It was Sunday 13th of October and once more the Sydney Balalaika Orchestra (SBO) gave a concert at the Sisters of Mercy Convent in Singleton as part of their ‘Sacred Spaces’ musical programme. “It was our third concert here, and one of our best,” said musical director Victor Serghie.
“Unfortunately our cimbalom soloist Lucy Voronov was unwell, but the orchestra stepped up to the mark and played really well, as did our other soloists,” he said.
The orchestra started off with ‘Legend of Lake Baikal’, a symphonic piece by the famous Soviet composer Nicolai Budashkin (see separate article). Dmitry Kuevda sang the well-known Russian romances: ‘Only Once’, ‘White Cranes and ‘Oh, the Roads’; his rich baritone voice reverberating magnificently off the marble interior, definitely taking full advantage of the chapel’s sacred acoustics.
Other soloists were Tanya Jephtha and Oliver Rathje, on their prima domras and Richard She on his accordion. “All played magnificently,” said Victor.
But there was one relatively newcomer to the SBO, the instrument from which the orchestra takes its name: the balalaika. We do have two XXL balalaikas in the orchestra, huge contra-bass instruments. But prima balalaika players are between rare to non-existent in Sydney.
However Patrick O’Neill and Matt Morgan do play them. So they put their domras aside and took up their normal-sized prima balalaikas, to kick off the second half of the concert with a rendition of ‘Venture Outside.’
The balalaika, like the domra, is derived from an ancient Kazakh instrument. It has a steel string tuned to A, and two nylon strings both tuned to E maintaining the original Kazakh tuning.
The SBO is happy to hear from any prima balalaika players who would like to join us. We are also interested to hear from any balalaika ‘wanabees’ who might like to learn how to play this most iconic of Russian instruments. “It is not a hard instrument to learn,” said Patrick O’Neill. “Particularly for guitarists. You just have to get used to holding it in a different way,” he said.