Something in the Soul: Zingaresca Music in the Northwest

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The three musicians of the Zingaresca Trio – Oleg Timofeyev, Vadim Kolpakov and Anton Belov – all left Russia years ago, but they will showcase their other backgrounds – Jewish and Roma – on their upcoming 10-day musical tour through the North West.

The trio will tour in September playing Romani (or Gypsy) and Jewish music, mostly from Eastern Europe. Guitarist and virtuoso performer Kolpakov is Romani (colloquially called Roma, which has nothing to do with Rome or Romania), and toured with Madonna for two years. He joins Timofeyev, a baroque-trained University of Iowa musicology professor and seven-string guitar specialist, and Juilliard-trained baritone Belov in half a dozen frenzied concerts. The performances, insists Belov, professor of music at Linfield University, will be free of politics. Instead, the music, which Belov says is heavy with passionate “romance,” dives deep into Romani-influenced folk music, Jewish tunes, Italian opera and Argentine tango — and leaves behind the homeland policy.

The Italian word “zingaresca” roughly translates to “in a gypsy style”. The ensemble combines Eastern European guitar tunes with music influenced by the Roma and Jewish diasporas. The concerts will take place at wineries in Oregon and Washington, at a Hawaiian restaurant in McMinnville and at Linfield University. Final performances will be September 23 at The Old Church and September 25 at the Charlene Larsen Center in Astoria. Check the Zingaresca website for dates and tickets.

Kolpakov, who grew up in Moscow under the mentorship of his famous musical uncle Alexander (Sasha) Kolpakov, not only plays the seven-string guitar with verve, but also sings and dances. Timofeyev was a classically trained lute player and guitarist from Spain until he expanded his repertoire by rediscovering the seven-string guitar in the early 90s. His enthusiasm for the instrument stung after attending a party in Moscow in 2001 where Kolpakov and his colleagues played their spirited music with seven-string guitars, and Timofeyev, who wrote his thesis at Duke University on the seven-string guitar, says the Kolpakovs are “arguably the latest virtuosos” of the instrument.

Timofeyev was on a Fulbright to Russia, his old home, and he fell in love with Roma rhythms and melodies, and more so, the seven-string guitar. His grandfather had played it and the instrument, which requires special tuning, was popular in the first half of the 19th century. “Once I started playing it,” Timofeyev said in a Zoom interview, “I realized there was an alternate universe” — at least for string music. A virtuoso himself now, he plays the seven-string guitar on numerous CDs.

Timofeyev and Belov, who share Jewish heritage, reunited in 2019 on Facebook, and the two performed together at several concerts in Oregon’s wine country when Timofeyev was able to take a break from his teaching duties at the University of Iowa. Eventually, the three musicians met and thought they could make music drawing on a deep repertoire from their diverse backgrounds.

For Zingaresca concerts, expect improvisation and emotional performances. “I plan on letting my hair down,” said Belov, who started the Aquilon music festival (which these performances are a part of) several years ago in Oregon’s wine country. “There’s no music you love more than this. It’s something in the soul.

Although Belov has taught many singers to sing Russian art songs, these concerts will not be formal or close to recitals. They will be free-spirited, lightly improvised and, like jazz, will vary from show to show. “We’re going to unplug,” Belov enthused in a Zoom interview. Unplugging is entirely possible at the opening concert at Lady Hill Winery in St. Paul, where the acoustics are excellent and amplification is unnecessary.

In addition to performing concerts – approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes with an intermission and time for a glass of wine – the trio will give lessons and demonstrations at various colleges, including Linfield, Portland State University and George Fox University over the course of the 10 day tour.

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