More than 40 years ago, Volodya Savitsky founded a group of six musicians that later evolved into the Sydney Balalaika Orchestra of today.
The orchestra is dedicated to the folk music of Russia – played on authentic folk instruments – and has a large repertoire of traditional Russian folk music and light classics. The orchestra is a microcosm of the multicultural fabric of Australian society with performers from a diverse range of ethnic origins: Armenian, Belarusian, Chinese, Danish, Indian, Irish, North American, Polish, Serbian, Ukrainian as well as Australian and Russian. The performers share a love for the beauty of authentic Russian folk music, in which mellow and even melancholy themes are juxtaposed with lively, energetic melodies.
Under the direction of Victor Serghie, the Sydney Balalaika Orchestra has long been renowned amongst the concert-going public for its sparkling presentation and polished performances.
The orchestra has performed extensively throughout
New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria, performing in venues such as the Sydney Opera House, NSW Art Gallery, Riverside Theatre, JSPAC, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and various National Folk Festivals.
In 2005 the orchestra toured Far East Russia and Harbin (China) after being invited to perform there by the Russian and Chinese governments.
In July 2007 and in 2011 the orchestra again toured Far East Russia and travelled to the heart of Russia to perform in the cities of Moscow and St Petersburg. It also performed concerts in Christchurch, NZ in support of the earthquake victims and in 2014 by tnvitation from the Beijing's. Russian Cultural Centre, the orchestra performed four concerts in Beijing and Tianjin. In 2016 the orchestra went on a 21,860 km fourteen day performance tour of Siberia and Far East Russia performing in the "Amur Autumn" festival at Blagoveshchensk, then onto Chekhov Theatre in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on the island of Sakhalin and finally to Khabarovsk, the administrative centre of Russia's Far Eastern provinces.
History of Russian Folk Music and Balalaika ensembles
In the late 1800’s a young aristocrat named Vasily Vasilievich Andreyev was probably the first figure in Russian history to start collecting Russian folk songs. Whilst studying in the village of Maryino, he became overwhelmed by the beauty of the balalaika sound, the instrument being played by many peasants on his estate. In fact, he even attempted to introduce it into the higher ranked society, but the crude instrument on which he was playing was not welcomed by the Russian aristocracy.
Andreyev then began a long collaboration with two violin makers, V. Ivanov and Francois Paserbski and a carpenter, Semeon Nalimov. The four set about reconstructing the balalaika by giving it frets, enlarging the soundboard and body, so that it could be performed on the concert stage. Andreyev became an acclaimed balalaika performer and teacher, often known as ‘the father of the balalaika’.
Picture: Vasily Vasilievich Andreyev
He began experimenting with the instrument, creating a whole family of balalaikas – prima, secunda, alto, bass and contrabass which provided a full spectrum of sound from soprano to low bass in a manner similar to the string family in the symphony orchestra. Andreyev also added the important domra family of instruments to his orchestra, along with the ‘gusli’, a table autoharp of the psaltery family.
Three generations of balalaika players have since descended from Andreyev’s school and professional composers have written for the instrument, everything from solo pieces to concertos. However, folk music still dominated in the repertoire of balalaika, which was brought to prominence in Russian music by Vasily Andreyev.