Lawrence University’s World Music Series: The University of Wisconsin Russian Folk Orchestra

by Jessica Gehring on April 10, 2019

Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music is an institution committed to providing their students with a well-rounded, world-class music education. One of the ways Lawrence is able to achieve this mission is through inviting musicians that participate in the creation of musical traditions from other cultures. In my time at Lawrence, I have seen ensembles ranging from the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle, to the community Gamelan ensemble, to Nobuntu, an all female a cappella group from Zimbabwe.

This spring term, Lawrence continued its World Music Series with the University of Wisconsin’s Russian Folk Orchestra. Led by their founder Victor Gorodinsky, they played a very diverse representation of the genre. This group of thirty musicians has been invited back to Lawrence five times, and also offers many other concerts during the year in the Madison campus. This year, they included special guest, Anya Gubenkova, who is a vocalists that specializes in the Russian Folk music genre. The group also offered a workshop an hour before for audience members who wanted to learn a bit about the instruments that were being played on stage, what pieces were going to be performed, and what some of the characteristics that are involved in this style of playing.

The performance itself was breathtaking. It was amazing to see the way the musicians interacted on the chapel stage, and hear the sounds and timbres of Russian instruments such as the “domra” and “balalaikas”. It was also interesting to hear songs that I recognized, such as an excerpt from a Shostakovich symphony, as well as songs that I had never heard before. The conductor talked to the audience briefly in between pieces and gave some background of the music they were about to play. One of my favorite aspects of the performance was watching the conductor. He moved all around the stage in a way that I am not at all used to, and many times would turn and face the audience, all the while conducting. I also really enjoyed seeing the musicians in traditional Russian dress.

Overall, it was absolutely amazing to see musicians in an orchestra perform in the exact same space that I also perform in with the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra. While there are so many stylistic and fundamental differences between the two, there were also a lot of similarities that helped me relate to the ensemble. I feel extremely grateful to attend a school that emphasizes a worldly music education, and I can confidently say that it has strengthened me as a musician and a global appreciator of music.

For more information about Lawrence’s World Music Series or to see the tentative schedule of events for the 2019-2020 year, please visit

UW Madison’s Russian Folk Orchestra

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