Choir Director Sergei Riabtchenko
Sergei Riabtchenko was born in Zhukovsk (Moscow region) and studied music first at the Zhukovsk School of Arts, then at the College of Music in Pushkino (Moscow region) and, finally, at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory of Music in Moscow, where he studied cello with I. I. Gavrysh and minored in composition.
My early childhood memories of my family life are packed with song: Russian songs, Ukrainian songs and the popular songs of the day. Big family gatherings would bring together 20 - 25 people and all of us would sing in two or three parts. These were my first vivid musical experiences. From about 10, I wanted to write music. The first results were piano pieces, and then soon after pieces for guitar. In high school and the conservatory I wrote lots of pieces for various instruments and vocal music, which given my age were naturally at first romantic, then experimental.
A fundamentally new direction, both musical and spiritual, emerged when I started attending church.
In 1990 he moved to San Francisco, California. In 1996, he began to study sacred music with the Reverend Bazyl Kalinowski, rector of Christ the Savior Church on Anza Street, who previously had served for thirty years as choirmaster of the Orthodox Cathedral in Warsaw (Poland) and lectured at the Warsaw Theological Academy.
When I became acquainted with the singing of Troitsky-Sergeev Lavra, and the Kiev Caves Lavra, and works of Arkhangelsky, Kastalsky, Trubachev and Chesnokov, I felt an irresistible desire to put my knowledge and professional experience to the test of church music of a spiritual character.
Starting at the end of the 1990s, I wrote a great many pieces for the Liturgy, the Vigil service, for major feasts; troparia and kontakia for major saints, works for the Great Fast, Pascha, Christmas and other feasts. These fall neatly into two categories: concert music and music for the services. Each of these large groups contains diverse works for various resources, and are written in various styles and traditions of church music.
From the time I finished the conservatory in 1990 to the present, I have kept up my professional work as a cellist, as a performer and teacher, drawing on my now extensive experience and knowledge. I was a founding member of the “Arlekin” Quartet in 1987, and have been the quartet’s cellist ever since
The Diakonia Choir
The Diakonia Choir was organized in 2003 by singers living in San Francisco and the Bay Area who are devoted to church music. Beginning in 2001, the church of Christ the Saviour in San Francisco under Fr. Bazyl Kalinowski formed an ensemble of 5-6 men to sing the vigil service on a regular basis. They initially sang settings of the obikhod from Troitsky, Kiev and Pochaevsky Lavry, as well as works of Trubachev, Kastalskly and other well-known composers. Sergei Riabtchenko’s compositions began to appear in the repertory more and more often as time went on. That served as a starting point for the the idea of giving a concert including of these new works. Another six singers from different churches joined the ensemble and in 2004 the 12 singers presented their first concert in the Church of Christ the Saviour. This was the beginning of the Diakonia Choir.
Over following years, the composition of the choir changed considerably and now numbers 22-25 singers, including 4 members of the original group. The singers are enthusiastically devoted to and engaged in church music, and this certainly explains their sense of conviction and the vivid impression that every concert makes.
The choir sings the music of one composer, for the sole reason that he is so prolific that spending time to learn and perform works of other composers would mean that many works by Sergei would simply never be heard.
The unification of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia was an important event for the life of the choir. It fired up enthusiasm in church circles throughout San Francisco and the Bay Area. The choir presently has singers from the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), the Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, the Antiochian and Serbian jurisdictions.
Recent years have seen a huge recording effort resulting in 3 CDs. The first was devoted to the Liturgy and the All-Night Vigil. The second and third CDs feature excerpts from concert programs, emphasizing Christmas, Great Lent and Pascha, with the aim of giving a wider circle of listeners a feel for the choir’s concert performances. Audience response has been very strong, and the first and second CDs are no longer available.