From Russia, with strings

Moscow Chamber Orchestra stops in Juneau before performing in Carnegie Hall, Europe

Posted: Thursday, September 18, 2003

Whether his Moscow Chamber Orchestra is playing in Czechoslovakia or Carnegie Hall or even the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium, music director and conductor Constantine Orbelian has one wish.

"As a performer, one has only one thing on his mind, to make an impression on one's audience and to make an emotional experience out of listening to music," said Orbelian, now in his 14th year in the orchestra, in an e-mail from Prague. "I am that way myself. I want to leave a concert hall with a lasting emotional musical impression."

Alaska certainly had an impact on the orchestra when the group swept through Juneau, Ketchikan, Anchorage and Fairbanks in February 2001. The orchestra returns at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20, for a performance at the JDHS auditorium.

"We had such a wonderful time (in Alaska) two years ago that the entire group is looking forward to this trip," Orbelian said.

The Moscow Chamber Orchestra was created in 1956, and top Russian composers were soon writing music specifically for the group. Dmitry Shostakovich, "notable as one of the great symphonists" of the 20th century, according to a BCC profile, asked the orchestra to premiere his "Fourteenth Symphony."

"This must be the greatest chamber orchestra in the world," Shostakovich said at the time.

Over the years, the orchestra has released numerous recordings and played in Asia, Europe and North and South America. The group plays 80 to 120 shows a year and is scheduled to play Carnegie Hall in New York City on Oct. 10. The orchestra has 30 more concerts to play this year, including a live television broadcast in Moscow, a tour with Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky in Frankfurt, Munich and London and recording with contralto Ewa Podles.

Orbelian, a native of San Francisco, was named director of the group in 1991. He is the first American to lead a Russian ensemble.

"(Our tradition is) intensity of sound and emotion," Orbelian said. "This comes from each of the musicians being brought up to be a superstar soloist. In days past, it was a fight to the finish for that first prize in the former U.S.S.R. This goes for sports, ballet and anything else. A musician was a national hero with a pension and financial guarantee for life if he brought a gold medal or first prize back to the motherland. It really was a unique system, with all of its faults as well."

The program will begin with Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 22, "The Philosopher," then turn to Mozart piano concerto K.271 in E-flat, played by soloist Carol Rosenberger. After an intermission, violin soloist concertmaster Alexander Mayorov will play a fantasy arrangement inspired by themes from the opera "Carmen," the orchestra will resume with five preludes by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and conclude with Luigi Boccherini's Symphony No. 6 in D minor "La Casa del Diavolo."

"This is one of my favorite programs," Orbelian said. "It has a wonderful balance of classical, romantic and just a little contemporary."

"The Haydn is a brilliant example of Haydn's genius," he said. "The Mozart piano concerto is one of his very finest, and Carol Rosenberger plays it gorgeously. The Carmen is based on the opera themes that everyone knows and Shostakovich preludes are the most joyful of Shostakovich's music. The Boccherini is an orchestral, virtuosic masterpiece."

Orbelian was 11 years old when he debuted as a pianist with the San Francisco Symphony. He studied in the Soviet Union and graduated from the Julliard School of Music in 1980. He's played and recorded with orchestras throughout North America and Europe. Fanfare, a magazine for record collectors once wrote, "his technique is superb."

"My programs are made up from the standpoint of the person sitting in the audience," Orbelian said. "I put myself in that position and make up the kind of programs that I personally would like to go to a concert to hear."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at

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