SPAC on Stage kicks off with Russian Renaissance

An ensemble that challenges listeners’ expectations of classical Russian folk music will perform on Monday
Russian Renaissance
Russian Renaissance

Categories: Entertainment

The Saratoga Performing Arts Center is inviting audience members and performers alike to take the stage this summer for their SPAC on Stage series. It’s an intimate setting, bringing small ensembles together with audience members, looking out at the theater. 

The first up in the series is Russian Renaissance, an ensemble that challenges listeners’ expectations of classical Russian folk music slated to perform on Monday. In 2017, the ensemble won the $10,000 Grand Prize at the M-Prize Competition. It’s the largest prize for chamber music, though it’s certainly not the first prize the group has won; they also snagged first prize at the 69th Coupe Mondiale in Russia in 2016. 

Combining the sounds of traditional Russian folk instruments (balalaika, domra/domra alto, button accordion, and balalaika contrabasso) with everything from jazz to rock, Russian Renaissance bending genres and expectations. 

Members Ivan Kuznetsov, Anastasia (Nastya) Zacharova, Alexandre Tarasov and Ivan Vinogradov started playing and performing when they were children, some as young as five years old. They went on to study music in Russia, at various academies and conservatories; Zacharova is currently working on a masters course. 

When they first formed Russian Renaissance several years ago, the arrangements they were hoping to perform just weren’t out there. 

“Music for Russian folk instruments is rich, but for a quartet like ours, there is sadly not much decent original music of good quality. We are painstakingly looking for the best sound,” said one ensemble member in an email to The Gazette. 

Tarasov writes many of the arrangements, though each member contributes with their own style and unique twists.  

“We consider music to be a universal language of communication, without borders or limits,” said one band member. 

Their repertoire includes works from Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla, Russian electronic music composer Eduard Artemyev, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Duke Ellington. It’s nothing short of an eclectic mix. They also perform and arrange music from various film scores, especially Italian neo-realism films. 

Russian Renaissance’s first album is due out in the fall and according to the ensemble, it “[weaves] a very tangled musical mixture.” There will be some avant-garde music by Alfred Schnittke, as well as music from the film, “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence.” It will also feature their piece “Vanya,” which combines American rock with Russian folk tunes.  

When audiences hear Russian Renaissance for the first time, they’re often surprised, according to the ensemble. They try to challenge themselves, as well as their instruments with each performance. 

“We just try to play each concert a little better than the previous one,” said one ensemble member.    

The show will start at 8 p.m. on Monday. Tickets range from $40-50. 

Here’s a glance at the other SPAC On Stage events coming up this summer:

  • On August 13, Nu Deco Ensemble will be taking the stage. The Miami-based group works with composers, DJs, dancers, visual artists, and others to create multimedia performances. Nu Deco Ensemble’s music blends classical and pop.  
  • Black Violin is back this summer on August 20. The duo brings a hip-hop sound with a classical twist. 
  • Later in the month, on August 27, H’SAO finishes off the series. The Montreal-based band, originally from Chad, mixes modern music with traditional African music. 

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