Russian Renaissance Brings Classical-Folk Fusion to Oberlin Feb. 28

February 9, 2020

Erich Burnett

four Russian musicians playing their instruments in a forest
Photo credit: courtesy Russian Renaissance

Convention-busting quartet deftly bridges sounds from multiple worlds and eras.

Once you get to know the world of Russian Renaissance, you come to expect the unexpected.

The ensemble’s four musicians hail from the far corners of Russia, but they came together over—of all things—Serbian punk music.

Their sound is grounded in the traditions of their native country, but their output incorporates influences that veer far afield from Russia.

So settle in for an exhilarating ride when Russian Renaissance makes its Ohio debut at Oberlin on Friday, February 28. Part of the Artist Recital Series, the performance begins at 7:30 p.m. in historic Finney Chapel.

The quartet will traverse the globe and several centuries in the course of one evening, delivering music first by Bach and Tchaikovsky, then by French accordionist Richard Galliano, Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla, Brazilian guitarist-pianist Egberto Gismonti, Italy’s Niccolò Paganini, America’s Béla Fleck, and others.

The ensemble first made a splash in the United States by winning the 2017 M-Prize Competition at the University of Michigan, claiming the world’s most lucrative honor for chamber music. It followed that success with a gold medal at the 2019 Vienna International Music Competition, and made its Lincoln Center and Kennedy Center debuts that same year.

Just this month, Russian Renaissance has released its self-titled debut album on Azica Records. (Sample their sound with this YouTube clip of a tango by Galliano.)

While on campus, the ensemble will meet with students in Oberlin College’s Russian and East European studies department, lead a master class with conservatory students, and present a public talk—"World Music with a Russian Soul: What We Do and How We Do It"—in the Birenbaum (lower level of the Hotel at Oberlin) from 12:15 to 1:30 p.m. on February 28.

“We are fond of noting that ‘the world comes to Oberlin,’ an expression of our pride in bringing an unparalleled range of artists to campus every year, to perform on our stages and to interact with our students,” says Dean of the Conservatory William Quillen.

“Russian Renaissance embodies exactly what we mean by this. We are thrilled to welcome them in concert and in the numerous other capacities they will engage with our community. They are one of the most fascinating, versatile young chamber ensembles performing today, and their wide-ranging influences provide a welcome model for us all.”

Russian Renaissance was cofounded in 2015 by balalaika player Ivan Kuznetsov and domra player Anastasia Zakharova, both of whom were newly graduated from the Gnessin Russian Academy of Music in Moscow when they had a chance encounter with the musicians of the long-running Serbian garage-punk band No Smoking Orchestra. They hit it off, jammed together, and followed the urge to establish an ensemble of their own. The following year, Russian Renaissance won first prize at Russia’s Coupe Mondiale competition—the first contest they ever entered.

At the heart of the ensemble’s sound is its decidedly traditional Russian instrumentation. The balalaika is a tri-cornered, three-stringed instrument popularized in the States by the 1965 film Doctor Zhivago and more recently by The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). The balalaika’s oversized cousin, the balalaika contrabasso (played by Ivan Vinogradov), emits a sound similar to a plucked double bass. Zakharova’s domra may be likened to a mandolin, while Alexander Tarasov plays a button accordion, a staple of folk and polka ensembles all over the world.

Tickets for Russian Renaissance at Oberlin are $35 ($30 for seniors, members of the military, and Oberlin faculty, staff, and alumni). All student tickets are just $10.

Get yours by calling 800-371-0178, buy online at, or visit Central Ticket Service (Nord Performing Arts Annex) from noon to 5 p.m., weekdays.

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