Sergey Zhukov      



honored art worker of Russian Federation



Review on Nimbus Records

Piano Concerto Silentium (2001)
Violin Concerto Angel’s Day
Eleonora Bekova (piano)
Karelia State Symphony Orchestra/Marius Stravinsky
Elvira Bekova (violin)
Moscow State Symphony Orchestra/Konstantin Krimets

It must be a fantastic feeling for a musician to have works written with them specifically in mind which is the case here. Ukrainian composer Sergei Zhukov explores the relationship between sound and silence in his Piano Concerto and seems to set it in a void with 20 seconds of silence ‘recorded’ before any sounds emerge. It is often the case that the space between the notes is as important as the notes themselves if the notes are to have the impact the composer intended. That is obviously of paramount importance here which is why Zhukov had pianist Eleonora Bekova in mind when he wrote the concerto. He says of her: she can “simultaneously express sound and silence” while Martha Argerich has written that “She balances emotion, intellect, and style beautifully and her touch can transform the piano into an instrument that sings like a human voice.”

The first of the Piano Concerto’s five movements certainly creates a feeling of floating in space in a blackness surrounded by twinkling stars. The second begins with a dialogue between piano and marimba and things become ‘busier’ as a series of explosions occur to interrupt the relative silence and the orchestra becomes disturbed and anxious. The third section expresses silence as the booklet notes describe it “as an embodiment of a celestial beauty”. This is quite a feat considering that it uses piano and orchestra to do so and calls for the soloist to play exceedingly slowly. Part four opens with a much more aggressive sounding piano. This consists of patterns of repeated notes that are quite affecting and develops the ideas expressed in part two, namely the explosive aspect characterised by abrupt and violent sounds from both soloist and orchestra. It is the most disturbed of all the sections though with plenty of excitement to compensate. The final part called Post Scriptum in the notes returns to the gentle state with which the work began. As she plays, Eleonora Bekova speaks the words of the poem that inspired the work, Osip Mandelstam’s Silentium. She does this in beautifully enunciated Russian which creates its own music as the work fades into the void once more.

Zhukov has written three works for the Bekova sisters and the third one, for cellist Alfia Bekova, Gethsemanian Night, for electric cello, mixed chorus, six horns, trio percussions and prepared piano is due to be recorded soon. The violin concerto written for Elvira Bekova and entitled Angel’s Day is an extraordinarily affecting work of exceptional lyrical beauty. Compositions such as the two here take some concentrated listening before they reveal themselves completely but once achieved they are quite compelling. There is a shared theme between these two concertos since they both involve, as the booklet notes observe, “... the infinite space between heaven and earth”.

Cast in four sections standing for morning, noon, evening and night, the violin concerto opens with Morning Touch the effect of which is gorgeously rich. As the liner note points out, “The solo violin, stratospherically high, represents the gentle singing of the angels.” The second section, Messenger, is deliciously and refreshingly light but quite fast with the violin creating the impression of flight at times. This it does in almost fairy-like flourishes recalling as the notes observe Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream “... until 12 sacramental chimes remind us that it is noon by the celestial angel’s clock.” Vespers, the third section, is the concerto’s slow movement which opens mysteriously although it seems that this section represents the earth with the angel present at a church service “singing of earthly sorrow.” The music brought to mind that of John Tavener, Górecki and Pärt with their religiously inspired beauty. The final section Night Flight is a spirited scherzo which includes a quotation from Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht to underline its nocturnal connections. It “is essentially optimistic, an attempt to reconcile opposites and to bring about the harmonisation of man with the cosmos.” While all this might seem extremely weighty as a theme it is a wonderfully evocative picture of the subject. The end comes with a whisper.

The Bekova sisters are amazing representatives of their Kazakh heritage and have made many recordings as a trio. It is a pleasure to hear these solo excursions. It comes as no surprise that Zhukov should have composed his works with Eleonora and Elvira specifically in mind. They are exceptionally talented as the two concertos here prove beyond doubt. They treat the subject matter with due reverence delivering utterly convincing performances of these two extraordinary works.

It is also refreshing to hear a less well known orchestra in the Piano Concerto with the Karelia State Symphony Orchestra meeting the challenges perfectly. The Moscow State Symphony Orchestra in the Violin Concerto are as good as one would expect from such a world class ensemble. This is a rare disc that deserves to be heard. It shows Zhukov as a name to look out for even though he has been musically active for well over thirty years. It makes me wonder why I have not heard of him before.

