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Composer Highlight: Dmitry Borisovich Kabalevsky
Dmitry Kabalevsky In their November 2004 concert, the American Balalaika Symphony accompanied Russian pianist Natalia Bogdanova in a performance of the 3rd piano concerto by Dmitry Kabalevsky.

Soviet composer Dmitry Borisovich Kabalevsky was born in St. Petersburg in December 1904 and began piano studies at an early age. In 1918, he moved to Moscow, where—after an abortive attempt to become a painter—he spent three years as a silent-movie pianist before entering the Moscow Conservatory in 1925.

After several years of studying piano under Alexander Goldenweiser and composition with Nikolai Myaskovsky, Kabalevsky graduated in 1929 and won his first significant acclaim in Russia that same year with his first piano concerto. In 1932, Kabalevsky helped found the Union of Soviet Composers and held a series of high offices in that organization for the rest of his life. In this capacity, he was a leading proponent of "socialist realism" in music and, as the senior editor of Sovietskaya Muzyka from 1940 to 1946, became something of an arbiter of official taste in musical affairs.

Kabalevsky's own compositional style is rooted firmly in the 19th-century tradition of Borodin, Tchaikovsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov and is marked by folk-like melodic simplicity, traditional forms, tonal harmony, and rich, skillful orchestration. On the other hand, his fundamental conservatism is leavened by episodes of impish good humor, clever turns of phrase, and a pervasive joie de vivre .Nonetheless, Kabalevsky only narrowly escaped formal condemnation in the 1948 Soviet government crackdown on musical "modernism" that humbled Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Khachaturian. During his entire career, Kabalevsky was renowned as a teacher and a strong supporter of musical education for children.

In the early 1930s, he joined the faculty of the Moscow Conservatory and became a full professor of composition in 1940. His collected works include a large number of teaching pieces, music for young pianists and other instrumentalists, and compositions for children's chorus. Moreover, between 1948 and 1952, he wrote a trilogy of concertos specifically dedicated to "Soviet Youth"—his violin concerto, the first cello concerto, and the third piano concerto. The last of these received its U.S. premiere on Nov. 20, 2004 by the American Balalaika Symphony.

Kabalevsky also enjoyed considerable success as an opera composer during the Soviet era, although only the overture to his Colas Breugnon (1938)—based on a novel by Romain Rolland—is well known in the West. His chamber music and instrumental works—four symphonies, eight concertos, and a half-dozen patriotic scores for chorus and orchestra—are less often played outside Russia, but his suite, The Comedians, drawn from incidental music he wrote for a children's play in 1938, appears occasionally on "pops" concert programs. Dmitry Kabalevsky composed the last of his musical works in the late 1970s and died in Moscow in February 1987.


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