On Christmas Eve. 2011, at the Kennedy Center, the Ural Philharmonic Orchestra (UPO, in Russian Уральский академический филармонический оркестр, УАФО) and the Choral Arts Society of Washington DC partnered to present an outstanding showcase of Christmas music and a first rank performance symphonic Russian music. The full orchestra is based in Yekaterinburg (former Sverdlovsk, Russia) and one of the oldest of the great orchestras in Russia. The American audience even got to participate by singing Silent Night in Russian with some - ok a lot - of coaching. The virtuosity of the Russian musicians was balanced by the polish of the American chorus showing that we indeed have more in common than some would have us believe. (Russian music lights up US Christmas at Kennedy Center)
The opening selection of Bach's Christmas Oratorio set the stage for a brilliant musical afternoon and our seats mid way center in the orchestra were perfectly suited to maximized the experience. The brilliant brass and the crisp timpani shown in the timeless tradition of Russian musical precision. The emotion of the opening was extended by the first performance of the concert by Irina Shishkova, mezzo-soprano, who seemed to be able to sing without breathing both blending with and soaring above the orchestra in Schlafe, mein Liebster, an aria for alto from part two of the Christmas Oratorio by Bach. Although some object to Bach being played by a virtuosic large scale Romantic orchestra, the UPO was sharp and sensitive to the Baroque nature of the music bring out the polyphony and counterpoint clearly and precisely matching the wonders of Ms. Shishkova's voice and art. The Americans rose to the occasion of musicianship with their a capella rendition of the Bogoroditse Devo (Ave Maria) from Rachmaninoff's Vespers.
We were soon treated to the music of Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev a composer whose music speaks to the ages. In the electrifying rendition of the Finale to Alfeyev's Christmas Oratorio, Епископ Иларион (Алфеев) - Рождественская (Glory to God in the Highest) heaven and earth came together for one brief moment. The Perforce at the Kennedy Center was taken at a slightly faster speed embracing the audience in the magic of a spiritual musical experience.
And this was the beginning of the concert for next after yet another stunning performance by Ms. Shishkova of the Cradle Song by Alexander Gretchaninov, The Ural Philharmonic Orchestra's principal conductor, Dmitri List, took the stage next. There are no words to described the high octane precision performance of the Dance of the Tumblers (Jesters) by Tchaikovsky. The almost impossible attention to musical detail, superbly clean attacks and clarity of subordinate musical lines as well as the driving rhythm caused the air to sparkle in the concert hall. This was immediately followed by a masterful collaboration between the Chorale Arts Society and the Philharmonic Orchestra which together brought out the full color and emotion of Tchaikovsky's the Waltz from his Eugene Onegin, Op. 24 showing the polish and poise of both musical organizations.
After the intermission and with grateful thanks to the patronage of the Russian Ambassador to the United States and the Russian people, those who stayed were treated to a never-to-be-forgotten performance of Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov as only a Russian orchestra of the first rank could perform it. The perfect Christmas present for Washington, the musical professionalism of the Russian soloists, the ensemble precision of the brass and woodwinds, the intonation and overall excellence of the strings were at the pinnacle of musical standards. The effect was an afternoon of the best that music can offer.
Post Scriptum: It is sad to note the decline in the audience's observation of the tradition of standing for Handel's Halleluiah Chorus; perhaps due to the decline in music education in our schools. We noticed that few people dressed up for the concert - some even wore flip flops to hear the performance, but to each his own - the American way I suppose. And it was depressing to be treated on the subway home to Upper Marlborough to a gentleman throwing his food onto the metro floor kicking it and then sneaking out into another car as if he thought we could take the blame
 Ural Philharmonic Orchestra. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [accessed December 25, 2011] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ural_Philharmonic_Orchestra
Christmas carol - Silent Night in Russian [accessed December 25, 2011] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6d__9tmLv3Y
this is not the translation used at the concert but is the one preferred by my Russian wife
Тихая ночь, дивная ночь!
Дремлет все, лишь не спит
В благоговенье святая чета;
Чудным Младенцем полны их сердца,
Радость в душе их горит.
Радость в душе их горит