Steve Arloff



Crazy Ukrainian Composer Meets Tragically Hip Sisters From Kazakhstan. Mad Cap Antics Ensue.


Sergey Zhukov
Concerto Mystery and Concerto Grosso
The Bekova Sisters
Residentie Orchestra The Hague under George Pehlivanian
Chandos CHAN 9588

Ok, I hate to always be the guy who’s on about something he loves and thinks everyone else should love, especially when the word “like” might be more appropriate. But I can’t spend the rest of my life throwing darts at Karajan and complaining about “crossover” and just generally running around buying discs I know will suck only so I can write about how bad they are. So I’m going to recommend something to you. Something new and edgy and so unpopular that it’s already out of print.

So, have you ever heard of the Bekova sisters? They’re sort of Kazakhstan’s version of the Barenboim, DuPre, Perlman troika. A little gimmicky perhaps, but of course gimmicks are the bread and butter of record company marketing departments. And what record company should be ashamed to sell their own products? Chandos certainly isn’t and if the curiosity of the record-buying public is peaked by the story of three competent musicians from a former Soviet republic who sound nice and look good in evening wear, then so be it.

So imagine you’re a hip trio with a phat recording contract and you’re getting a little tired of performing Beethoven’s Triple Concerto and that your audience is getting a little tired of same and that you wan’t something new that no one has ever heard, something to revitalize your concert program, something to wow the critics, something to put the spring back in your collective step. Well, don’t ask me how they hit on the idea of Sergey Zhukov, but they did. In fact, they hit on him twice. They commissioned him to compose a contemporary response to Beethoven and then to follow in the steps of other contemporary composers (Bloch and Schnittke come readily to mind) with a modern take on the traditional concerto grosso.

Zhukov gives us two worthy additions to the canon of the new consonance, although just how well the term “new consonance” applies is up to the individual listener. I’ll start, by way of example, with the
Concerto Mystery.

The first movement is a beautiful - a very thoughtful comment on Beethoven with his thematic material woven deftly into a late 20th century fabric. It reminds us just how important the past is to the present, and hence, to the future. People like Schonberg who break so angrily with all that came before lead their audience out on to a limb. The limb may offer a unique view, but the position is precarious at best. I suspect that the composer who offers us an evolution instead of a revolution is more likely to find a way forward - a way on which we can all join him. So kudos to Zhukov for the first movement. The following allegro is an equally moving, though much more anxious and less Beethovenian, statement. It’s filled with apprehension and even a little dread, and is resolved in a spectacular and very satisfying way. The third movement, which is an extended triple cadenza, is where it all comes off the tracks with what seems like a lot of aimless wandering, structurally and tonally, and I suppose that is what cadenzas are supposed to do. Just maybe not for thirteen minutes. Over-indulgent? Yeah, a little. But you suffer through thinking that things will get back on track with the finale. And they pretty much do. If you’re patient. And diligent. And willing. This is less immediately accessible than the first and second movements, but there is some coherent structure, some tonality and some emotional payoff. All in all, it’s really the kind of music that I’m glad somebody somewhere is willing to write these days. I have this very over-simplified view of things where I imagine that if the Second Viennese Boys could hear this piece, they might say, “Oh,yeah. I guess that would have been a much better way to go.” Probably not, but I’d like to think so.

Zhukov’s second go with the Bekovas, the Concerto Grosso, is a similar but ultimately different animal. Perhaps it’s the lack of program, or perhaps it’s the confines of the baroque form, but this piece seems, if a little more musical, maybe a little less emotionally engaging. It’s certainly more compact than the Concerto Mystery. Three movements instead of four, and 20 minutes instead of 45. The musical thinking seems to wander less, to be more to-the-point, and that’s because it has to be. No broad, sweeping canvas here, just fairly brief and matter-of-fact development. I especially like the content, form and message of the final movement. Like the Beethoven embellishment of the previous work, here he draws upon a traditional musical statement and turns it into something thoroughly modern and relevant. A little sad and despondent (the Russian in him coming out?), but very worthwhile and very listenable. I wouldn’t care to make any comprehensive statements suggesting that if you want to hear where classical music is going these days then you must listen to Zhukov, but... I certainly wouldn’t mind if this was where it was going.

All in all, I can’t see how Zhukov offers us any less than Pendercki or Rautavaara or Gorecki, and yet he is performed virtually not at all and recorded even less. Nothing of his is currently in print and that is a shame. Nevertheless, if you’d like to try out this cd you can find it in the bins at berkshirerecordoutlet. That’s dot com for the uninitiated. A mere $4.99 and a bargain at twice the price.


