THE ANDREYEV IMPERIAL RUSSIAN ORCHESTRA
20 March 1888 saw a dazzling performance at the Noble Assembly by eight musicians who were known as the "Circle of Balalaika Player Enthusiasts" under its founderVasily Vasilyevich Andreyev, heralding the birth of the first Russian folk ensemble (today the Andreyev Orchestra).
Andreyev understood before many others that the unique, special timbre of the balalaika was inherently linked to Russian folk music and that with the aid of the balalaika and other Russian instruments he could save gem-like Russian songs from oblivion.
In 1913, when the Great Russian Orchestra (known thus since 1896) celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary, it numbered thirty musicians and toured with great success to France, Germany, the UK, the USA and Canada. The unanimous acclaim of Russian and western music critics who referred to the orchestra as "incomparable" confirmed that Andreyev was right, motivating him to turn to Russian statesmen for support to preserve and develop this integral part of Russian culture. And so the orchestra, which now also included the dombra and the gusli, was renamed the "Imperial Russian Orchestra".
The orchestra´s twenty-five year anniversary concert drew the attention of all of St Petersburg´s high society, especially the Imperial family. It was held at the Mariinsky Theatre. Following numerous ovations, Andreyev was congratulated by the great Chaliapin: "My dear Vasily Vasilievich! You have warmed the heart of the orphaned balalaika. With your care and love she has become a wonderful Russian beauty, enchanting the world with her loveliness." The orchestra received hundreds of telegrams from many countries with words of thanks and admiration, including ones from Sarah Bernhardt and Arthur Nikisch, Arturo Toscanini and Ruggero Leoncavallo. In France, Andreyev was made an Honorary Academician of the Académie des Beaux-Arts "for introducing a new element to music".
By this time the orchestra had won international fame. Now Russian folk music was being performed at major venues in Russia and abroad, societies of lovers of dombra and balalaika music appeared everywhere, and in the music world they claimed equal status with the violin and the cello.
Having survived the October Revolution of 1917, the World War II and the Siege of Leningrad – the orchestra managed to retain the national colour and traditions established by its founder. Since 1918, following the death of Vasily Andreyev, the ensemble has been led by many outstanding conductors, among them Niman, Grikurov, Yeltsin and Eliasberg. Guest artists have included such renowned musicians as Stokovsky, Naidenov, Dubrovsky and Fedoseyev.
In 1986 when Dmitry Khokhlov was appointed Principal Conductor of the Andreyev Orchestra, the ensemble numbered fifty musicians. In its new leader, the orchestra found a talented musician who, like the initial founder in his time, devoted all his energy and thoughts to the revival of the ensemble´s international glory, perfecting its technique. Today the Andreyev Orchestra is a unique orchestra, performing all kinds of music from folk songs from various countries to international classics.
The V. V. Andreyev Orchestra´s repertoire includes over one hundred miniatures in addition to major works by Glinka, Musorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Khachaturian, Sviridov and contemporary Petersburg composers.
Numerous tours throughout Russia and abroad bear witness to the high professionalism of the Andreyev Orchestra, such as its appearance at the Carnegie Hall in the USA to mark one hundred years since it was founded. "A perfect, incomparable ensemble of musicians", wrote one music critic after the concerts at the Kennedy Center in Washington and Carnegie Hall in New York. The orchestra has frequently appeared in Japan, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, Greece, Romania and France. In 2000 EMI-Classics (UK) issued a CD recording of the ensemble. Audiences everywhere can note the orchestra´s fondness for Russia and its people, which should come as no surprise as the heart of the ensemble beats with the soul of Russia…