From Russia with love

Miami Valley Symphony’s Russian Masters

By Gary Spencer

Photo: The Miami Valley Sympony Orchestra presents its Russian Masters concert Feb. 16-17

Russia is a country rich in cultural history. From architecture to literature to this year’s Olympic games, Russian culture continues to make a resounding impact all around the world. The same goes for the great classical music works of many a famous Russian composer. Whether it is the beloved ballets of Tchaikovsky or the groundbreaking works of Stravinsky, Mother Russia has placed an indelible stamp on the world of classical music that still stands up today. The Miami Valley Symphony Orchestra (MVSO) will explore the rich tradition of the country and its contributions to the world of classical music at its Russian Masters concert at the Kettering Seventh Day Adventist Church in Dayton.

The MVSO has its own unique history within the Dayton region. Founded in 1989, the MVSO was created as a vehicle for community musicians to showcase both their individual talents and mutual love for classical music for local audiences in intimate settings at affordable ticket prices. MVSO Concertmaster, Executive Director and President of the Board John Root sees the orchestra’s place in the Miami Valley community as a key organization for entertaining audiences in ways its constituents can affordably enjoy.

“American audiences have many conflicting priorities at this point in history, and we have to provide entertainment that is important to the community and accessible,” Root said. “Community orchestra is a very important part of that experience. Our group is comprised of volunteer musicians who come together simply for the love of music. Being able to provide affordable concert experiences for the community and create a channel for community musicians to perform a full repertoire of orchestral music sets us apart. As a result, we have the ability to undertake certain projects that may not be economically possible within the larger regional orchestras.”

The current concert season sees the MVSO taking on a somewhat unique theme – a “musical world tour” of classical concerts each drawing music from composers hailing from specific countries. The first stop, Spain, took place last fall. The next stop on the tour is Russia, featuring works by famous Russian composers such as Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov. According to Root, dedicating a concert to the Russian Masters is a timely one and a no-brainer when selecting some of the most enthralling compositions from the country’s many contributions to the classical music tradition.

“Russia gives us some of the most exciting orchestral music,” Roots said. “We selected works from composers who best represent the Russian style of playing. The timing of the concert is perfect to match the music. Listeners will sense the harsh Russian winter in Borodin’s Second Symphony with a touch of romance from the same composer in his Polovetsian Dances for Valentine’s Day weekend, and we close with [Mussorgsky’s] majestic ‘Great Gate of Kiev’ right in the middle of the Olympics in Sochi.”

For the Russian Masters concert, the Miami Valley Symphony Orchestra will be led by conductor James Johnston, a man with a considerable pedigree in conducting and performance roles throughout the state of Indiana and in the Miami Valley.

Also on board is Russian-born pianist and featured soloist Vitaly Serebriakov. Serebriakov is a world-traveled musician who has performed solo recitals and with numerous orchestras throughout his native country, as well as all across the United States and Europe. This weekend’s Russian Masters concert will mark Serebriakov’s performing debut with the MVSO, of whom he remarks positively about their reputation and his eagerness to finally perform with them on this unique concert experience.

“I am very excited and delighted to collaborate with them,” Serebriakov said. “I heard a lot of great things about the orchestra and conductors. Sometimes symphony orchestras just have programs, but to have a theme like [Russian Masters] allows you to concentrate and deeply understand the music that is presented and makes it more exciting and appealing to the audience.”

In addition to the timely nature of the music performed this coming weekend, the Saturday night ticket also includes an option for a dinner package dedicated to the culinary tradition of the Russia. The preconcert dinner will be held at Amber Rose on Valley Street and includes a choice of appetizer – borscht or meatballs in vodka sauce, salad and entrée – beef stroganoff, chicken kiev or cabbage rolls. It is this kind of forward thinking in creating an intriguing experience for both seasoned classical connoisseurs as well as enticing newbies to try on the symphony orchestra experience on a unintimidating level that makes what the MVSO does modern and appealing.

“Orchestras must be careful not to present music as if it were some display in a museum,” Root said. “Like all symphony orchestras today, the MVSO must embrace a culture of change and innovation. I think we’ve achieved that goal this year [and] I think every season will have something special to offer going forward.”


The Miami Valley Symphony Orchestra presents its Russian Masters concert Saturday, Feb. 16 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 17 at 3 p.m., at the Kettering Seventh Day Adventist Church, 3939 Stonebridge Dr. Ticket prices range from $5-$10 in advance and at the door. The Saturday night ticket and preshow dinner package are $33 and must be purchased in advance. For more information, please visit


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Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at

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