Sign In


PARNOK: In that infinite moment

“Believe me,
Someone in the future
Will remember us.”
– Sappho, translated by Sophia Parnok

Unless you are an enthusiast of obscure Russian literature, you have probably never heard of Sophia Parnok. Born in 1885 in Taganrog, on the shore of the Black Sea, Parnok was the daughter of a Jewish pharmacist. Her lifelong frailty resulted from the neurological disorder known as Graves’ disease. She also survived a horrific train crash, owned a pet monkey, and (most importantly) was Russia’s first openly-lesbian poet. After establishing her reputation in the early 1920s, Russia’s “Silver Age,” Sophia chose to live openly and write about her relationships with eight women – to each of whom she dedicated several poems. Parnok’s decision to come out rendered her “lawless,” so publishers refused to print her work after 1928. After this censure, Sophia was barely able to make a living as a translator of Baudelaire. For several years, Sophia was homeless, too proud to rely on financial help from anyone else. When Parnok finally succumbed to her illness in 1933, three of her lovers were at her bedside, and the funeral procession of her friends and fans extended 75 kilometers outside of Moscow, an image nothing short of legendary.

In 2012, The Esoterics’ Founding Director was commissioned to compose a new work based on Russian poetry for the Bay Area Balkan women’s octet, Kitka. After several months of research, Banks (who studied Russian at Yale) encountered Parnok’s poetry in a “lyric biography” by the Russian literature scholar Diana Burgin. In Burgin’s account, Parnok’s story is reconstructed entirely through her own writing, and is a fascinating read. Since Parnok’s poems never gained popularity in Russia, very few of them have been translated into English. And since 2014, when Putin further sanctioned the oppression of LGBTI rights in Russia, most of the internet sites that originally posted Parnok’s poems have removed them. In his commission for Kitka, Banks composed a choral version of Burgin’s “lyric biography” entitled I will remember everything, which recounts Parnok’s life story through a mostly-chronological series of 28 poems, fragments, letters, and inscriptions. In this 72-minute piece, each of the soloists in the octet represents one of Sophia’s lovers: Nadyezhda, Lyubof, Iraida, Marina, Lyudmila, Yevgenia, Olga, and Nina. For its world premiere in 2014, Eric and Kitka received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, and NewMusicUSA. Banks’ work that honors Parnok will be premiered in Seattle by eight women from The Esoterics in early July.

In addition to this Seattle premiere of I will remember everything for women’s octet, Banks has set another nine of Parnok’s poems as a “song cycle” for 32-voice double mixed chorus and soloists. This piece, with the title On this disappearing day, will enjoy its world premiere in Seattle in the same concert series. In both pieces, Parnok’s verses will be sung in their original Russian as well as in Banks’ translations into English. In concert, these works will be woven together without interruption, creating a concert-length journey to celebrate Sophia Parnok’s forbidden love, her extraordinary lyric, and her imperturbable courage.

The Esoterics will offer three performances of PARNOK. Please join us!

Friday | 8 Jul 2016 | 800 pm | Seattle | St Stephen’s Episcopal Church | 4805 NE 45th St
Saturday | 9 Jul 2016 | 800 pm | West Seattle | Holy Rosary Catholic Church | 4210 SW Genesee St
Sunday | 10 Jul 2016 | 700 pm | Tacoma | Christ Episcopal Church | 310 N K St

General admission ticket prices are $25 at the door ($22 in advance).
Discounted admission ticket prices are $18 at the door ($15 in advance)
for students, seniors, the un(der)employed, and the differently-abled.
Active singers in other choral groups may also attend for $15.

The Esoterics’ SEASON 23 has been sponsored with generous support from: 4Culture
| ArtsFund | ArtsWA | The Aaron Copland Fund | Classic KING-FM | The Horizons Foundation
The Lutheran Community Foundation | Nikko Media Center | The Renaissance Foundation
The Seattle Foundation | Seattle Office of Arts & Culture