Bayan duet with a vargan (mouth harp)

Baikal Strings: Bayan Duet at the Irkutsk Philharmonic

Published: March 31, 2012

The Irkutsk Philharmonic offers a wide range of events, including music, dance, and the occasional theatre performance. The best part of the philharmonic is the affordable prices offered for a number of their different performances. Some of their performances are of course more expensive, for big name concerts and the like, but a good number of them are under 200 rubles, often just 100-150 rubles for an evening of entertainment. Recently at the philharmonic Baikal Strings, a Festival of Folk Music was held, spanning five evenings each with a variety of different folk instrument performances. I attended the second concert, which opened with a Russian folk ensemble (a chorus of about 20 balalaikas, plus other instruments) and then continued to the main act: a duet of Siberian bayan players from Novosibirsk. Among other things, the folk ensemble played a beautiful version of Очи черные (Dark Eyes). Never have I heard so many balalaikas play live at once before, and the sound of all of them together was amazing. The main act, a bayan duet, was also fantastic. The two bayanists were masters, and for those who don’t know about the bayan, it is an instrument that looks and sounds similar to an accordion, but differs in the layout of the right-hand panel, which has round buttons instead of the piano-like keyboard of the accordion. It is also similar to the garmon (or garmoshka) which is smaller and has fewer keys on each side.

One of the bayan players, it turns out, was not only a bayan player, but kept pulling out additional instruments to add to the mix, including a hand drum, a recorder, and a melodica. It was quite an adventurous set, including a wide range of genres, from Russian and Siberian folk songs, to jazz and folk music from around the world. One Siberian folk song included our multi-talented bayanist playing on the vargan, or mouth harp, a traditional Siberian folk instrument alongside the second bayanist. For another song, one of the bayanists donned a fancy hat for a very jazzy tune, and for another more serious song, he read a poem interspersed with short melodies on the recorder, and you could tell that its meaning was very close to his heart. Another very memorable piece was a medley of tunes from around the world, beginning in Russia, and travelling westward across the globe, stopping in various countries for a taste of their traditional melodies played on the bayan, and ending full circle back in Russia. The piece was a particularly fun one, as many of the melodies were recognizable and really showed off the diversity of the duet’s repertoire on the bayan. They genuinely looked like they were having a blast during the whole show, and it was a joy to watch them and listen to their virtuoso abilities on the bayan.

Russian Festival of Folk Music: Baikal Strings
Siberian Duet of Bayanists from Novosibirsk
Всероссийский фестиваль народной музыки: Байкальские струны
Сибирский дуэт баянистов из Новосибирска
Irkutsk Philharmonic
ул. Дзержинского, 2
100 rubles

About the author

Danya Spencer

Danya Spencer holds a Bachelor of Arts in Foreign Languages – Russian & Chinese from Lewis and Clark University. She is currently studying in the year-long Home and Abroad Program with The School of Russian and Asian Studies. This program combines study abroad in Russia, an intensive professional internship focusing on translation, research, and writing.

View all posts by: Danya Spencer