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May 17, 1996 - Image 98

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1996-05-17

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Balalaika Virtuoso

This weekend, Gennady Zut takes center stage with the DSO.



pearance was printed in the club's
newsletter. Zut was praised for his
artistry; the author ended the article,
"And he paints, too."
Zut now laughs about it. And while he
is yet to be self-supporting as a musician
(he works delivering pizzas out of a Roy-
al Oak pizzeria), he has founded a folk
orchestra called Russian Souvenir and,
this weekend, will perform as special
guest artist with the Detroit Symphony
Orchestra (DSO). He will play a classi-
cal concerto by Eduard Tubin, who, like
DSO Music Director Neeme Jarvi, is Es-
Gennady Zut was born in 1949 in the
small Siberian city of Turnen. His older
sister, a musician in a local orchestra,
opened the door to his career.
"Her orchestra conductor asked mem-
bers of the orchestra if they had broth-

ers or sisters. He was looking for pupils
for a school for balalaika he was open-
ing," Zut remembers. "I listened, I liked
the sound ... maybe I'll try it," the then-
12-year-old thought.
The proverbial phrase, "like a duck
takes to water," fit. He loved the instru-
ment, studied it for the next several years
and went on to college in Leningrad (now
St. Petersburg). Subsequently, Zut went
to a Juilliard-like college for an advanced
degree and learned conducting, arrang-
ing and concert playing.
What emerged was an artist of com-
mercial and artistic stature, with a ma-
jor performance career as a soloist with
orchestras, in recital and with a folk en-
Zut says up front that he doesn't like
talking about his reasons for leaving Rus-
sia. "It's political. I didn't agree with com-


ennady Zut, a recognized mas-
ter of balalaika — a Russian
folk stringed instrument — em-
igrated in 1992 to the United
States from his Russian homeland for a
better future for his wife and daughter.
His wife, Tatyana, a pianist, could teach.
His future was more uncertain.
If he had been a violinist, Zut says, he
might have found many teaching jobs
and performance venues. But instead,
Zut did what he had to do, which among
other things included house painting.
In his snug, sparsely furnished South-
field house, Zut recalled one of his early
experiences in Michigan. He was invit-
ed to speak at a local guitar club about
the unique sounds of the balalaika (some-
where between the banjo and guitar with
some of the chromatics of a mandolin, he
says). A follow-up article on Zut's ap-

munism. They're not honest. My wife
couldn't get into the university; only a
small percentage of Jews were allowed
to go."
He was not able to balance the "poli-
tics" with his art. "Some like Ros-
tropovich could," he says.
So he emigrated. In America, with tal-
ent and hard work, he could expect to suc-
ceed, Zut says.
Since arriving in the United States, he
sees his labor making a difference. Zut
has played with the Southfield and Dear-
born symphonies, had a solo concert at
Ann Arbor's Kerrytown and perfoinaed
with the DSO — for the first time — at
the Meadow Brook Music Festival.
The balalaika is a melodic accompa-
niment to Russian folk songs. Zut points
out that it was a simple instrument un-
til about 100 years ago. Then, a classicist
named Andreev revamped the instru-
ment, using metal frets and fine wood to
enhance its chromatic (harmony) capac-
ities. It began to attract the attention of
classical composers.
The instrument has a triangular
soundbox and a long, thin neck with
three strings. Zut proudly points out the
mother-of-pearl, ebony, ivory, spruce and
maple woods as he strums Paganini riffs.
This is a man in love. (He also makes and
repairs balalaikas; domras, a related in-
strument; and guitars.)
Some classical pieces (by Tchaikovsky
and others) are written for the balalai-
ka; some are transcribed ( like "Flight of
the Bumble Bee"). Tubin's balalaika con-
certo, in three movements, is about 20
minutes long and "very serious music,"
Zut says.
The concerto is not only rhythmic, says
Zut, but full of emotion. Tubin was an
immigrant when he wrote it, and he used
the tragedy in his life to try to say some-
thing, says Zut.
"Yes, I feel what he wanted," declares
the soloist, describing the music as "puls-
ing and moving all the time."



Gennady Zut began studying the balalaika at age 12.

Gennady Zut will be the guest
soloist with the DSO at 10:45 a.m.
(coffee series) Friday, May 17; 8:30
p.m. Saturday, May 18; and 3 p.m.
Sunday, May 19, at Detroit Orches-
tra Hall. Tickets are $15-$55 and are
available by calling the Orchestra Hall
box office, (313) 833-3700, or Ticket-
master, (810) 645-6666. ❑

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