In the summer of 2013, I traveled to Russia for the first time in my life in order to play five organ recitals in Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk, Tomsk and Perm. My colleague, Daniel Zaretsky, organ professor at St. Petersburg Conservatory, obtained grant funding from the Russian government to bring organists from many countries to Russia that summer in anticipation of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014. I traveled from Moscow by plane to Irkusk and then traveled back to Moscow on the Trans-Siberian Railroada journey I will never forget, as I had the privilege of seeing the whole country from the window of the train. The concert organs, all built by German firms, are placed in small halls associated with the philharmonic orchestra in each city rather than in churches or university settings. The audience for every concert was full to overflowing and the devotion and respect for classical music in Russia is utterly remarkable. I visited Russia again in summer 2016, where I played in Kislovodsk and Essentuki, and had the same experience. My trips sparked an interest in the music for organ by Russian composers with which I was unfamiliar. The CD program includes 19th and 20th century composers, several of them members of the Russian Five or Might Handful, Cesar Cui and Modest Moussorgsky and their student, Sergei Ljapunow. Alexander Glasunov had an independent career as a symphonic composer with an international reputation while Sergei Slonimsky comes from a brilliant family of mathematicians and scholars. Alexander Shaversaschvili was a notable composer from Georgia.
In the late nineteenth century, a group of Russian composers, the Russian Five, sought to create a distinctive Russian idiom inspired by Russian poetry and literature, Russian Orthodox chant and folk melodies. Their objective was to distance themselves from Western European counterpoint and formal musical designs in order to create a unique Russian musical style. Mily Balakirev, Alexander Borodin, Cesar Cui, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Modest Mussorgsky created a large body of symphonic, keyboard, opera, song, and chamber music literature celebrating Russian national culture, which had wide-ranging influence both in Russia and abroad.
Gail Archer is an international concert organist, recording artist, choral conductor and lecturer who draws attention to composer anniversaries or musical themes with her annual recital series including Max Reger, The Muse's Voice, An American Idyll, Liszt, Bach, Mendelssohn and Messiaen. Ms. Archer was the first American woman to play the complete works of Olivier Messiaen for the centennial of the composer's birth in 2008; Time Out New York recognized the Messiaencycle as "Best of 2008" of classical music and opera. Her recordings include the forthcoming, A Russian Journey in fall, 2016, The Muse's Voice, Franz Liszt: A Hungarian Rhapsody, Bach: The Transcendent Genius, An American Idyll, A Mystic In the Making (Meyer Media), and The Orpheus of Amsterdam: Sweelinck and his Pupils (CALA Records). Her summer, 2016 European tour took her to Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, the Ukraine and Russia. Highlights include Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence, Italy, St. Wenceslaus Church, Prague, Czech Republic, St. Paul's Church, Odessa, Ukraine, Holmens Church, Copenhagen, Denmark, and the fifth century church of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy, a UNESCO World Heritage site, famous for its extraordinary mosaics. She is the founder of Musforum, an international network for women organists to promote and affirmtheir work. Ms. Archer is college organist at Vassar College, and director of the music program at Barnard College, Columbia University, where she conducts the Barnard-Columbia Chorus. She serves as director of the artist and young organ artist recitals at historic Central Synagogue, New York City.