January 23, 2022

Emmanuel Sikora to debut music in Ukraine

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Sikora will debut two concertos in Ukraine in August.

Emmanuel Sikora doesn’t like to sit around and wait for music gigs to appear on a whim, when he can make it happen on his own.

A composer and pianist, he wrote “Concerto in E Minor” and “Concerto in E Major” that will premiere next month in Ukraine. “I’ll be the pianist in these shows,” he said. “I wrote these pieces for myself.”

The Cortlandville man, a music director at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Binghamton, hired an orchestra to play the music. His friend, Ivan Ostapovich, associate music director, will conduct the Ukrainian Festival Orchestra in the concert at Lviv Organ Hall in Lviv, Ukraine. The concert will involve 45 musicians.

“My agent is looking for gigs for me in the United States. But why wait if I don’t have to?” he said.

“With an orchestra playing with you, it’s the best of both worlds,” he added. “There’s something wonderful about the sound of the orchestra. The organ hall is a magical space.”

The 30-year-old, a 2008 Cortland High graduate, has a master’s degree from Binghamton University
and before that, studied with Sam Adler in Berlin.

“I taught myself to read music and write what I heard. I got to the point where I could compose concert works at 14,” he said. “I was on track to being a professor in my head, until I found that (St.Mary’s) position. I started playing the organ on the weekend, then the choir director, then became in charge of everything.”

He’s been the director since 2016 and playing there since 2013.

“A concerto is an extended piece of music for a solo instrument and an orchestra,” said Lynn Koch of Freetown, a musician, composer and retired music teacher. “There’s usually a frenetic tradeoff between the orchestra and soloist. And it’s two or three movements.”

“I have never written for an orchestra, myself,” said Koch. But he has written two Christmas cantatas, one featuring a 24-voice choir, a piano, wind quartet and four soloists, and an Easter oratorio with a 46-member choir, a brass septet, percussionist and guest soloists.

“What I think most composers do, they will write a piano score for the piano. And write the orchestra
from the piano score. Not everyone does it that way. I don’t know how Emmanuel works. He’s a keyboardist.”

“It’s always an effort in coordination,” Koch said. “The soloist has to know his part inside and out and backwards. Generally, the pianist will have the part memorized.”

And the musicians who take part will know the entire piece, not only their part.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” he said.

Sikora has been a regular at the Cazenovia Counterpoint music festival every summer. He said to Neva Pilgrim, an organizer, “‘I am a composer.’ She said, ‘Great. Write something for us.’”

He’s been doing that since 2012.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Emmanuel Sikora is a 2008 Cortland High graduate. He is the music director at St. Mary’s Assumption Church in Binghamton.

Pilgrim is program adviser for Society for New Music, now starting its 50th season, which presents the Cazenovia Counterpoint festival each July.

“SNM’s mission is to perform music by regional composers as performed by regional musicians, and each year we commission a work by a regional composer, which we premiere, give repeat performances of, and record,” Pilgrim said in an email. “We also highlight music by young composers.”

“Every summer we pair a young regional composer with a prize-winning high school musician who collaborate on a short work to premiere during the two Rising Stars programs we have in July,” she said. “Emmanuel has been one of those composers for several years now, and always writes something interesting for one of the pianists, or a singer, and these past two years for the young organists.”

Pilgrim also hosts “Fresh Ink” on WCNY-FM. “Every time Emmanuel has a new recording, we’ve aired it, and pre-pandemic, he came on the show as a guest to talk about what we were going to listen to,” she said. “Emmanuel is very talented, has had a terrific education in music, and is the kind of entrepreneurial musician every region would love to keep.”

Writing a concerto — translated “concerted effort” — is a big deal, Pilgrim said, like writing a book. “Emmanuel’s music keeps evolving, so I hesitate putting a label on it. He’s comfortable writing in a variety of styles.”

Sikora said the Ukraine concert will feature his short concertos in the first half of the show.

“The E Minor is about 13 minutes. The E major is about 10 minutes,” he said. “They don’t tell a story in concert terms. But because they are my more recent concertos, they are almost joyful.”

They reflect this time period in his life.

Taras Demko, director and Ivan Ostapovich, associate music director, are overseeing the production. The concerto in E-minor was written in the winter, Sikora said. “I got to record it remotely in Budapest. It was during COVID-19 — concerts were not happening.”

That was the orchestra part. Sikora recorded his piano part in Brooklyn.

“Then my part was overdubbed,” he said.

The song, on YouTube, has received 35,000 hits.

He’s looked at the demographics. It’s being listened to by a lot of people in Mexico. He doesn’t pretend to know why.

“The big thing for me: I am going to play my music for a live audience, with an orchestra around me,” Sikora said.”I have been waiting for this for a long time.”