7th annual Russian Guitar Fest kicks off June 21

BY LU SHEN | JUNE 21, 2012 6:30 AM

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When Oleg Timofeyev first came to America 23 years ago, he was the third Russian native to choose Iowa City as his home.

Now, almost a quarter of a decade later, he will bring the seventh Russian Guitar Seminar and Festival to the Iowa City area.

The event is the only annual festival in the world solely dedicated to the Russian 7-string guitar. This year's festival will take place today through June 24.

Timofeyev, the festival's artistic director, told The Daily Iowan that the Russian guitar has a long history.

"The Russian guitar started in Russia at the end of 18th century, the time of Catherine the Great," he said. "What happened was the Russian guitar was created in the Russian soil as a hybrid of the Western tradition and sort of Central European tradition."

The Russian guitar originated from the English guitar. In order to show the audience how the Russian guitar was created, Timofeyev plans to perform music from an earlier period of the Russian guitar, accompanied by Doc Rossi, who plays the English guitar.

Timofeyev, a native of Moscow, said the 7-string Russian guitar has been neglected, even in its native Russia.

"People haven't been playing it at quite the same level as they did in the beginning of 19th century," he said. "A lot of the music has been neglected. The instrument has been thoroughly neglected in Russia."

Timofeyev has been trying to bring the unique sound of the guitar back.

"I think it's overlooked, and I think it needs to be put back on the map," he said. "That's what our goal is."

The guitarist acknowledged that the climate for the Russian guitar in America is a lot better than in Russia.

"In Russia, you have to fight for it. Guitarists scrutinize the kind of music you are playing compared with the Spanish [style], argue against it," Timofeyev said. "In America, they are just interested in entertainment. If it's nice music, they're not going to be picky; they're not going to ask questions as long as they can dance. And they come to the concert to the idea, not to find why it's wrong but to have fun. For this innocence, we enjoy very much."

The festival tries to bring different musicians every year, he said. But for this year's festival, performers are going to perform music that is much more centered on the Russian guitar.

"One of our performers who comes every year, Vadim Kolpakov, is an expert Gypsy musician," Timofeyev said. "He doesn't play exact the same way every time. He plays more folk music. It's seven-string guitar in Gypsy style. This time, we are bringing Ivan Zhuk from Moscow. He writes his own songs, and he runs a company about the Russian guitar. His songs are in Jewish style. It's different."

The festival will also feature the Hot Club of Davenport, a local Romany jazz band, on the evening of June 24.

Jamey Cummins, the lead guitarist of the Hot Club, said he has developed an appreciation for the Russian guitar.

"I was actually unfamiliar with this specific style of guitar until we were asked to collaborate a couple months back," he said. "I have since done more listening and am truly a fan now."

Cummins said Russian folk music and Romany jazz make sense in a collaboration because they both have evolved out of traditional styles of acoustic guitar.

"My expectations are always to play my best and have fun with it," he said. "It's always great to jam with people who challenge you to play something you haven't before. Those moments are the whole reason we play to begin with."

The festival, which was founded by Timofeyev and wife Sabine Gölz in 2004, is hosted by the nonprofit International Academy for Russian Music, Arts, and Culture.

William Reisinger, a political-science professor at the University of Iowa who serves as the group's president, said he enjoyed promoting the event.

"Being involved with [the academy] gives me the opportunity to learn about Russia's musical traditions," he said. "It's gratifying to contribute to a valuable community event."

Reisinger said Iowa City has a rich, diverse environment, and it's nice living here because people are exposed to international connections.

"The concerts are popular with people in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and other communities who want to hear live performances of interesting music that one cannot hear anywhere else," he said.

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