By Quentin Zimbalist
It would be hard to believe that anybody left Finney Chapel on Friday night, February 28, without a smile on their face. Russian Renaissance, a folk fusion band sporting traditional Russian instruments, provided an unforgettable evening of music for people of many walks of life The quartet captivated the audience with repertoire ranging from traditional Russian Folk pieces to modern American pop music, and mashups of everything in between.
From left to right sat Ivan Kuznetsov (balalaika), Anastasia Zakharova (domra), Alexander Tarasov (button accordion), and Ivan Vinogradov (bass balalaika). The group opted to change the order of the program, making it difficult to figure out their opener, which began with a fierce 4×4 groove and felt like the background music in an intense movie. Tarasov took the melody, pressing the accordion’s buttons with incredible speed and precision.
With Kuznetsov hunching over his balalaika, Tarasov bobbing his head around to the beat, and Zakharova intensely strumming her domra, the performers themselves provided visual stimuli to match the auditory counterpart.
By the third song, Richard Gallianos’ Tango Por Claude, all four members of the quartet had demonstrated complete technical control over their instruments. The group regularly changed dynamics — transitioning from the quietest piano to a thunderous fortissimo and back with ease — all while maintaining an astounding sense of ensemble.
For the final piece before intermission, Russian Renaissance performed the iconic Béla Fleck tune Sinister Minister. Here, Tarasov played a four-sided, harmonica-accordion, as captivating to watch as it is Googleable — an exciting way to end the first half.
After intermission, the quartet returned to their original positions and instruments, except for Anastasia Zakharova, who switched to an alto domra. She played this intermittently in the second half, which included original compositions by the ensemble. These were written with the intention of breaking stereotypes about the traditional instruments played by the group.
The latter half of the show featured mashups of classical Russian Folk music and modern American staples. One piece used elements of Red Hot Chili Peppers songs, and another included Bill Withers’ iconic Ain’t No Sunshine. After a standing ovation from the crowd, the group announced that it would play an encore — another mashup that included Grieg’s famous In the Hall of the Mountain King. The extra piece was just as entertaining as the rest of the performance.