Balalaika Orchestra History

Balalaika orchestras date to 1888 when Russian nobleman Vasili Andreyev introduced an ensemble of balalaikas to a receptive audience in St. Petersburg, reviving the popularity of this folk instrument. In 1897, Andreyev founded the Great Russian Imperial Orchestra, composed of balalaikas, domras and gusli. The orchestra was a success in Russia, and in subsequent years, throughout Europe and in the United States.

The introduction of folk instruments into an orchestra led to refinements in the construction of the instruments and in the techniques used to play them. Since Andreyev’s time, performances by balalaika orchestras incorporated elements of both traditional folk music and symphonic music. Even before the popularization of balalaika ensembles, composers such as Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky often wrote with the sound of these instruments in mind and occasionally composed for them. The vision of an orchestra that brings this new palette of sounds to symphonic music is the guiding motivation for the American Balalaika Symphony.

An immense repertoire for balalaika orchestras exists in Russia and Eastern Europe, where every city boasts at least one such ensemble. Paris, Stockholm, Sydney, Tokyo, and Helsinki are also home to balalaika orchestras. Americans began playing in balalaika orchestras when the Great Russian Imperial Orchestra toured in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the last twenty years, there has been a revival of interest, and there are now more than ten amateur orchestras in the United States.

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