Wichita might quickly become a mecca for orchestral talent as a bridge has formed between the prestigious St. Petersburg State Conservatory in Russia and Wichita State University’s music program. The Suprima Chamber Orchestra, the St. Petersburg String Quartet and the Lieurance Woodwind Quintet were invited to perform at the International Conservatory Festival early next month, dedicated to the St. Petersburg Conservatory’s 150th anniversary.
WSU students and professors, some of which also are in the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, are represented in these groups. After a rigorous selection process, only two schools from the U.S. were accepted to perform at this international event: WSU and George Mason University. Graduates of the conservatory include Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich.
“It was very hard to be invited to this festival,” said Alla Aranovskaya, a graduate of the conservatory, member of the esteemed St. Petersburg Quartet and WSU professor. “We’re very privileged.”
But before its overseas concert, the Suprima Chamber Orchestra will perform in Wichita. The proceeds of this event will help to offset the trip’s cost. The students who travel to Russia are a smaller group of elite players that come from the Suprima.
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The St. Petersburg String Quartet, which includes WSU faculty, has garnered a Grammy nomination, a five-year residency at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, performances at acclaimed venues and many awards. Members include founders Aranovskaya and Leonid Shukayev, Boris Vayner and Evgeny Zvonnikov — all alumni of the conservatory.
Aranovskaya and Shukayev, natives of St. Petersburg and former professors at the conservatory, became WSU professors in 2010. Last year, they started the Suprima Chamber Orchestra. Vayner is the group’s conductor. Aranovskaya and Shukayev worked as professors at the conservatory.
At both the U.S. and Russian performances, the chamber orchestra will perform works by Peter Warlock, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Edvard Grieg and Benjamin Britten. Other participants at the event in Russia include groups from France, Germany, Spain, Brazil and Israel.
“I’m excited, but I’m worried a little,” said Maria Begacheva, a WSU cello student and Russian native. “It makes me nervous.”
When Begacheva travels home to perform, she will be reunited with her cello that her parents will bring to the performance.
“It’s a bit unusual,” she said of the cello. “It’s between a red and a brown color.”
Begacheva, a freshman, attended the conservatory before coming to Wichita. She said she is looking forward to going home for this event.
Most of the students going to Russia are from the Midwest, including Wichitan Alexis Power, who graduated from Trinity Academy.
“I first fell in love with the violin when I was 5 years old,” Power said. “I love the sound of it and the expression.”
Students will partake in two days of rehearsal and two days of performance. Aranovskaya said she is hoping to show these young performers the type of dedication and the caliber of performance a professional musician must endure.
“Our students, who mostly grew up in Kansas and the Midwest, will be able to see the most beautiful city in the world, and they will be able to listen to the performances of different schools,” Aranovskaya said. “They work really hard.”
The group meets for three-hour-long rehearsals on Saturday afternoons in addition to the more than three hours of individual daily practice.
“We push them to play until we get top quality,” Aranovskaya said. “We’re trying to explain to the students we have no limits. You will always run to the horizon. You will never catch it.”
She attributes her drive and passion to her top-notch Russian education and said she hopes to emulate to a degree the intensive, highly structured method in Wichita. She helped start WSU’s Fine Arts Institute, which gives music lessons to students of all ages, as well as week-long summer camps in Connecticut, Texas and Wichita.
Along with the students and the quartet, the two chamber groups will travel to Russia with Lynne Davis, professor of organ; Julie Bees, professor of piano; and The Lieurance Woodwind Quintet.
This quartet features Wichita Symphony Orchestra principal musicians Andrea Banke, oboe; Erika Binsley, horn; Sarunas Jankauskas, clarinet; Scott Oakes, bassoon; and Frances Shelly, flute.
The quartet, which tours internationally, was formed 65 years ago and is named after Thurlow Lieurance, a composer and the first dean of fine arts at WSU.
“We’re going to be able to meet a lot of musicians from all over the world,” Oakes said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for the students.”