Terem Quartet
No, Russia Cannot Be Perceived by Wit
Intuition (listen.to/intuition)

cd cover Think of The Terem Quartet as a post-modern Russian string quartet. Classically trained and wildly eclectic, the group performs an instrumental repertoire of largely original songs that sound like Russian folk melodies.

The players are Andrej Smirnov on accordion, Igor Ponomarenko on alto domra (three-stringed mandolin), Andrej Kostantinov on soprano domra and Mikhail Dziudze on bass balalaika. They met as students at the (former) Leningrad Conservatory where their training was in the area of classically reworked folk music pioneered by composers like Budashkin and perpetuated by the great state balalaika ensembles. They began playing in St. Petersburg's student cafes and clubs and developed a witty stage act with lots of patter, jokes and virtuoso playing. After the Russian economy crashed, The Terem Quartet took their act on the road where the group has met with success on the WOMAD festival circuit and in Italy and Germany. Their live show is an intricate combination of academic art, folklore, jazz and rock.

Their latest CD is much more serious. It seems to recall another social milieu, a different location, an earlier dialect. Three of the four Terem instruments are the strings that are so central to the Russian folk tradition, while the lead accordion is key to shaping the emotional response to the music. On a song like "Homeless Waltz," the accordion evokes a deeply sad spirit. On "Peddlers," the accordion creates what we might recognize as a distinctly Russian character to the piece. The syncopation of the song breaks up midway through so that the rhythm can reform as one of those speeded-up climaxes we have come to expect in Russian folksongs. Even the name of the CD and song titles like "Homeless Waltz," "Peddlers" and "Diplomatic Waltz" are flavored with a conscious irony that a Russian who is forced to make his living abroad might feel.

In a recent interview with the Voice of Russia, Terem domra player Igor Ponomarenko said that in the early years the company's concerts turned into a cascade of musical jokes, funny tricks, and witty improvisations. Now the performances are more serious. Maybe the music reflects the serious obstacles every Russian must face living in a national black hole. - Aaron Howard

Visit the band's web site

Audio: two segments from "A suite of seven character dances"
©2000 (p)2000 Intuition Music, Germany

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