February 5, 2006 - Inaugural Concert of Russian Chamber Arts Society at Lyceum, Alexandria, VA

'Education and Pleasure (or Delightful Education)'

Vera Danchenko-Stern is the initiator of the Russian Chamber Art Society that has recently been organized in the Washington, DC area. Vera Danchenko-Stern, an excellent musician, a pianist trained in the famous Russian tradition, taught at the Catholic University in DC and is at the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, MD. She often performs with musicians of various genres, and in the past few years she has been busy coaching American vocalists in correct Russian pronunciation.

Vera Danchenko-Stern is known in many opera theatres in the US. Twice, she has successfully performed with her students at the international Conservatories Festival in Saint-Petersburg, Russia.

It just so happens that Russian chamber vocal music is not as well known outside of Russia as operatic, symphonic or instrumental repertoire. Who, in the West, is not familiar, for example, with “Boris Godunov” or “Pictures from the Exhibition” by Mussorgsky? Yet, who can recognize the melodies of Mussorgsky’s art songs “Seminary” or “Savishna”? Who doesn’t know the “Bogatyr” symphony or the Second String Quartet by Borodin? But only rarely can one hear his art songs performed before American musical audiences. The genre of Russian romance (art songs) remains virtually an unexplored territory, as much for the music lovers as for vocalists themselves.

That is why it is ingratiating that the four programs planned for this season by the Russian Chamber Art Society offer a kind of anthology of Russian art songs. Here we shall have old Russian romances, Gypsy art songs, a vocal cycle by Shostakovich, written to the words of the Russian poet Alexander Blok, as well as music by other composers of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. It stands to reason that in the very first program, entitled “Masterpieces of Russian vocal music” the other performers, together with Vera Danchenko-Stern, were Russian-born and musically trained singers Medea Namoradze and Mikhail Svetlov. In future concerts, American singers will have the opportunity to perform.

The leading soloist of the Tbilisi Opera Theatre, soprano Medea Namoradze, is currently a professor of the Shenandoah Conservatory in Virginia. In the past, a soloist of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow bass Mikhail Svetlov performed on many prestigious opera stages worldwide. Both singers have solid reputations as being masters of opera and chamber vocal genre.

The voice of Medea Namoradze impresses listeners by its freshness and the ability to reflect very diverse emotional moods, which, in turn, deeply penetrate the audience. “There are no eyes in the world” by Peter Bulakhov, “No wind is blowing from above”, by Rimsky-Korsakov, “I was not a grass in the field” by Tchaikovsky, “Lilac” and “Night in my garden” by Rachmaninov, were the highlights of her performance.

Mikhail Svetlov – a genuine actor-singer – is always able, easily and completely, to transform himself from one musical character into another. This ability is the precise reason Mr. Svetlov was equally convincing in the humorous “Goat” and “Flea” by Mussorgsky, as well as in cantilena-like “None but the lonely heart” and “Don Juan’s serenade” by Tchaikovsky, “Oh no, I beg you, don’t leave” by Rachmaninov.

The piano playing of Vera Danchenko-Stern can least of all be described as “accompaniment”. And it is due not only to the brilliantly performed interludes and postludes, which were so popular with Russian composers, nor the enviable masterful easiness in performing virtuoso piano parts in such piece, for example, as “Don Juan’s serenade” by Tchaikovsky. Together with exceptionally sensitive ensemble playing of this pianist, the audience could feel the steady, leading and guiding hand of a conductor.

The hall of Lyceum in Alexandria, VA was overfilled, and the audience did not let the performers leave the stage for a long time. Due to requests of those who were not able to get tickets for that performance, the program is to be repeated again on March 18, 2006.

Thus, the flags on the mast of the Russian Chamber Art Society have been raised. I would like to wish it a long and happy journey. I can foresee concert series and festivals, the participation of many performers - instrumentalists, as well as vocal and vocal-instrumental ensembles. I can also foresee a pedagogical aspect in the society’s endeavors, specifically, master classes given by Russian vocalists to their American colleagues wishing to obtain skills of performing Russian art songs.

Russian News, Dr. Victor Yuzefovich