Magazine article Russian Life

Winds from the East

Magazine article Russian Life

Winds from the East

Article excerpt

When the Russian National Orchestra (RNO) returns to Russia this February from its US concert tour, it will leave behind three young players from its woodwind section. The orchestra is not abandoning the musicians to the whims of fate, but instead launching them on their first independent chamber tour. The three RNO musicians will be joined by two colleagues from Moscow. Together, they comprise the RNO Wind Quintet.

The RNO is Moscow's finest orchestra and rivals St. Petersburg's Mariinsky (Kirov) Theater Orchestra and St. Petersburg Philharmonic as the best in all of Russia. The RNO has a considerable following in the US through its regular tours over the past decade and its many recordings. But, for the fledgling RNO Wind Quintet, the February tour, which includes venues on the East Coast of the US and at the Bermuda Festival, is an attempt to crack the difficult nut that is the North American chamber music circuit.

"The chamber music scene is brimming with good young talent--mostly string players," said Mary Ann Allin, who is organizing the quintet's tour. "But what sets the RNO Wind Quintet apart is their flawless technique, combined with an enthusiasm for experimental music and new compositions, often their own! Immediately they are collaborating with jazz musicians, choreographers, and music set to poetry or with narration."

There are thousands of chamber music groups in the US and competition is stiff. Margaret Lioi, CEO of Chamber Music America, a professional association of chamber ensembles, said that her organization alone has over 800 ensembles in all genres. "There are so many chamber groups," Lioi said, "it is impossible to say how many there really are. They are so fluid, exchanging and overlapping members ... And then there are groups that come from [about 900 US] orchestras ... In the time that we are living, musical training around the world is probably at the highest level it has ever been. And every year thousands of great musicians are graduating ... in short, the level of competition is very high."

So what can set a chamber group apart, give them a leg up in the marketplace for live music?

First, Lioi said, "it is about finding opportunities wherever you are, realizing that it is as important and valuable to play in interesting local venues as in the 'top' spots like Carnegie Hall." Second, it is about doing something new and interesting, carving out a unique niche. "If you are doing something new and different, blending different art forms and really pushing the envelope," Lioi said, "that puts you in a different category."

In this respect, the RNO Wind Quintet should have what it takes. "The Wind Quintet builds on the extraordinary musical traditions of the RNO," said Richard Walker, President of the Russian Arts Foundation, the US non-profit which supports the RNO internationally. "Yes, they are world-class musicians. But they are also the new generation, and their passion and commitment to their art is infectious, perhaps even contagious."

The RNO Wind Quintet traces its origins to an ad hoc ensemble formed three years ago by a trio of recent Moscow Conservatory graduates: flutist Maxim Rubtsov, clarinetist Andrey Shuty and bassoonist Andrey Snegirev, who were later joined by oboist Andrey Rubtsov (no relation to Maxim) and horn player Alexey Serov.

While Shuty and Snegirev do not play with the RNO (both find work with a number of other Moscow orchestras), the orchestra's management nevertheless decided to take the Wind Quintet under its wing and allow the group to benefit from the RNO's name and financial support.

Sergei Markov, Chief Executive of the RNO, explained why the orchestra was eager to extend its brand to the young quintet: "This group impressed me with its rare combination of fine musicianship and youthful energy, of an earnest commitment to music with an open-mindedness and diversity of artistic and human interests. …

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