- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 25, 2007

Several hundred admirers of Russian music and culture were in for a real treat Saturday night as the Russian Embassy honored the recently formed National Philharmonic of Russia and its music director Vladimir Spivakov, who are on their first-ever U.S. tour.

Instead of speeches, 15 members of the 110-person orchestra performed Russian favorites for nearly an hour, filling the embassy’s giant ballroom with its 35-foot ceilings, Soviet-era art, Russian white marble and Viennese chandeliers with the sounds of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky.

“It’s not every day we have the honor to welcome a new Russian orchestra. It’s very exciting and we’re very proud,” said Svetlana Ushakova, the wife of Russian Ambassador Yuri Ushakov, who was away on business in California.

“Russian artists are great ambassadors of Russian culture,” said Mrs. Ushakova, surrounded by musicians and guests, including Esther Coopersmith, Seline Chavchavadze and Vladimir Tolstoy.

“Mr. Spivakov is one of the best. He’s a brilliant violinist and conductor, a humanitarian and a nurturer of new talent,” Mrs. Ushakova added.

Such as the young trumpet player, Kirill Soldatov, who performed several pieces with soloist Olga Kern, the first-ever woman to win the Van Cliburn piano competition.

“He’s only 17 and he’s playing first trumpet,” said Mr. Spivakov, who is known to use a conductor’s baton that he received as a gift from Leonard Bernstein. “He’s very talented and he works very hard. We all do.”

And what does Mr. Spivakov think of the American reception so far — they’re touring at least nine U.S. cities — of his orchestra?

“I’m very happy. As you can see, the public is very excited.”

On this evening, his orchestra (formed in 2003) had just come from playing the Kennedy Center, where it performed pieces by Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff to standing ovations.

“Not only are Mr. Spivakov and the orchestra world-class, they’re also very giving,” said Neale Perl, president of the Washington Performing Arts Society, the group that invited the orchestra to Washington. “They did three encore performances. You never see that with an American orchestra.”

— Gabriella Boston

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