Matty J Hifi

Classical Rough And Ready

08 February 2010



Review on Cameo Classics CD

Piano Concerto Silentium,

Violin Concerto Angel's Day

Until now the wider musical world has been familiar with the music of Sergei Zhukov through a Chandos CD (CHAN 9588) which was issued in 1998 as part of their thenNew Directionseries. The disc contains the Concerto Mystery[45:24] and the Concerto Grosso /Concerto Sacra/[20:41]. The Residentie Orchestra, The Hague, then extensively used by Chandos, was conducted by George Pehlivanian. You can still track down copies. It may well be that the present Cameo Classics disc will re-ignite sales of that Chandos disc. The other link between that disc and this is the three Bekova sisters who feature in the Concerto Grosso /Concerto Sacra/. Again they were a repeated presence in Chandos releases of the late 1990s to mid 2000s.

The Bekova or Nakibekova sisters are Eleonora (piano), Elvira (violin) and Alfia (cello). They are well known for their advanced concert programming but greater familiarity attaches to their Chandos CDs of Martinů piano solos and trios not to mention their Franck and Rachmaninov. There’s also a coolly received Claudio disc. Zhukov has written a concerto for each of the sisters. Here we have the ones for violin and piano. The cello one is to follow - I hope.

What of Zhukov and the music? He has a fairly thorough English language website which is well worth a look. He was born in the Ukraine and studied music locally before moving to the Moscow Conservatory and graduating in 1978. There are six ballets and more than handful of concertos along side plenty of chamber and vocal music. There are also three symphonies, dating from 1985, 2009 and 2012. TV and movie music jostles with a musical (Life of insects, or Deceit and Love) staged in Moscow in 2010 and an oratorio Moments running in succession.

Going by this Cameo disc his music can be both lyrical and strangely avant-garde in a 1960s sense. The two aspects are made to mediate in a most natural and fluent way. There’s something of the ritual and the arcane about these two concertos. Ancient Sorceriesis the title of one of Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence stories. That title could equally well have been applied to these two large-scale works except that the pagan, while not absent, makes way for Christian mysteries in the Violin Concerto /Angel's Day/.

Silentium is in five movements which are contemplative and manic-panic by turns. Impressions come and go: Stravinsky’s Firebirdin sinister mode, John Tavener, Scriabin, Bridge’s Phantasm and Oration, Griffes’Pleasure Dome, Ives’Unanswered Questionand Ireland’s Forgotten Riteand Legend- all of this given a dissonant skew among the New Age devotions. The atmosphere created is potent with strands of incense trailed by a slowly swinging thurible contrasted with the insistent machine-gun rhythmic tattoo of the piano (II: 3.44). In III there’s the glint and shimmer of the tam-tam and some mercilessly jazzy piano syncopation in IV. The soloist intones Mandelstam’s poem ‘Silentium’ in the finale while the guitar adds plangency and colour to the orchestra’s dripping opalescent notes. Something rich and strange indeed, although more pedestrian souls might regard it as hocus-pocus.

The oneiric theme is continued with the Violin Concerto /Angel's Day/ which is in four movements. The character of the music is incantatory but not static. We are in strange realms but ones where the ideas often seem to reference Russian nationalism of the late 19thcentury. In Morning Touch(I) the violin speaks as a high, thin wail, trembling and distant.Messenger(II) is full of hyper-tense excitement which is, in character, part Midsummer Nights Dreamand part chattering freshness from Rachmaninov’sThe Bells. InVespersplangent single rain-drop notes splash down gently. The finale -Nightflight- links to the archingly sanguine melody of Prokofiev’s Seventh Symphony and the faery mystery of the same composer’s First Violin Concerto - wonderful fluttering violin at 8:07. Along the way we meet, at 5:35-7:07, a playful Nutcrackerf light before the music ascends to the stratosphere amid celesta sparkling and the shimmer of silver chains.

Something out of the ordinary rut. Surreal music that holds the listener.

