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Something in the soul: Zingaresca music in the Northwest

Singer and Aquilon Music Festival founder Anton Belov joins with seven-string guitar duo for a series of Romani, Jewish, and Eastern European folk music concerts.

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The three musicians of the Zingaresca TrioOleg Timofeyev, Vadim Kolpakov and Anton Belov–all left Russia years ago, but they’ll showcase their other backgrounds—Jewish and Romani— in their upcoming 10-day musical spin through the Northwest.

The trio will be making the rounds in September to play Romani (or gypsy-style) and Jewish music, primarily from Eastern Europe. Virtuoso guitarist and performer Kolpakov is Romani (colloquially called Roma, which has nothing to do with Rome or Romania), and played on tour with Madonna for two years. He joins Timofeyev, a Baroque-trained University of Iowa musicology professor and specialist in the seven-string guitar, and Juilliard-trained baritone Belov in a half-dozen high-spirited concerts. The performances, Linfield University music professor Belov insists, will be free of politics. Instead, the music, which Belov explains is heavy on passionate “romances,” reaches deeply into folk music influenced by Romani, Jewish tunes, Italian opera and Argentine tango—and leaves behind homeland politics.

The Italian word “zingaresca” translates roughly as “in a gypsy style.” The ensemble combines Eastern European guitar tunes with music influenced by the Romani and Jewish diasporas. The concerts will take place at Oregon and Washington wineries, at a McMinnville Hawaiian restaurant, and at Linfield University. Final performances are Sept. 23 at The Old Church, and Sept. 25 at Astoria’s Charlene Larsen Center. See 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 Spanish guitarist until he expanded his repertoire by re-discovering the seven-string guitar in the early ‘90s. His enthusiasm piqued for the instrument after he attended a 2001 Moscow party where Kolpakov and his colleagues were playing their high-spirited music with seven-string guitars, and Timofeyev, who wrote his Duke University dissertation on the seven-string guitar, says the Kolpakovs are “arguably the very last virtuosos” on the instrument.

Timofeyev was on a Fulbright to Russia, his previous home, and he fell in love with the Romani rhythms and tunes—and even more, with the seven-string guitar. His grandfather had played it, and the instrument, which requires special tuning, had been popular in the first half of the 19th century. “Once I started playing it,” Timofeyev said in a Zoom interview, “I understood 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 a Jewish heritage, found each other in 2019 on Facebook, and the two performed together in several Oregon wine-country concerts when Timofeyev could take a break from his professorial duties at the University of Iowa. Eventually, the three musicians hooked up, and figured they could make music drawing on a deep repertoire from their diverse backgrounds. 

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

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Though Belov has taught many singers how to sing Russian art songs, these concerts will not be formal nor will they be anything close to recitals. They will be free-spirited, slightly off-the cuff, and like jazz, will vary from show to show. “We’re going to unplug,” Belov said enthusiastically in a Zoom interview. Unplugging is quite possible at the opening concert at Lady Hill Winery in St. Paul, where acoustics are excellent and amplification is unnecessary.

Besides putting on concerts–about 1 hour and 45 minutes with an intermission and time for a glass of wine–the trio will teach classes and demonstrations at various colleges including Linfield, Portland State University and George Fox University during the 10-day tour.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Angela Allen writes about the arts, especially opera, jazz, chamber music, and photography. Since 1984, she has contributed regularly to online and print publications, including Oregon ArtsWatch, The Columbian, The San Diego Union-Tribune, Willamette Week, The Oregonian, among others. She teaches photography and creative writing to Oregon students, and in 2009, served as Fishtrap’s Eastern Oregon Writer-in-Residence. A published poet and photographer, she was elected to the Music Critics Association of North America’s executive board and is a recipient of an NEA-Columbia Journalism grant. She earned an M.A. in journalism from University of Oregon in 1984, and 30 years later received her MFA in Creative Writing/Poetry from Pacific Lutheran University. She lives in Portland with her scientist husband and often unwieldy garden. Contact Angela Allen through her website.

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