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NYWC October 2023 Spotlight: Margarita Zelenaia

We are excited to continue our collaboration with the New York Women Composers. This month, we spotlight composer Margarita Zelenaia.

Margarita Zelenia NYWC Spotlight Oct 2023

“For me, the cello is a universal instrument with almost unlimited possibilities, through the sound of which everything can be expressed.” – Margarita Zelenaia

Bio (adapted from Margarita Zelenaia’s website):

Margarita Zelenaia, a Russian-born pianist and composer deeply rooted in the traditions of Russian music culture, had her compositions debut at Lincoln Center in 1997 and 2005, with a subsequent premiere at Carnegie Hall in 2001.

Her piece, Meditation for solo cello (2015), was featured at Vox Novus’ World Premiere of Fifteen-Minutes-of-Fame: A Minute of Silence (but not soundlessness). This performance, by cellist Mirel Iancovici, featured at the International Cello Festival in Zutphen, Netherlands.

In 2008, she earned grants from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance (NoMAA) for creating the Byzantine Chants, Sacred Concerto for unaccompanied cello. Dr. Jennifer Pascual, Director of Music at the Cathedral of St. Patrick, invited Ms. Zelenaia to be a guest on the radio show Sounds from the Spires, where her one-hour program highlighted the Byzantine Chants.

Featured Work: Byzantine Chants, Sacred Concerto for unaccompanied cello


  • Title: Byzantine Chants, Sacred Concerto
  • Composer: Margarita Zelenaia
  • Year of Composition: 2008
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 8
  • Duration of Work: 26 minutes
  • Number of Measures: 542
  • Number of pages: 13
  • Tempo: from very slow to very fast and in between
  • Difficulty Level: advanced/professional
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb
  • Techniques Employed: double, triple, and quadruple stops; linear polyphony between the two voices; imitation of the sound of wind by sliding along the strings with different intensities; pizzicato (an open string) and arco combined at the same time; improvisando double stops; indications for molto vibrato and non-vibrato; improvisational repetition of the same note recitative-like; harmonics; con sordino, tremolo, bariolage; frequent meter changes, bass and treble clefs (no tenor)
  • Publisher: Self-published
  • Where to Purchase the Score: 
  • Cost of Score*: $20


Program Notes

“It was not accidental that I had decided to turn my attention to prayer chants; since a prayer, in essence, is the true core that represents the people who had made it. It is a symbol of their high spirit.

By means of the genre of the sacred concerto for a cello solo, I deduce that the melody of a chant presents the information that is quite real: a melodic word, the musical substance of which can be likened to a live organism.

The reason the concerto consists of eight movements is related to the fact that the presence of eight chants was the distinguishing feature of Byzantine church-chanting art.

My goal was to create such a musical palette for the Concerto that it would portray the chanter, who used his range of chant-melodies similarly to how iconographer conveyed the biblical storylines.

For me, the cello is a universal instrument with almost unlimited possibilities, through the sound of which everything can be expressed.” – Margarita Zelenaia

Margarita Zelenaia’s Other Works with a Prominent Cello Part

  • Meditation for solo cello (2015)
  • “Psalmodia” from the Byzantine Chants, sacred concerto (a version for cello and piano), commissioned by Alan Gampel, pianist and musicologist
  • Homage II, duo for violin and cello, in three m0vements (as above)
  • Duo for Cello and Piano in two movements:
    • 1. Lullaby Dedicated to An Adult Son
    • 2. Soliloquy (based on the Gregorian chant)


A Collaboration with the New York Women Composers (NYWC)

The NYWC series at the Cello Museum was created to showcase its members who have composed various pieces for cello, informing cellists seeking new music to add to their repertoire, and helping listeners find new favorites. Many thanks to the NYWC for this wonderful collaboration.

Read other installments in the series here.

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