THE BLOG
12/28/2015 02:46 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Anna Drubich's New Kaddish for Cello Will Open Babi-Yar Commemoration in Kiev, September 29, 2016: Obama and Merkel Will Attend

On September 29th 2016 in Kiev, during an international Holocaust commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the infamous Babi-Yar massacres, Drubich's new Kaddish, an 11-minute long concerto for cello, Tibetan singing bowl, timpani and strings, will open a concert that will be attended by heads of state including President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. 

Anna Drubich and piano. Photo by Tatler Magazine (Russia)

Composer and pianist Anna Drubich was born in Moscow. She began piano lessons at the age of 8, then studied with Eliso Virssaladze at the Moscow Chopin Music College. While earning Bachelor's and Master's degrees from the Munich School for the Performing Arts, she focused on Bartok, Penderecki and film scoring

Set as she was at an early age on a professional career path trajectory, she was soon studying with great teachers and entering important competitions. While still a teen, she was asked by the famous director Sergei Solovyov to provide the score for his new version of Anna Karenina, in which her mother not coincidentally was the star. 

"I was at my father's place," Drubich explained in a conversation we had in early December, and played some of my compositions on his piano. He said he was doing a movie and asked me if I would improvise to a video in the recording studio the next day. It was for Anna Karenina. I said sure and wrote the score."

This was before studying film composition, "or knowing anything," as Drubich put it. It was only afterwards that she began studying in Germany, at the Hochschule für Musik in Munich, went to Aspen for a film scoring program, entered the USC Thornton Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television program, then stayed in L.A. Where she  was joined by her husband, Russian cellist Evgeny Tonkha.

As a solo and chamber music performer, Drubich has given concerts in Russia, Ukraine, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Spain. She won First Prize at the Moscow Beethoven Competition and the Mozart Prize at the Bremen International Piano Competition; and is also a beneficiary of the Spivakov Foundation and Krainev Foundation scholarships.

Drubich's work for television, film and theater includes animated features, documentaries and plays. Her music for the concert hall includes sonatas, chamber music and orchestral pieces. 

On September 29th 2016 in Kiev, during an international Holocaust commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the infamous Babi-Yar massacres, Drubich's new Kaddish, an 11-minute long concerto for cello, Tibetan singing bowl, timpani and strings, will open a concert that will be attended by heads of state including President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Evgeny Tonkha will play the solo cello part. And thanks to a successful Kickstarter project, it has been recorded for YouTube and posterity.

I met with Drubich before Christmas to talk about Kaddish and the life of musicians on the run chasing assignments, inspiration and stability. 

Drubich said that Kaddish was her own "internal commission" to honor her husband's mother who had recently died. "I woke up one night and had this idea of writing a Kaddish, a Jewish hymn of praise, that would be uniquely scored for Evgeny's solo cello voice." 

After trial and error, Drubich launched the writing and recording of Kaddish as a Kickstarter project; the list of famous musicians who supported her ranged from cellist David Geringas, one of Rostropovich's students, to comics Aleksey Igudesman and Hyung-ki Joo. The list of famous actors included influential figures in the Russian cinema and her father, a well-known director. 

When the funding came in, Drubich went first class.

She and Evgeny recorded Kaddish at Sony, "the famous Sony stage where Sinatra and Streisand recorded. Evgeny was sitting on the raised podium specially for cellists, which Yo-Yo Ma uses when he records."

And Kaddish took off. "Through the end of August we had more than 40,000 listenings on Sound Cloud, and I was interviewed in a prominent Russian-Jewish magazine." 

Then Drubich was contacted by a Holocaust commemorative organization in Kiev, inviting she and Evgeny to perform on the opening concert in September 2016 of a 75th anniversary conference that would be attended by many of the world's leaders.

"Imagine," she says, "and the piece never had a real premiere here in the States or Russia. We only had a play-through for friends at a hot local culture club called Mimoda Studio."

When asked about the unusual instrumentation, Drubich explained that Evgeny's father, one of Russia's finest cellists, is a passionate collector of singing bowls. In fact, she said, "I always had this weird feeling that their whole house was vibrating with the sound of the bowls; he keeps them in a glass case with doors - they're of all different types, sizes and sounds. They're very loud, you know," she volunteered. "At Mimoda we had to ask the bowl player to be softer."

The singing bowls play a key role at the end when the the cello sings the Kaddish prayer. The previous part had been Jewish village klezmer music, with the whole orchestra playing the part of the band, but then at the end it disappears, the whole dance goes away, the soloist goes away, and only the sound of the singing bowl remains. It is a very touching moment.

The buzz from the Kaddish project was so loud that Drubich received an offer from a famous cellist who had heard about the piece through Facebook, to play Kaddish at his festival. "I said no," Drubich told me, "because the first performance has to be by Evgeny."

The part of putting together Kaddish that involved her husband revealed Drubich's delicately collaborative nature. "After I finished," she said, "I showed the solo part to him. I explained that we would make some changes to accommodate any practical technical matters, of course. If he thinks it needs an improvement in form or content," she smiled, "I'll think about it."

Drubich and her team had only three hours for the rehearsals and the recording. She preferred the classical music nightclub ambience at Mimoda. "It had a mood, and it worked better in the hall than the studio because the singing bowl gets lost on the recording, and orchestras play better when they're on stage; in the studios," she sighed, "it's usually late already and they want to go home."

While Drubich is planning to perform Kaddish at festivals worldwide and in North America, she also looks forward to writing for another instrument. "I'm tired," she said, mock anger in her voice, "of listening to the cello so much."

Not so tired, it turns out. Among her new projects, Drubich recently wrote the score for a prestigious new documentary history of Russian Jews, using the Kaddish as the film's signature music.

Anna Drubich in Sony's control room. Photo by Evgeny Tonkha