés, Gábor Presser, János Lackfi, János Háy, the Óbuda Danubia Zenekar (Orchestra), the Szent István Philharmonic and the Budapest Strings Chamber Orchestra.

St. Teresa of Ávila Parish Church, a late Baroque church built in 1809, is in Pethő Sándor utca, District VI, Budapest.

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