Instruments of change

The Russians are coming … and they’re ready to play some serious music with their American cohorts in the American Russian Young Artists Orchestra (ARYO).

ARYO will play Brevard Music Center’s summer music festival for the first time, compliments of well-connected alumni. “One of our trustees, Joe Robinson, who plays principal oboe with the New York Philharmonic, knows the executive director of the symphony,” explains Stephanie Eller, Director of Marketing and Public Relations for the Brevard Music Center. “He suggested that ARYO consider playing at Brevard, and the one day we had available was the one day ARYO needed to fill.”

This serendipitous coincidence is one of many in ARYO’s history. From its beginnings in 1987, ARYO, then known as the American Soviet Youth Orchestra, has had its share of lucky breaks. During the time of Reagan and Gorbachev, when relations between the two superpowers were strained, to say the least, the American Soviet Youth Orchestra was one of the only joint operations between the two ideologically opposed countries. As one might imagine, the venture was hardly free of difficulty.

For one thing, says Edythe M. Holbrook, ARYO’s executive director and one of its co-founders, travel was challenging. “The two groups were treated differently,” she says. During the tour, “the Americans might travel by airplane while the Soviets might take a train,” for example. “And the Soviets roomed together, as did the Americans.”

These days, with the new Russia evolving daily, there’s more mixing between Russian and American musical performers, who range in age from 17-26. “Especially now, with the relationship between Bush and Putin, there’s lots of room for collaboration here,” says Holbrook. “We’re not dealing with enemies anymore. We can demonstrate that our countries can work together,” she says.

Of course, collaborating is what these student groups — which re-form each year via auditions to create a new symphonic group — have been doing on their own since 1987. First, the students must audition and be accepted. In the U.S., these auditions have always been fairly open, but during the first years of the symphony, the only students allowed to represent the U.S.S.R. came from the Moscow Conservatory. Now, auditions are held throughout Russia, and exceptional music students in far-flung provinces have a chance to participate. For example, two young women from Vladikovkos — Asheville’s sister city in Russia — will be touring with ARYO this year. “This orchestra, which has only been in existence for 15 years, has never been able to get any students from that area because of the turmoil,” reveals Eller.

“I went there myself to cement the deal,” says Holbrook. “If I’d known the city was so close to the border of Chechnya, I may not have gone,” she says, laughing. Still, she says, “can you imagine what it means to them to be involved in this?”

Unfortunately, Brevard discovered this Asheville-Russia connection too late to plan any activities to commemorate it. “They’re only here for one night,” Eller explains, adding that the symphony will “fly in the day of the concert, then fly right back out.” Brevard is only one of four U.S. cities in which ARYO will perform; the other three are New York, Miami and Harrisburg, Penn.

When ARYO leaves the U.S., it will play in Finland, Armenia and in five Russian cities. For its grand finale performance July 2 in Moscow’s Red Square, “ARYO will broadcast [simultaneously] from the Alpha International Space Station, if all goes according to plan,” says Holbrook.

The Russians are funding that performance, though funding throughout ARYO’s history has gone back and forth between the Soviets and the Americans, encompassing both private and public sources. And world events have definitely had their impact in this area.

“Since 1998, when the ruble collapsed, we’ve subsidized most of the Orchestra,” says Holbrook, who also notes that “September 11 made money harder to get [in the U.S.], so we turned to Russia for more help.” According to Holbrook, “one city in Siberia is raising money locally and one member of the [ARYO] Board in Armenia is raising lots of money there.”

At Brevard, ARYO’s 85 members will offer audiences Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and Alexander Scriabin’s Piano Concerto, Op. 20, with Alexei Podkorytov, age 23, from Novosibirsk, Russia, performing the piano solo. Podkorytov, who’s performed in Japan, Germany, Italy, Spain, England, and the United States, is a third-year student at New York’s Juilliard School.

ARYO will be conducted by Leon Botstein, music director of the American Symphony Orchestra, co-artistic director of the Bard Music Festival, and president of Bard College in New York. When ARYO’s members are chosen each year, they fly to Bard College for a 10-day rehearsal period before embarking on their tour. “They have to produce something, to come together as a symphony in a record amount of time,” says Holbrook. “It’s not just a musical exchange; it’s the creation of a symphony, which is a very complex unit.” As an educational opportunity, “this is something no classroom can match,” she notes.

Brevard Music Festival highlights

The Brevard Music Festival, sponsored by the Brevard Music Center, runs Friday, June 14 through Sunday, Aug. 4, and features student and faculty recitals, the BMC Festival Orchestra under various guest conductors, and the following events, among many others:

• Friday, June 14, 7:30 p.m.: “Swing, Swing, Swing!” with the New York Voices and the Manhattan School of Music/Brevard Music Center Jazz Institute Big Band

• Saturday, June 15, 7:30 p.m.: The 5th Dimension

• Thursday, July 4 and Saturday, July 6, 7:30 p.m.: Oklahoma!

• Tuesday, July 9, 8 p.m.: The Kingston Trio

• Sunday, July 21, 3 p.m.: Violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg

• Tuesday, July 30, 8 p.m.: Marilyn Horne

For a comprehensive list of concerts and ticket prices, call (828) 884-2019, (888) 384-8682, or check out www.brevardmusic.org.

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