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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Little Night Music in a Big Estate

Anyone who has flown into Moscow's international airport knows the name: Sheremetyev. For centuries, this once-powerful clan of landowning nobles moved through pre-Revolutionary Russian society in a world of class, wealth, privilege and prestige.


Kuskovo, just one of many estates in Russia once owned by the counts Sheremetyev, was taken over by the Bolsheviks after the revolution and remade into a museum complex. To this day, it retains a flavor of the grandeur of the Sheremetyevs' halcyon days of yore.


The estate's palace -- actually made of wood, and used by the family as a summer dacha for entertaining guests -- is just one of many elegant if worn buildings at Kuskovo that now house displays of Russian and European paintings, ceramics and glass. In addition to the palace, fronted by a pond where bathers seek refuge from the fierce July sun, Kuskovo's intricate layout includes a church, grotto, Italian villa, Dutch house and two orangeries.


But there are two elements at Kuskovo that afford the main attractions for heat-beleaguered Muscovites and foreign visitors in summer: the evening concerts held in the palace's surprisingly cool mirrored hall, and the welcoming verdure and quiet of the French park and the rambling greenery beyond.


In the festival "Music in Museums, Palaces and Estates of Moscow and Suburban Moscow," Kuskovo sponsors summer concerts of chamber music on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings. Kuskovo's director of cultural programs and advertising, Sarkis Amiryan, has organized a series of concerts on particular themes, such as "Three Centuries of the Russian Viola." The amazingly low ticket prices -- 15,000 rubles ($3) -- should provide an added temptation to those hesitant to make the trek to the southeastern edge of Moscow by the 7 p.m. curtain.


Though the flow of Moscow's normally gushing music scene slows to a trickle in summer, Kuskovo nevertheless attracts renowned musicians from both Russia and abroad: pianists Naum Shtarkman and Vladimir Feltsman, conductors Tatyana Grindenko and Konstantin Orbelyan.


Top-notch vocalists also appear on some programs. Last Tuesday, in a concert initially entitled "An Evening of Vocal Duets," mezzo soprano Lyudmila Ivanova, a regular soloist with the Moscow State Philharmonic, lost her appointed partner, tenor Vladimir Baka, to illness. Performing in the intimate, 250-seat mirrored hall under the approving eye of Apollo and the Muses, Ivanova proved the validity of the adage "when in doubt, punt." In a tribute to Turgenev's muse, Pauline Viardot, Ivanova punted admirably in an alternate program of solo romances and arias by Meyerbeer, Rimsky-Korsakov, Dargomyzhsky, bringing voluble calls of brava after each piece. Accompanist Irina Zaborovskaya provided able support on a Steinway concert grand on loan from the Philharmonic.


During intermission, concertgoers purchased refreshments of chilled drinks or ice cream and roamed through the French park. This garden of regular walkways, grassy rectangles and statues of forgotten heroes obviously has seen better days: The occasional snapdragon, the seldom petunia hardly do justice to what was once a meticulously manicured park.


But standing on the palace balcony, Moishe Sokolov, 53, a university professor from Tel Aviv visiting Russia as a tourist, said, "My host highly recommended that I show up ... There's a lot of potential here, and I'm sure that, given the time and the money, [Kuskovo] will become the Russian Versailles or something like that."


Marine Captain Christopher Sills, working at the U.S. Embassy, attended a concert of viola music last Wednesday. After wandering through the French park, he said, "The upkeep isn't as nice as, say, [at] Peterhof or Tsarskoye Selo and some of the other palaces I've seen.


"I don't know why all the flowers aren't planted, but I imagine it's a money thing. But I'm very impressed," he said. "It's a very nice setting for a concert, especially at this time of year."


Kuskovo's expansive size lends itself to events other than concerts. The American Chamber of Commerce chose Kuskovo as the site of this year's Independence Day celebration, an event that drew thousands of guests. And the Russian organization Association des Amis de la France selected Kuskovo for a Bastille Day bash held Saturday.


The estate's high hedges and secluded walks also attract visitors not necessarily interested in classical music concerts or celebrations of past revolutions.


A security guard who identified himself only as Vladimir, 48, said of the park's sometime guests last year, "They were drinking alcoholic beverages, and having sex, and climbing over the fence -- what have you."





Kuskovo Estate Museum, 2 Ulitsa Yunosti. For program information, call 375-3171. Travel by metro to Ryazansky Prospekt, then take bus 133 or 208 to the estate entrance. Concerts held at 7 p.m. Tickets cost 15,000 rubles and are available from the cashier at the estate's gates.