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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FACES & VOICES: 'Four Seasons' Marches to a New Drum




Violins, try and give me a thicker sound, more like syrup. Come on guys, you know, this is pure Hollywood."


In a music school just off the Garden Ring, conductor Mikhail Rakhlevsky is rehearsing his chamber orchestra, for an exciting concert. On Friday, in the Great Hall of the Conservatory, Russians will get a chance to hear "The Four Seasons" as they have never heard it before.


Russia is a country where the changes of the seasons are acutely felt. Autumn is the time not only of yellowing leaves but also of renewed musical life, a season of thrills as well as melancholy.


Rakhlevsky will begin his program with Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," one of the most popular pieces of music in history. "The only thing to do with such a well known work is to have a good time with it," laughed the jovial conductor.


To do this, Rakhlevsky will present a version of "The Four Seasons" by Astor Piazzolla, an Argentine composer who is already popular in the West but hardly known here in Russia.


"It's an awfully cute little piece," said Rakhlevsky, predicting that the music would soon be all the rage.


The work, in an arrangement for piano, violin, cello and orchestra, is an immediately accessible mixture of the popular and the classical - almost a sort of perfect movie music.


Piazzolla developed a genre called "new tango," which introduces elements of Latin dance and jazz as well as echoes of classical favorites.


"Some of the associations are obvious," said Rakhlevsky. "Some are jokes and some are on a subconscious level. There is something for everybody in this music."


Also on Rakhlevsky's program will be a Piazzolla concerto for orchestra and bandoneon, an instrument similar to an accordion. "It was often played in houses of ill repute," said Rakhlevsky, "and it has a wonderful, sensuous sound."


Piazzolla, who died in 1992, spent much of his youth in North America. That was where Rakhlevsky first heard his music and obtained scores and recordings. Rakhlevsky himself lived for many years in the United States after emigrating from the Soviet Union in 1973 with Jewish refugee status. However, he chose to return to Russia and founded his Kremlin chamber orchestra - not to be confused with the official Kremlin orchestra - after the hardline putsch in August 1991.


Rakhlevsky remembered the intoxicating musical atmosphere in Moscow in the 1960s. The scene is sadder now, and his musicians cannot make a living in Russia. For half of the year, they tour abroad. The conductor still keeps a home in Michigan.


In America, he heard Piazzolla's "Four Seasons" played by Gidon Kremer in an arrangement just for violin and orchestra. "I felt it needed a piano," he said, explaining why he had chosen an alternative arrangement. He picked pianist Vitaly Matveyev after hearing him play George Gershwin with gusto. Maxim Kozlov will take the cello part. And Rakhlevsky himself, picking up what he calls his "fiddle" after a break of eight years, will play the violin as well as conducting.


"I'm nervous," he said, "but also excited. It's going to be fun. Don't miss it."


Tickets for Rakhlevsky's concert on Sept. 17 are available at the Conservatory.