The Terem Quartet

Released 24 October 1994

  1. Eine Kleine Nacht Musik
  2. Ave Maria
  3. Concerto Grosso In G-Minor
  4. Waltz
  5. Chardash
  6. Oginsky's Polonaise
  7. Funeral March
  8. Nocturne 'Separation'
  9. Flea Waltz

Liner notes

At times, watching The Terem Quartet, from Russia, record this album with their American producer Tony Berg, felt not unlike observing a team of brilliant but blindfolded brain surgeons attempt to solve Rubik’s Cube, guided by semaphore signals from a top horticulturalist.

Intelligence, sensitivity and a desire to communicate was there on both sides, but the odds against them achieving their mutual objective seemed near- instrmountable.

At one point, while laying down a track, alto dorma player Igor Ponomarenko employed an impressive combination of English, Russian, singing and gesture, all in the space of ten seconds, to attempt to bridge the communication gap. He began with, “Can we hear the piece before…la la ra da da dum dum…” while making a scissoring movement with the fingers of his right hand to indicate that he might want to edit it and , when Tony smiled and nodded in understanding, Igor lapsed into his native tongue, exclaiming “Horroshaw! Otchen horroshaw!” (“Good! Very good!”)

And it certainly was good. Despite the language barrier, despite the differences in musical culture, despite the challenge of recording such rare instruments as a bass balalaika, the desire to make great music triumphed. Their performances, often running late into the hot summer nights, were almost invariably inspired but, time and again, either Tony or the band would catch some nuance of technique, or some minuscule lapse in timing that demanded just one more take.

Between those takes, the Terems would drift among the ancient stone buildings, soft green lawns and lazy streams of Peter Gabriel’s converted mill studio complex in England’s rolling West Country. With his long frizzy hair tied back, and his black T- shirt tucked into a tight leather belt, round baggy denims, Igor could just as easily have been the leader of a funk-thrash outfit, as of a Russian mandolin quartet.

“Of course we listen to rock music,” he explained over dinner one night. “we listen to everything, but at home I mostly play classical.”

Anyone who has enjoyed the good fortune of seeing the Terems play live knows that they can switch, at a moment’s notice, from folk music, to classical interpretations to musical parody to jazz, and yet always play with the energy you might expect of a rock band. With this album, however, they feel the time has come to make a more specific statement.

Andrei Konstantinov, soprano domra player, explains why. “We have recorded only classical pieces this time for what you might call strategic reasons. The variety of styles we can play in has been good for us in Russia, because we get concert bookings at folk, classical and even jazz venues. But in England, although we’re quite well- known to festival audiences, we don’t play in classical concert halls because people think of us as folk musicians, although we were all trained at the Conservatory in St Petersburg.”

An album of classical pieces, arranged and performed in the unmistakable Terem style, should help change that. “It’s an attempt to introduce an audience which doesn’t know us to our sound,” adds Igor. “After all, if you know the tunes to begin with, it becomes easier to appreciate our versions of them.”

The quartet came together at the Conservatory in St Petersburg. “Igor and I were among eighteen young musicians who were given auditions to join the domra classes at the Conservatory in our year,” recalls Konstantinov. “We saw each other at the door for the first time, and we were the only two who were chosen.”

The pair lived together in a student house where they fell in with Mikhail “Mischa” Dziudze, who is now the quartet’s bass balalika player. They completed the line-up with bayan accordionist Andrei Smirnov because “I was always at the discotheques in their student house, and I fell in love with a girl there.”

The name Terem was chosen because, in Russian, it has many connotations, all of them good. “It’s original meaning was the highest place in a house, under the roof, which is where girl virgins lived before they were married,”explains Mischa. “Now, it can mean any beautiful building in the Russian style, or a beautiful place where many different animals live happily together, as in Russian fairytales. It can even mean beautiful dreams.”

The group got its first big break on a local St Petersburg TV show, “You Have Five Minutes”. “Very democratic programme,” says Smirnov. “You write to them and tell them what you want to do. If you pass their audition, you have five minutes on the air to do whatever you do.”

Their spirited performance resulted in many bookings and increasing success even took them abroad. It was at a concert in Dresden in 1989 that they were heard by Rob Chalice, manager of The Oyster Band, who were playing at the same hall. “Rob invited us to tour with WOMAD and that’s how we came into contact with Real World Records.”

That liaison led to their first album, recorded at the first Rea World Recording Week and thence to this new CD. “It is very important to us that we have found success outside Russia, “Points out Igor. “We would never want to leave St Petersburg, because it is the most magnificent city in the world for artists, but international success means that we can help other performers. If I go to a record company and recommend an artist to them, I will be listened to. A lot of young artists now come to us for advice, so our success can help, others”

It was long after dark under a full moon when I left The Terems and Tony Berg going for just one more take.” I think we can get that a little tighter,” said Berg. The Real World coffee budget was blown, and empty packs of Camels littered the studio. Igor was singing a particularly tricky passage to Mischa. Andrei Konstantinov pulled his purple socks into the legs of his pale-green jeans and grinned. “Just one more” I can still hear them all laughing.



Further Listening

  • Terem

    The Terem Quartet

    Released 02 March 1992

    Music from St. Petersburg’s most brilliant stars, the Terem Quartet: an eccentric virtuoso ensemble of balalaika, domras and accordion. Full of subtleties and contradictions, their repertoire moves seamlessly from gypsy melodies to popular theme tunes to Tchaikovsky.
  • City Of Love


    Released 09 May 1993

    Ashkhabad take their name from the capital city of their home state of Turkmenistan, formerly a part of the Soviet Union. With violin, keyboards, accordion, clarinet, saxophone and percussion, City of Love ranges from wildly romantic melodies to the vibrant folk music of their roots.

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