Luminous strings, Russian music

The Moscow Chamber Orchestra takes the stage on Sunday night

Posted: Thursday, February 08, 2001

Fresh from its performance at Carnegie Hall last week, the Moscow Chamber Orchestra brings the music of Russia's best-known composers to Alaska this weekend.

The group started its current American tour in Florida two weeks ago, and Paula Law helped bring the group to Palm Beach. She said the performance there was absolutely splendid.

"There were soloists featured who are not coming to Alaska, but the music itself by the orchestra was exquisite," Law said. "The audience was screaming, standing on their feet for an encore. This is a conservative, laid-back audience. We were delighted they responded so beautifully."

The Moscow Chamber Orchestra will perform at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium.

The Moscow Chamber Orchestra was created in 1956. The group gained renown within Russia, and Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich enlisted the group for the premier performance of his 14th Symphony.

In 1991 American concert pianist and conductor Constantine Orbelian was named director of the group, the first American ever to become the music director of an ensemble in Russia. He has led the Moscow Chamber Orchestra in performances in Asia, Europe and North and South America. The group has performed more than 120 concerts annually in recent years.

After the group's performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City last week they moved on to Virginia for a week-long residency at Mercyhurst College. Orbelian sent an e-mail from Williamsburg, Va., en route to Alaska this week. The conductor wrote that he will be playing the piano for one piece.

"I will be performing the Mozart 'Piano Concerto No. 12 in A Major' and then the rest of the program will be: Prokofiev 'Five Visions Fugitive,' and our cellist, Alexander Zagorinsky, who is a prize winner of the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, will perform the Rachmaninov 'Vocalise' and a lovely piece called 'At the Fountain' by Davydov. The second half of the program will be Helmer Sinisalo's 'Three Russian Miniatures,' performed by our flutist Oleg Sergeev and Tchaikovsky's

'Serenade for Strings' to finish off the program."

Reviews have highlighted the Tchaikovsky "Serenade for Strings" as a standout in the program. The term luminous is often used in reviews to describe the group's sound.

The Moscow Chamber Orchestra features about 20 string players: violas, violins, cellos and a bass.

Orbelian was born in San Francisco to Russian and Armenian immigrants, and made his debut as a pianist with the San Francisco Symphony at age 11. In his teens he studied music in the Soviet Union. He graduated from Julliard in New York at the age of 18. He pursued a music career that took him all over the world, and recorded a number of piano concertos. He has also led the Moscow Chamber Orchestra in at least 15 recording projects, ranging from piano and violin concertos to waltzes and tangos to operatic arias.

Orbelian is the founder of The Palaces of St. Petersburg International Music Festival, a three-week-long festival in St. Petersburg which features performances in many of the historic palaces of that city. He also performs and records with other music groups.

The Moscow Chamber Orchestra's Alaska tour includes performances in Juneau, Ketchikan, Anchorage and Fairbanks.

The Juneau Arts and Humanities Council is sponsoring the event. Tickets are $20 general, $16 for students and seniors and $65 for a family pass. A special $50 "gold ticket" is available, which includes admission to the concert plus admission to a reception with the musicians afterward at the Baranof.

Riley Woodford can be reached at

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