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From Russia with love -- "Russian Renaissance" shines at Wheaton College.

Byline: Natalia Dagenhart

To spread the beauty of music all over the world, to share the uniqueness of Russian national instruments, and to cover the entire globe with love for Russian national music and for the music of various styles and genres -- this is the mission of a quartet called "Russian Renaissance." It consists of four extremely talented and passionate musicians who chose to devote their lives to playing their favorite Russian national instruments and who are happy to share their talent with everyone. Their only Chicagoland concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 23, 2019 at spectacular Edman Memorial Chapel located at 401 E. Franklin Street in Wheaton.

The names of these fantastic musicians are: Ivan Kuznetsov who plays balalaika, Anastasia Zakharova who plays domra/domra alto, Alexander Tarasov who plays button accordion, and Ivan Vinogradov who plays balalaika contrabass.

These Russian national instruments might sound and look unfamiliar to Americans, and I would like to describe them. Balalaika is a Russian stringed musical instrument with a characteristic triangular wooden, hollow body and three strings. It belongs to the lute family of instruments. Domra is a round-bodied, long-necked, three-stringed lute played in Russia and Central Asia. The contrabass balalaika is basically a huge balalaika that rests on the ground on a wooden or metal pin that is drilled into one of its corners. A button accordion is a type of accordion on which the melody-side keyboard consists of a series of buttons rather than piano-style keys of a piano accordion. Together, these instruments produce beautiful and rich music!

I was lucky to conduct an online interview with these great musicians and it is my honor to share with you their answers. I translated them from Russian into English.

Q. Hello! Thank you for finding time to answer my questions. Please, tell me about your ensemble. How long has "Russian Renaissance" existed? Where are you located and how often do you go on tour?

A. We have existed since 2016 and are based in Moscow. Recently, we have been receiving a large number of offers to tour and to perform not only in solo concerts, but also in various collaborations. We participate in different projects, such as being part of television shows, collaborating with actors, opera singers, and also with jazz and classical musicians. We are very pleased that audiences from different countries are giving such a great response to our music, and we are especially happy that the American audiences are interested in attending our performances and hearing our music. We already had our first long tour in the United States, and we also have a great number of performances that are planned for many years ahead.

Q. In 2017, "Russian Renaissance" won the $100,000 Grand Prize at the 2017 M-Prize Competition, which is the largest prize for chamber music in the world. Please, tell about that great experience! How long did it take you to achieve such a great success and with the musicians of which countries did you have to compete?

A. At the time of the competition our ensemble had existed for less than a year and a half. Before the M-Prize Competition, we had participated in a great number of various competitions, but mostly as soloists. However, once we won first place as a group even before the 2017 M-Prize Competition. It happened in 2016 at the 69th World Cup for accordionists in a Russian town called Rostov-on-Don. When we came to the M-Prize Competition, we realized that we had never seen anything like it before! The M-Prize Competition impressed us with its high level of organization, beautiful location, highly qualified jury, and, of course, with very strong competitors from different countries. We couldn't have even dreamed about winning the main prize! The M-Prize Competition is certainly one of the best and the most respectable competitions in the world. Our group is extremely grateful to its organizers, and we are particularly thankful to the artistic director of the M-Prize competition, Matt Albert, for this unforgettable experience.

Q. Many people might think that you, as a group of the musicians who play national instruments, play only Russian national music. However, your repertoire is very wide and includes the music of various composers and of many different styles. Do you feel equally comfortable performing in various genres?

A. We have to tell you that Russian national music doesn't constitute a large portion of our repertoire. We don't think that we should be performing just one particular repertoire or playing just in one particular musical genre. We are constantly interested in trying something new and are looking for something that opens for us new aspects of life. For example, we have a concert program that includes a row of images that are based on the movies created by film directors who are the followers of Italian neorealism. We took soundtracks and combined them with images and fragments from their movies. We had a lot of fun working on that concert program! Why would we limit ourselves to only national music? Although, we have to admit that national music does play an important role in our repertoire.

Q. I know that you perform not only in Russia, but all over the world including the United States, Japan, and many European countries. How do the audiences of different countries respond to your music, and have you ever performed in Chicago?

A. We really enjoy performing for foreign audiences. We especially love to perform in the United States because an American audience is very open. Our audience members come to our concert without any preconceptions about our national instruments. For example, Russians do have a certain opinion about our instruments as these instruments have their own place in the Russian culture. However, outside of Russia it is different because our foreign audiences have a fresh look at us. We are happy that we find a response in the hearts of people of different countries! We completely give ourselves away to our audiences and present to them all our emotions and energy. In return, we get this energy back from our listeners.

Q. Russian musical education is very popular and is considered to be one of the best in the world. Do you play any other instruments besides your main instruments? Do you compose music? Do you make your own arrangements? How long are your rehearsals? And how many days a week do you practice?

A. Classical music education is still very strong in Russia as it came to us from the Soviet Union, where it was extremely powerful. We hope that musical education in our country will keep the same course in the future.

We all graduated from various educational institutions. Ivan Kuznetsov and Anastasia Zakharova graduated from Gnessin Russian Academy of Music. Ivan Vinogradov graduated from Moscow Conservatory with a major in conducting a choir, and Alexander Tarasov graduated from Ufa Institute of Culture.

We all play piano and Alexander also plays accordion besides button accordion. We make our own arrangements; Alexander plays the most important role in that process. We would like it if more contemporary composers would write music for national instruments, and we are talking about national instruments in general, not only Russian. That would show that national instruments from all over the world are still alive, they can sound in a contemporary way, and the audiences perceive them also as contemporary instruments. And regarding our practices -- it depends from a situation and how well we feel prepared. Sometimes we have to practice together a lot.

Q. In 2018, "Russian Renaissance" held master classes and lectures for the students of the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor. Do such events help to popularize Russian national music and Russian national instruments in other countries?

A. We never have thought that we popularize something. On the other hand, we do understand that our oeuvre can get attention to our instruments. At our master classes we discuss with students things that are understood by any musician, not only by those who play national instruments.

Q. Besides your concert in Wheaton College, what else do you expect from coming to Chicago?

A. We can't wait to perform at Wheaton College. This concert will open our big American tour of 2019. Our ensemble is really interested in visiting Chicago, but we still didn't decide where we will go first.

Wheaton College and the whole Chicago area can't wait to see and hear "Russian Renaissance," a truly unique ensemble that plays music of various genres and styles with all the depth of their Russian soul. For tickets, please call 630-752-5010 or go to /russian-renaissance/.

To watch Prize Winning Performance from 2017 $100,000 M-Prize Competition, please go to:

Natalia Dagenhart
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Title Annotation:Submitted Content
Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Geographic Code:1U3IL
Date:Mar 8, 2019
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