                                                                                                                                                         Rob Barnett
Classical Editor 

MusicWeb International




Short review on CD

Sergei Zhukov had in his mind not only Eleonora Bekova’s skills as a soloist but also her psychological profile. ‘Eleonora is able to be in deep meditation at the same time as she is performing at the piano. She can simultaneously express sound and silence’. The theme of the concerto is that special relationship between sound and silence. ‘Silentium’ stems from the 1910 poem by the Jewish poet, Osip Mandelstam. The Angel’s Day Concerto was designed to fit the character of violinist Elvira Bekova, using her remarkable capacity to perform exactly according to the composer’s intention. It also reflects the theatrical style of the composer. The concerto, in many ways eccentric, even carnival-like, also has pure moments of lyricism. This reflects Zhukov’s portrait of both the Angel and the performer. ‘Angel’s Day’ is presented in four parts, recalling the classical symphony: morning, noon, evening and night. Sergei Zhukov is an eclectic composer having produced a large catalogue of chamber, choral, orchestral and theatrical works. He has placed particular emphasis on the genre of the concerto. He has composed three concertos for piano, violin and cello, which he dedicated to each of the Khazak Nakipbekova sisters (The Bekova Trio). This series of concertos earned him the award of ‘Composer of the Year’ made by Musical Review in 2002.

Nimbus Records



New Names

A keen sense of historical tradition, the guiding principle of Sergei Zhukov's formative years, has shaped the range of his predilections and choices, 'and helped him master the diverse tech¬niques of composition during his studies at the Moscow Conservatoire from which he graduated in 1978. Later he completed a postgraduate course there under Professor Mikhail Chulaki. Since his days at the Conservatoire, Sergei Zhukov has combined a quest for new images and expressive means with an urge to comprehend and ex¬press his ties with the past.
Folklore is one a major themes of his music. Avoiding direct quotations from his native Ukrainian folk songs, the com¬poser strives to ensure an authentic impression and stylistic accuracy by rendering the flavour of speech inflec¬tions and intonations. First he concen¬trates upon the lyrics, looking for their musical equivalents in folk tunes, then proceeds to the final stage, the recrea¬tion of the initial fusion of sounds, words and movements. His cantata Spivanochki, based on the earliest examples of Ukrainian folklore, is notable for its original approach to the space-music relationship, with the first soprano and grand piano placed on the stage, and the second soprano, violin, clarinet and temple block in the auditorium. The space between them reverberates with the music, its tempo, pauses and rests. The cantata's form is open. It comes to an end at the performer's will, and its clearly impro¬visatory character produces an impres¬sion of spontaneous music-making.
One of the main sources to which Sergei Zhukov turns for inspiration is poetry. Although his interests cover a wide range, he feels a particular affinity with poets, who were primari¬ly concerned with form. Sergei Zhukov's early works, for example, the vocal instrumental cycle to verses by Miezelaitis, were expressive of his predominantly "phonetic" approach to poetry, and the treatment of words as channels for additional musical nuances. The subsequent com¬positions, Dramatic Triptych and Eight Musical Novellasbased on poetry of A. Tarkovsky, among others, reveal his growing preoccupation with meaning.

Monologues to verses by Marina Tsve¬tayeva and the cycle Echo based on Alexander Pushkin may be regarded as landmarks in the composer's work in vocal instrumental form. The Tsvetayeva cycle brings out the rhythmical and syntactical features of the poems. In the climax the compo¬ser gives up melodic development altogether; the voice holds onto a single note accentuating the caesuras while a sparing musical accompaniment emphasizes the tragic meaning of the words. In the cycle to verses by Alexander Pushkin the composer stresses the details which serve to build up the visual image. Instrumental numbers provide a kind of commentary ensuring a coherent development.

The Violin Concerto was Sergei Zhukov's first attempt at writing music for orchestra. Then followed Sonata-Capriccio for solo cello and Partita for solo violin. In the Partita the com¬poser employed a variety of musical forms, such as cantus, chant and recitative, to provide vivid characterizations, creating as a result a intonational instrumental theatre/ The Sonata-Capriccio is noted I spontaneous collage which in the form of a performer’s improvisation on themes from an improvisation overheard am down by the composer. In the Symphony, his most significant attainment so far, Sergei Zhukov has further¬ developed the ideas explored earlier in his chamber instrumental opuses. For example, a gradual transformation of initial intonations into dramatic timbres can' be traced back to his Violin Partita. A strong dramatic quality inherent in the Symphony also manifests itself in the pure timbres progressing towards the superposition of several musical layers and the emergence in the coda of a new colour when players on stringed instruments are to hum their parts. The work has a clearcut structure. A continuous development is based on a thematic complex which appears at the beginning chorales, recitatives and other forms used as its elements.

The central section second movement, which forms what one might call the architectonic axis of the cycle, is written in the classical tradition. Yet this islet of classical tonality, form, harmony and intonation does not appear as a collage. The material of this episode harmoniously emerges ou of the preceding development in the course of which alien element has been thoroughly assimilated and integrated. Sergei Zhukov has embarked upon his individual path, let us listen to voice.


