Sydney Balalaika Orchestra Charms Audience with Russian Folk Music


Fans of traditional Russian music were treated to a special Russian folk music concert created by the Sydney Balalaika Orchestra. The event, which took place 20 July at the Russian Club in Sydney suburb of Strathfield, New South Wales, featured artists Tanya Jephtha (domra), Sophia Markovtzev (vocal), Vladimir Shvedov (vocal), Richard She (accordion), Lucy Voronov (cimbalom) and Jacob Wielgosz (guitar).

The Sydney Balalaika Orchestra was founded over 30 years ago by Volodya Savitsky. The orchestra boasts a large repertoire of light-classical and traditional folk music, all played on traditional instruments. “The orchestra is a microcosm of the multicultural fabric of Australian society with performers from a diverse range of ethnic origins: Armenian, N. American, Serbian, Ukraine as well as Russian and Australian,” states the site. “The performers share their love for the beauty of the true Russian music, where the mellow, melancholic themes are juxtaposed by the lively, energetic melodies.”

The orchestra has performed throughout NSW, Victoria, and the ACT. Such venues the orchestra has performed in include the NSW Art Gallery, the Sydney Opera House, the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, JSPAC Penrith, and folk festivals. The orchestra has also played in Far East Russia and Harbin, China after being invited to perform by the Chinese and Russian governments.  In 2011, the orchestra performed in Moscow and St. Petersburg and in 2012 performed benefit concerts in Christchurch NZ for the earthquake survivors. They will be touring Beijing and Tianjin in September this year.

The orchestra’s musical director, Victor Serghie, oversees the orchestra. Serghie studied violin at age six while studying at the Harbin Institute of Music. His family migrated to Australia in 1956; once in Australia, Serghie continued to take private violin lessons. In 1963, he joined the Sydney Conservatorium and began learning the saxophone. Serghie was introduced to Russian folk music in 1967, when he was invited to conduct a string ensemble and choir for a concert. After delving more into folk music and teaching himself how to play the domra, he formed a small folk ensemble, which eventually became a part of the orchestra.

Bruce Barker, the president of the orchestra, said that the orchestra advertised the event on the “Upcoming Shows” page, as well as on their mailing list and in the local Russian newspaper. Posters and fliers were also posted at the venue and surrounding areas, such as retailers and other businesses. Word of mouth was also a big part of the promotion.

So, how did the event go? “Better than expected,” said Barker. “Forecast audience about 130, however 230 attended. Interestingly, the audience was probably only 20% Russian origins…Ten years ago it would have been 80% Russian, 20% other. This demonstrates we are meeting our core objective to bring Russian Folk music to the Australian people. Very positive feedback during/ after the performance. Very good CD sales.”

The best part of the event was the audience, said Barker. “Seeing the audience arrive and overflowing into extra seating was a pleasant surprise,” he said. “News of invitations to perform at a festival in Russia in 2015 was also a pleasant surprise.”

If you’re planning your own concert evening, Barker has some great pointers to help you with your event planning.

  • “Be professional in all that you do.
  • Plan your marketing and the different ways of reaching your audience.
  • You will need good photographic assets.
  • Build in lead time for your publicity to reach the public.
  • Local newspapers (and sometimes radio stations) are always looking for interesting copy. Visit them. Be sure you have good pix and copy about who you are and what you’re about.
  • Use professional sound equipment and engineers for the event. All your hard work rehearsing and arranging will be undone if on the day the sound and mix are substandard. Often high end venues have very ordinary sound engineers. Find a good one and use the use him/her for all your gigs.
  • Make a CD and do it professionally. It must reflect how good you are. Often CD sales revenue will exceed the gate takings at a gig.
  • And finally get a web site up and running. It’s your face to the world. Business cards are also essential.”

You can learn more about the orchestra at its website.

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