Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Young Troupe Harmonizes Russian, U.S. Music

The American Russian Youth Orchestra, an ensemble uniting talented young Russian and American musicians, is beginning its 1995 season on a somewhat somber note.

Unlike its three predecessors, which toured both the United States and the former Soviet Union as full-size symphony orchestras, the 1995 ensemble has been limited to chamber-orchestra proportions and will confine its playing entirely to the United States.

Only next year will the resources be available again to create a large-scale ensemble and to support tours in both of the countries which the orchestra represents.

But the orchestra's founder and guiding light, an energetic New Yorker named Edythe Holbrook, is undaunted.

Recently visiting Moscow to complete marathon auditions at conservatories throughout Russia and in the Kazakh capital of Almaty, she spoke with considerable pride of the orchestra's three triumphant tours in the past, the high level of the talent she has gathered together for this year's ensemble and the plans she has mapped out for future seasons.

Early in June, 17 orchestral musicians from Russia and Kazakhstan, ranging in age from 18 to 25, will fly to New York City and then travel on a short distance up the Hudson River to the campus of Bard College. There, together with 19 equally young American instrumentalists, they will form this year's version of the youthful ensemble.

As one of the numerous "people-to-people" projects conceived during the heyday of glasnost and perestroika, the first of Holbrook's orchestras came into being during the summer of 1988, with tours of the United States and the Soviet Union aimed at celebrating 30 years of cultural exchange between the two countries.

A second orchestra was formed and went on tour in 1990 and a third followed in 1993.

The tour two years ago brought the ARYO a full house at Moscow's Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, for a memorable concert led by Hugh Wolff, music director of the Chamber Orchestra of St. Paul, Minnesota.

The musicians went on to to triumphant performances in Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk and St. Petersburg.

While most of $1.4 million required for the orchestra's 1993 tour was raised from American sources, Holbrook managed a breakthrough by obtaining a part of her funding from Russian private companies.

Two of the latter, the St. Petersburg Bank and the diamond firm Karat, have maintained their sponsorship, and representatives of both plan to be present at this year's rehearsals and concerts in the United States.

Following the orchestra's success in 1993, Holbrook resolved to put matters on a firmer financial footing, which would permit long-range planning and a regular, annual program of activities.

Now, armed with multi-year grants, including a generous contribution from the oil giant Chevron, Holbrook has drawn up a three-year program, which encompasses not only the tours of this summer and next, but also a series of residencies for musicians and managers at musical organizations in both Russia and the U.S. during the summer of 1997. Bard College has agreed to become the organization's home base, with members of its staff providing services and training.

Holbrook has also assembled a large Advisory Council, filled with well-known names from the worlds of American business, government, music and philanthropy, but also including Mayor Yuri Luzhkov of Moscow and the Russian ambassador to Washington.

Honorary chairmanship of the council is shared by the first ladies of the United States and Russia, Hillary Clinton and Naina Yeltsin. The ARYO is, in fact, the only project to which both first ladies currently lend their support.

Musical advisors to the ARYO include Wolff, Valery Gergiyev, who heads the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, and Leonard Slatkin, who is soon to become the musical director of Washington's National Symphony Orchestra.

The orchestra which gathers at Bard College this June will first undergo an intensive two-and-a-half weeks of rehearsal, musical study and language training. Once again, as in 1993, the program will include master classes under the leadership of famed jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

Following their preparation at Bard, a group of eight from the orchestra will fly to San Francisco to take part in celebrations honoring the 50th anniversary of the founding of the UN.

The full orchestra will make its debut at the Russian Embassy in Washington, with a fund-raising concert for itself to follow in the newly refurbished Russian Consulate in New York.

Finally, carried by a chartered bus to be called "The Yankee Doodle Firebird Express," it will embark on a two-week tour of midwestern cities.

Sharing the podium at its concerts will be Konstantin Orbelian, music director of the Moscow State Chamber Orchestra, and Leon Botstein, whose career combines music directorship of the American Symphony Orchestra with the presidency of Bard College.

The three previous orchestras under ARYO auspices have, according to Edythe Holbrook, produced gratifying results not only artistically, but also in terms of interaction between the participants and broadening of their respective horizons.

It has also brought many of her young musicians to the notice of musical organizations both here and in the United States, opening up opportunities for permanent employment. She emphasizes, however, that it is not her organization's intention to encourage Russian musicians to seek greener pastures abroad.

Only one past Russian participant has chosen to remain behind in the United States, to take up a special invitation to continue his studies at an American conservatory.