                                                                                                                                                                                   “Music in the USSR”,

January-March, 1987




Foundation De Link

Ñhamber music of Edison Denisov and Serge Zhukov.

E. Denisov: 'Signs in white', performed by Paul Hermsen - piano; Sonata for flute and guitar, performed by Ellen Opten - flute and Frenk Casteleyn - guitar; Solo for vibraphone, performed by Cobi Bol. S.

Zhukov:  Sonata Cappricio, performed by Maike Rademakers - cello; Monologues, performed by Mirjam Touber - soprano and Frans van der Tak - piano; Partita, performed by Robert Szreder - violin.

Tilburg, Thursday 28 April.

Of the approximately 2000 composers that live in the Soviet Union, one was invited by Foundation De Link on Thursday night: Serge Zhukov. His music, as well as music of one of his elder colleagues, Edison Denisov, was subject to performance.

Denisov is a composer of the third generation. He is well-known, not only in the Soviet Union. His style is complex. The works that were performed during this evening, made use of serial techniques. His musical language is international, which may explain why his three compositions, in spite of strong performances, didn't really surprise. It all sounded more or less familiar - an impression that got emphasised because of the relative similarity of the three chosen compositions.

A much stronger impression was caused by the three compositions of the younger Zhukov, who belongs to the second generation of Soviet composers. Zhukov has mastered his profession at least as good as his teacher. He knows how to create a strong and logical connection between tradition (also the East-european musical tradition) and the contemporary musical expression tools.

The clearest evidence of this was found in his Sonata Cappricio for cello solo. But also the three Monologues for soprano and piano, as well as the Partita for violin solo, confirmed the first impression and achieved a clear fascination during this evening.
Also because of the excellent performances.


Friday, April 29, 1988 - HET NIEUWSBLAD





Well, it was quite a Sunday afternoon, in the Maastricht Music School. More than two hours of contemporary music, interrupted by only 15 minutes of intermission, seems a little bit too much for even the most hardened fan of this genre. Even when it's all about the products of two leading Soviet composers, I still maintain this opinion. The program was tributed to compositions of Edison Denisov and Serge Zhukov. Both work in Moscow, they know each other well, but they have nothing in common when it comes to composition style.

Denisov seems to follow the footprints of Schönberg and Webern more than Zhukov, but apart from that, he seems to be fully converted to 'constructivism'. Some influences of older styles may be apparent in his works, but it's the structure of the composition that needs to do the job. For me, his music is somewhat pale, yet inventive, but nearly independent of the so-called 'performance'. His 'Signs in white' were nevertheless interesting. The same can more or less be said about a Suite and a solo piece, although the perfomances didn't succeed to keep my attention all the way to the end.

A completely different matter were the musical products of Zhukov. His main characteristic is the large freedom that he apparently offers to his performers. Zhukov - he's from a different generation than Denisov - creates vivid music, that - in absolute liberty - seems to be bound to the underlying structure. After listening to a composer such as Denisov, it looks as if the young Zhukov is blowing a fresh wind through the Soviet music of the recent years, a sort of Perestroyka. Nevertheless, his music is based upon traditional forms, such as the sonata and the partita, albeit in a sort of 'portrayed' way.

The performances of the Zhukov works were melodic, while we were experiencing catching and compelling music, in many ways. So, there was much to enjoy, even while the Monologues were a bit long.

The explanation on the program was insufficient, perhaps because Zhukov had promised to visit the concert personally.
But he was conspicuous by his absence.







(to his 50th birthday)


In October Moscow hosted a string of music events timed to the 50th birthday of the well-known Russian composer Sergey Zhukov. One of the concerts took place at the House Of Composers, another - at the "Glas" Theatre Zhukov has been cooperating with for several years. A disciple of Mikhail Chulaki, a professor at the Moscow Conservatory and author of several wonderful ballets, he inherited his teacher's love of the theatre. Now Zhukov himself teaches music at the Conservatory and writes music to drama productions at the "Glas" center. He wrote four ballets and lots of symphony and chamber works in the so-called "instrumental theatre" manner - musicians move around the stage, while playing, the performance being accompanied by a recital of texts and quasi-improvised singing. These "innovations" don't interfere with his serious music. As the composer himself admits, before setting down to work, he needs to dismiss all other thoughts, turn into a "clean sheet" and listen to himself and the sounds that arise from the depth of his soul.


O. Bugrova

Russian culture navigator, 2001