They were a family out of time, living deep in the Siberian taiga and utterly divorced from the 20th century. The team of geologists that stumbled across the Lykovs in 1978 discovered people for whom cellophane was a revelation, who were unaware of the Second World War, space exploration, or television. Yet the Lykovs were not mindless primitives; they were literate people who carefully maintained their stout Old Believer rituals. It had been just that religious conviction, born in the 17th century as a reaction against the reforms of Patriarch Nikon of Moscow, that led Karp Lykov and his family to retreat deep into the taiga back in 1936, in the face of Bolshevik determination to purge Russia of Christianity, including the Old Believers.
It was the Lykov family’s principal entertainment of recounting their dreams to each other that provided D. J. Sparr with the inspiration for Dreams of the Old Believers.
Sparr makes use of two offstage ensembles—one made up of flute, violin and viola, the other oboe, violin and cello—that are designed to create a sense of those recounted dreams, together with harmonies and textures that invoke works by Russian composers Borodin, Stravinsky, Scriabin, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich.
Sparr writes: “To combine my compositional style with specific influences from Russian music, I am using an idea from film and theater scholarship called Mise en scène, i.e., ‘placing on stage.’ For me, that means incorporating elements from Russian orchestral literature as a ‘set’ or ‘backdrop’ over which I can create a dreamlike ‘composed’ reflection of this family’s story. I’m thinking specifically about life—Karp Lykov’s search for a greater life for his family and the birth of some of his children in the Taiga, and death—as they all died once they were found by the modern scientists.”