Classical & Opera: Russia's new Dimensions

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An expatriate pianist wanted to showcase today's Russian music alongside the classics of the past. 'Dimensions' is the outcome

Think of Russian music and a small cluster of names will crop up: Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Prokofiev and Shostakovich, plus Rachmaninov and Stravinsky who both exiled themselves from their homeland. Yet there's far more to Russian music than that slight body of luminaries; today, fine and intriguing works are being created in far-flung locations well away from the conservatoire-based centres of Moscow and St Petersburg.

Enter the Dimensions Festival at the South Bank, which aims to bring together classic Russian works with new musics from across the length and breadth of the 15 former republics that made up the old Soviet Union. Very ambitious in scope, both in terms of the composers being highlighted and the range of performers involved, Dimensions is the brainchild of the young Russian, and now British-based, pianist Olga Balakleets (above right), whose intention it has been to set standard Russian repertoire alongside 20th-century pieces reflecting the nation's entire history. Indeed, the range of responses to life in the Soviet Union has veered between the ironic and melancholic, to the deeply spiritual and introspective.

Tomorrow night in the Purcell Room at 8pm, three young singers from Belorussia, Georgia and the Ukraine will air familiar material by Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Rachmaninov alongside native folksongs and recent compositions by Lysenko and Semenjako. Monday's Queen Elizabeth Hall concert finds the London Sinfonietta, under the baton of Martyn Brabbins, giving works perhaps all united by the spirit of lamentation. Olga Balakleets herself is the soloist in Elena Firsovals' 6th Chamber Concerto. Plus there's a major new double concerto for viola and cello by Alexander Raskatov and a UK premiere for Kancheli's Abii ne vederem.

On Tuesday evening in the QEH the prestigious Kiev Chamber Orchestra plays Shostakovich's Concerto for piano, trumpet and strings and Schnittke's 3rd Concerto Grosso alongside Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings. And on Thursday, in the Purcell Room again, there's an opportunity to hear, in a showcase concert, some of the youngest and most talented new artists to emerge out of Russia this decade. Next Saturday, Moscow State Theatre Helikon Opera offers fully staged and costumed productions of two rare yet classic one-acters - Stravinsky's Mavra and Prokofiev's Maddalena.

'Dimensions: A Festival of Music from Russia and former Soviet Republics' continues at London's South Bank Centre (0171-960 4242) to 19 Oct

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