Music Department Colloquium: Anya Shatilova—“Nizovaia Traditsiia and The Great Russian Orchestra: National Identity and Music in Late Nineteenth-Century Russia”—and Manuel J. Perez III—“Unmanifest Merging: Compositional Structures for (Communal) Reflection, Healing, Actualization, and Embodiment”

Wednesday, March 29, 2023 at 4:30pm

FREE! Reservation required.

Anya Shatilova—“Nizovaia Traditsiia and The Great Russian Orchestra: National Identity and Music in Late Nineteenth-Century Russia”

In my paper, I focus on the figure of Vasilii Vasil’evich Andreev and his project of modernization of Russian plucked lutes—domra and balalaika—in late Imperial Russia. Examining the formation of the ensemble of balalaikas, which later developed into what became known as “V. V. Andreev’s Great Russian Orchestra,” I look at the precarious position of this musical novelty in late nineteenth-century St. Petersburg and interpret it as a modernist project that manifests “the Eastern turn” in Russia’s self-identification.

The appearance of the balalaika and the orchestra of national instruments on the concert stages of St. Petersburg in the late nineteenth century has so far been almost completely neglected in the Anglophone scholarship on Russian music. Being questioned for the “constructed notion of Russian folk music,” Andreev’s project has been attributed to revivalist movements and criticized for lack of authenticity (Olson 2004: 17). Moreover, even in Russia, put on the lowest positions in the musical hierarchy, the study of the balalaika and domra music has been mostly occupying an insular niche that is neither related to academic music nor folklore studies. Hence, most writings on this topic remain confined to the discussion of this music as a segregated genre neglecting to contextualize it in the broader musical and cultural discourse. The concertization of the balalaika and domra, and the repertoire of the orchestra that included stylized arrangements of Russian traditional tunes and songs along with the compositions of Romantic composers, sparked a serious debate about the precarious position of Andreev’s orchestra of the modified national instruments and its danger for “corrupting artistic tastes and values” by the Russian music elite (Findeizen 1900: 375). 

Despite such marginalization, I believe that the history of Andreev’s project in pre-revolutionary Russia offers a rich site for the investigation of the construction of national identity through music. Analyzing the engagements of the orchestra with nizovaia traditsiia (grassroots tradition), I untangle its intricate conceptualization as the national identity marker and as an agent of music for all social classes.

Anya Shatilova is a Ph.D. candidate in the Ethnomusicology program and a Visiting Instructor in Music at Wesleyan University. Her research interests include vernacular musical practices in nineteenth-century imperial Russia; Russian plucked lutes (domra and balalaika) in the U.S.; Russian diaspora in the U.S.; Finno-Ugric music in St. Petersburg, Russia; sound studies; media studies; music and film, queer theory and music; and decoloniality. Anya received a B.M. in Music Performance from St. Petersburg State University of Culture and Arts (Russia), M.M. in Musicology from the New England Conservatory of Music (Boston, Massachusetts, United States). Her recent article “Listening to Ethnic Identity Online: Digitally Mediated Finno-Ugric Traditions in St. Petersburg” appeared in the special issue of the journal Digital Icons: Studies in Russian, Eurasian and Central European New Media.


Manuel J. Perez III—“Unmanifest Merging: Compositional Structures for (Communal) Reflection, Healing, Actualization, and Embodiment”

What does it mean to make artwork that strives to deeply engage with one’s conception of self? Despite appearing simple at first glance, the relationship between an artist’s personal history and their practice manifests in undoubtedly complex ways across a variety of disciplines. Although elements of one’s lived experience can often be present in a work, the level of engagement that occurs between oneself and their artwork can often be obfuscated or minimally represented in the overall artistic product, being relegated instead to foundational motivation or source material processes rather than the core focus of the work itself. This separation between personal context and art production is especially exacerbated in performer/creator-dichotomized practices, such as music composition. In his talk, Manuel J. Perez III will outline his thesis inquiries into compositional and improvisational structures that foreground these qualities of personhood not just as motivation, but also as the primary material focus of performance-based artwork. Selected compositions from his catalog will be dissected to highlight particular structures within both time-based and non-time-based practices that offer alternative modes of engaging with a performer’s lived experience, memories, interpersonal relationship dynamics, and actualization of new histories. Through the foregrounding of these qualities of the self, new dialogues between performance practice, agency, mental health, and personhood reveal themselves for investigation.

Manuel J. Perez III is currently a second-year M.A. Composition student in the Music Department at Wesleyan University, where he creates as an interdisciplinary artist, composer-performer, and multi-instrumentalist in a variety of time-based and non-time-based artistic practices. His work spans a wide breadth of fields that embrace intersectional synthesis with and within composition, including architecture, poetics, artificial intelligence, sculpture, digital collage, community organizing, political activism, and more. As a performer, Perez has developed practices in spontaneous creation (improvisation) and short and long-duration performance art, while also regularly performing newly composed works. As a composer, his works often consist of sociocultural and improvisational structures that help foreground the lived histories, emotions, and social intricacies of those who perform his pieces. His work has been performed internationally (Turkey, Germany, and Canada among others) by artists such as TAK Ensemble, SPLICE Ensemble, and NOW Ensemble.

The colloquium is organized by Assistant Professor of Music John Dankwa and Assistant Professor of Music and Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies Saida Daukeyeva as part of the Music Department Colloquium Series.