You may not have heard the name of Canadian composer Steve Barakatt, but how many composers have had a composition played in space? This happened on 20 November 2009 when Barakatt’s UNICEF International Anthem, Lullaby, was played on the international space station.
Lullaby was composed for the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The first recording included the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Nana Mouskouri, Angélique Kidjo, Helmut Lotti, Leon Lai, Agnes Chan, Maxim Vengerov, Richard O’Neill, Miri Ben-Ari, la Maitrise de Radio France and The choir of the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of Myung-whun Chung.
The main goal of having Lullaby, The UNICEF Anthem, heard in space was to raise awareness for the cause and make sure that more people would remember that in 1989 the Convention on the Rights of the Child was signed,
says Barakatt. He, together with his wife – Olympic Gymnast and a Cirque du Soleil artist, Elena Grosheva – are both UNICEF Canada Ambassadors.
Thanks to NASA and ESA for their support in making sure that the world could discover more about UNICEF and the world’s children in needs. I am very proud of Lullaby; it is a big honour to compose music representing all the children of the world.
Apart from Canada, Barakatt is very well known in Asia – principally Japan and South Korea – and Russia, where he has toured several times. In November he will return to Russia for concerts, including one in the Great Hall of the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory. Barakatt will bring his largest work to date, a work “based on the sixteen stages of human experience” called Ad Vitam Aeternam. He was the piano soloist when it was first performed with the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec in 2003.
Barakatt has being playing the piano since he was four then, as a teenager, jazz loomed large in his life, and his writing for Ad Vitam Aeternam reflects this with its broad symphonic sweep combined with jazz meanderings. Sections are full of pomp and majesty, a style ideal for the Hollywood blockbuster, a field he dabbled in recently with his score for the TV series, Urban Myth Chillers with Omar Sharif. He is visibly comfortable on stage.
When I am on stage, I feel at home. I feel that I can finally express emotions in a clear and deep way.
So why did he want to compose?
I am a passionate musician who has the desire to communicate with people all over the world. All my life, I put myself in inspiring environments surrounded by expertise and modern technology to achieve my artistic dreams.
In fact, he wasn’t even twenty when the Japanese firm Roland invited him to present their products at an important trade show in California. He was already an expert programmer and at ease with the new technology that was coming into its own in the music world. Technology is still part of his compositional process:
I compose at the desk, at the piano and at the computer. The process of composing usually starts with a strong desire to express emotions. When the desire is there, the rest comes!
The fact that he is also a performer, and usually performs his own works, aids the creative process:
The performer side helps me to have a better idea of how it will end up on stage, even at the early stage of creation.
Ad Vitam Aeternam requires large forces for its execution; why did he want to tackle such a big project?
The main idea of Ad Vitam Aeternam was to reflect on the existential stages of the human condition. I spent many years questioning people all over the world, coming from different backgrounds, about several aspects of life. And then I expressed it in 16 movements. From the origin of life to death, death to the Eternity. Ad Vitam Aeternam is not the story of imaginary characters. Ad Vitam Aeternam is a place where the listeners can feel the life experience with a new perspective.
Ad Vitam Aeternam is more a tribute to life than a musical work answering to fundamental and existential questions. I believe that looking for answers can lead to meaningful thoughts. To take a pause from our daily routine and realize that we all come from somewhere and we will all die one day can bring new perspectives in the hectic world we live in.
Steve Barakatt, pianist and composer. Elena Grosheva, Olympic Gymnast and Cirque du Soleil performer. A fascinating pairing, though of course both require mathematical precision in their work.
Elena has a totally different background coming from Russia and being a gymnast and a Cirque du Soleil artist. I personally believe that we can become stronger when we share our life with people that are not a mirror but a complement. Differences can become a powerful factor and, in reality, we both enjoy discovering different universes.
We share a wonderful journey.
Date: November 17th, 2014
City: Yaroslavl, Russia
Location: Sobinov’s Concert Hall
Date: November 19th, 2014
City: Moscow, Russia
Location: Great Hall of the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory
tickets: www.concert.ru +74956442222
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.