- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 2, 2005

“Melodies and Songs of the Kazakh Steppes,” a first-ever American concert featuring music from Kazakhstan — one of the new Central Asian republics birthed in 1991 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union — premiered Tuesday night at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

The two-hour program, one of only two U.S. engagements, celebrated a “long-time strategic partnership” between the United States and the oil-rich Kazakhstan, noted Ambassador Kanat Saudabayev. The audience included scores of U.S. servicemen and women, diplomats and the adoptive parents of Kazakh children (Americans adopt 825 Kazakh orphans a year). District Mayor Anthony A. Williams also attended and was presented with a traditional Kazakh dombra, a mandolin-like instrument.

The concert began with a series of Western classical favorites — music from George Gershwin’s landmark opera, “Porgy and Bess” was the highlight— performed by an 18-piece chamber orchestra that seemed eager to demonstrate Kazakhstan’s expertise and experience in performing Western works.

Solo violinist Aiman Mussakhodjayeva, clad in an electric red dress, played with equally dramatic flair and turned out a smooth and lyrical interpretation of Gershwin’s quintessential American composition.

Next, the Kazakh State Kurmangazy Orchestra of Folk Instruments took the stage, outfitted in gorgeous dark blue embroidered tunics and Mongolian-style hats with feathered plumes.

The attire set the tone for several dramatic instrumental pieces, including “The Native Land of Joy,” “Song of the Spirit,” “Impulse of the Soul” and “Brave Makhambet” — all of which gave the impression of galloping horses across vast, grassy steppes.

The musicians played a variety of native Kazakh instruments, including the two-stringed dombra and the kobyz, which resembles a hollowed-out violin and is played upright.The sound was a mixture of balalaikas and Asian string instuments

The concert also featured Kazakhstan’s best vocalists, including soprano Zhannat Baktai. A futuristic white dress and pearl-encrusted fur headdress ending in a full-length veil made her look like a cross between Cleopatra and Princess Leia. Her emulation of a flute in “Nightingale” brought down the house — as did many other performances — during an intriguing evening.

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