ABS Collaboration with Gnessin Academy

Moscow’s Gnessin Academy and Virginia’s American Balalaika Symphony makebeautiful music—and history––together

In a first-ever collaboration between an American community orchestra and a Russian musicacademy, eight international competition winners from the prestigious Gnessin Academy ofMusic in Moscow will join the American Balalaika Symphony (ABS) and Russian soloists for aspecial performance on Sunday afternoon February 25 in Alexandria, Virginia.

The partnership is the result ofa trans-oceanic effort betweenABS Artistic Director Peter Trofimenko and ProfessorVyacheslav Kruglov, President ofthe Academy of RussianMusic, and Moscow-basedbalalaika virtuoso AndreiGorbechev to bring Russian artists to the US to learn the basicsof a community-based orchestra—a concept still new toRussia, where orchestras are either state- or academy-supported.

“In Russia, there are plenty ofprofessional orchestras” says Trofimenko, “carried away by theneeds of immediate programming. But the ideaof a volunteer orchestra driven by thecommitment of its members doesn’t exist. Themusicians from Gnessin are coming here not onlyto play but to see how we do it.”

Professor Kruglov, who has been named People’sArtist of Russia—and who will be one of thefeatured soloists in the upcoming concert—was critical in coordinating the visit, making specialarrangements with the Gnessin administration topull the students from their regular curriculum.“This is a first for a Russian academy. I am soproud to be involved, and I hope for many moresuch efforts.”

Andrei Gorbachev, whose dazzling balalaika performances are known worldwide, visits theUnited States annually to play with the American Balalaika Symphony. His support on theRussian side of this alliance has also been central to its success.

“It has been a wonderful experience for me to meet and play withmy friends from the AmericanBalalaika Symphony,” he said. “Inow want my students and myfellow musicians in Russia tolearn about the community orchestra and about Americans who love to play Russian instruments.”

Spreading the community spirit

The Gnessin students, who play a variety of Russian instruments, including the balalaika, domra,and bayan, have recently toured inEurope and Asia but are visitingthe United States for the firsttime. They hope to take the community orchestra spirit back to Russia when they return.

Meanwhile, the excitement generated by their collaboration with the American BalalaikaSymphony has already sparked a steppe-fire across the Russian musical landscape.

“I was recently in Perm,” says Mr. Trofimenko,“a city near Russia’s Ural Mountains, to helpjudge a musical competition. Even though this city is very far from Moscow, people becamevery excited when they learned of my association with ABS. This was because the news of thecollaboration with Gnessin was already a hot topic there and elsewhere. They pressed me forinformation… especially, on how they could participate in the future.”

Trofimenko hopes that this concert will start a trend that brings other Russian students to theUnited States to work with the Symphony, and toshowcase their talent for American audiences.

“Unusual but spectacular”

The upcoming concert will feature the Gnessin musicians with virtuosi Russian soloists ElenaCaldine and Viacheslav Kruglov playing what Peter Trofimenko describes as “an unusual butspectacular” program.

Among other Russian pieces, the concert will includethe Concerto No. 3 in D major for pianoand orchestraby Dimitri Kabalevsky (1904-1987) and the Symphony No. 2 by VasilySergeyevich Kalinnikov (1866-1901).

The American Balalaika Symphony was the firstbalalaika orchestra to play the Kabalevskyconcerto in America in November 2004,with Natalia Bogdanova as soloist.Now, with the Kalinnikov Symphony, ABS will again break ground as this piece is performedfor the first time by a balalaika orchestra in America.

“Nobody from the balalaika world has ever played anything like this before,” says Mr.Trofimenko of the upcoming concert. “This program stands apart from that of any otherbalalaika orchestra except for the two orthree leading state-owned Russian ones.”

A Russian tradition—in Virginia

The American Balalaika Symphony,founded in 2001 in northern Virginia, is amid-sized symphony orchestra in whichthe traditional bowed string instruments ofthe violin family are replaced by theirplucked counterparts from the Russianbalalaika and domra families.

The ensemble continues the tradition ofthe great Russian balalaika orchestras of the late 19th century, but its repertoire includes Russian and Ukrainian folk music, Soviet-era compositions for balalaika symphony, and arrangements of well-known classical works. The ABS has grown to include 65 instrumentalists—ranging from novices to conservatory graduates—and is one of only about ten full-fledged balalaika orchestras in the United States.

Mr. Trofimenko, the founder, artistic director, and conductor of the American BalalaikaSymphony, was classically trainedin Kiev in balalaika performance, conducting, arrangementand composition. He says that ABS owes its success to its players:

“Without our orchestra members’ commitment itwould be impossible. Our members diligentlylearn their parts—even with the most difficult pieces, and make it happen. That is what weshould celebrate and promote.”

Speaking of the Symphony’s Virginia debut ofthe Kabalevsky concerto and the Kalinnikovsymphony, Trofimenko said, “Our members should be proud of this wonderful achievement!”

For concert and other information, please visit

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