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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Orchestra Set for U.S. Tour

The 25 musicians of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, together with their U.S.-born musical director and conductor, Constantine Orbelian, have departed Moscow to make the orchestra's first tour in the United States since the cultural exchange days of the late 1970s.

The orchestra's seven-week, 29-concert journey, which started Sunday in Beaver Creek, Colorado, and ends May 3 in Norfolk, Virginia, takes it to nearly every corner of the United States, from the heartland of the Midwest to the Pacific Coast and from New England to the tip of Florida, with a brief excursion across the border to play in Vancouver, Canada.

The Moscow Chamber Orchestra -- now officially called the State Academic Chamber Orchestra of Russia but still traveling abroad under its old and familiar name -- last toured the United States in 1978, shortly before events in Afghanistan and Poland brought to a halt the U.S.-Soviet cultural exchange program. Since then, it has touched the shores of America on only one occasion, for a concert three years ago as Russia's cultural ambassador to the 50th anniversary celebrations of the United Nations in San Francisco.

Besides standard fare from the classical repertoire, the orchestra is bringing to American audiences a healthy dose of modern Russian music, including an arrangement for piano and orchestra by young Russian-born U.S. pianist Julia Zilberquit of Dmitry Shostakovich's 1954 Concertino for Two Pianos with Zilberquit as soloist; Shostakovich's Symphony No. 14, written especially for the Moscow Chamber Orchestra and premiered by it in 1969; and Alfred Schnittke's 1979 Piano Concerto, with conductor Orbelian doubling as piano soloist. Also scheduled for the tour is the U.S. premiere of Armenian composer Alexander Arutyunyan's fairly recent Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.

The Moscow Chamber Orchestra came into being in 1956, when the distinguished violist Rudolf Barshai gathered together Moscow's most talented instrumentalists. Under Barshai's direction, which lasted until his departure from the Soviet Union in the mid-1970s, the orchestra came to be recognized as one of the finest ensembles of its kind in the world. After Barshai, the orchestra had three conductors until 1991, when San Francisco-born Constantine Orbelian assumed the leadership.

Orbelian made his musical debut at age 11, playing piano with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. After graduating from the Julliard School of Music in New York in 1980, he went on to build an impressive career as a pianist. His recording of Soviet composer Aram Khachaturian's Piano Concerto was picked by the British magazine Gramophone as best concerto recording of the year in 1988.

As with the Schnittke Piano Concerto on the current U.S. tour, Orbelian still occasionally performs as soloist with his orchestra. But he devotes most of his attention now to conducting. He is particularly interested in encouraging the development of young orchestral musicians, and two seasons ago, he led the U.S. tour of a chamber ensemble put together under the auspices of the American-Russian Youth Orchestra. In early June he plans to travel to Akmola, the remote new capital of Kazakhstan, to direct the very first concert of the newly formed Youth Orchestra of Commonwealth of Independent States.

Under Orbelian's direction, the Moscow Chamber Orchestra performs about 80 concerts a year, playing both on subscription series at the Moscow Conservatory and Tchaikovsky Concert Hall and touring extensively both inside Russia and abroad. In 1995, it became the first Russian orchestra ever to visit South Africa. The following year it was invited to perform in Davos, Switzerland, at the prestigious gathering of business and political leaders known as the World Economic Forum. Just last week, practically on the eve of its departure for the United States, the orchestra completed a two-week tour of France.

After its return from the United States, the Moscow Chamber Orchestra will stay in Moscow just long enough to open the summer program of musical events held in the elegant ballroom of the Sheremetyev palace at Kuskovo on May 26. It then moves on to St. Petersburg -- and to one of the high points of its season -- for the opening of the "Palaces of St. Petersburg" festival, the sixth in an annual series of concerts organized by Orbelian and his violinist wife, Maria Safariants, which uses as its backdrop the northern capital's royal and aristocratic architectural heritage.

A unique group of string players, the San Francisco-based Kronos Quartet, whose sensational Moscow debut was the talk of the town last May, is set to enliven the local music scene once again with a two-concert return visit at the end of the month.

On March 31, the quartet plays at the Mossoviet Theater, where it will present the premiere of a mixed-media piece by Tan Dun called "Ghost Opera," as well as B?la Bart-k's astringent Third Quartet and a repeat from last May of music by Alfred Schnittke. The following evening, the group moves to the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory with an evening devoted entirely to Schnittke's four string quartets.

Information and reservations for the Kronos Quartet concerts are available by telephone at 138-2874 or 131-3901.