How often does one get to hear an electric guitarist improvise on famous themes from Russian music?
“We have upped the ante for the upcoming season,” says Vera Danchenko-Stern, artistic director of the Russian Chamber Art Society, which she founded nine years ago to bring a rarely heard repertoire to Washington.
That repertoire includes not only solo jazz guitar—played in this instance by Serge Khrichenko, a classically trained musician based in Silver Spring—but also arias and art songs by Russian composers such as Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Rachmaninoff.
The opening gala concert of the Russian Chamber Art Society’s 2014-2015 season will take place Friday, Oct. 10, at the Embassy of Austria. Titled “Russian Kaleidoscope,” the program features Khrichenko’s jazz, contemporary works for clarinet and piano performed by Julian Milkis and Danchenko-Stern, and vocal selections sung in Russian by two emerging talents: soprano Yana Eminova and mezzo-soprano Magdalena Wor.
Is the Society’s audience made up primarily of Russian speakers? “Absolutely not,” says Danchenko-Stern. Many patrons are opera aficionados who welcome the opportunity to hear and learn more about Russian vocal music, a tradition as worthy of international admiration as that of Russian literature.
Danchenko-Stern, a graduate of Moscow’s Gnessin Institute of Music was a faculty artist there and at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto where she and her family moved in 1978, says she “immigrated for the second time” this time to the United States in 1990 when she married her second husband Lev Stern. She has coached singers for Washington National Opera productions and taught “Singing in Russian” for more than 20 years at Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory, one of the few music schools in the country to regularly offer such training.
Two of Danchenko-Stern’s colleagues on the Peabody faculty, violinist (and brother) Victor Danchenko, and pianist Alexander Shtarkman, will perform at the Russian Chamber Art Society’s holiday concert, “Tchaikovsky is Forever,” on Friday, Dec. 5. They will perform alongside her former student, soprano Natalia Conte, mezzo-soprano Elena Bocharova and tenor Viktor Antipenko.
At the Oct. 10 gala, which also includes a buffet dinner, open bar and dessert, the concert begins with the duet between Tatyana and Olga from “Eugene Onegin.” Tchaikovsky specified that the singers should be young and beautiful—Tatyana is supposed to be just 14 years old—and, while not in their teens, Eminova and Wor qualify by age and appearance as well as by vocal ability.
Wor, born in Poland, is an alumna of Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program and the Merola Opera Program in San Francisco.
Some of the pieces for clarinet and piano on the Oct. 10 program were heard in D.C. a few years ago when Danchenko-Stern gave a concert of works by Russian Jewish composers in honor of Rabbi Howard S. White, longtime Jewish Chaplain at Georgetown University. Others are Washington premieres.
Referring to the champagne reception for VIP ticket holders, the dinner and other festivities, Danchenko-Stern calls the gala concert “a chance for a whole event.”
More information about RCAS and online ticketing are available at thercas.com.