World Artists

Lynn McConnell

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Firebird Balalaika Quintet Reviews

October 30, 2016

Hi Lynn; Everyone I see that was there last night has only great compliments on the performance !!! Such a wonderful concert !!! Everyone was so impressed and delighted at the music, dancing, singing !!! And the dynamic instrumentality was just like the bio said !!!!! unbelievable !!!! Stellar Performance !!!!!!!!!! Such a great group, and also very friendly and so easy to work with !!!!!!!!!! This was a whole production !!!


Ramona Concerts

Firebird quintet dazzles
News Review Correspondent


The Parker Performing Arts Center was a full house for the Firebird 
Balalaika Quintet last Friday evening. Magical, masterful and mystical, 
the quintet swept the audience into the ancient eastern European world 
through wooden "string" instruments, and the unusual accordion-like 
instrument, the bayan, that is popular in the Ukraine and Russia.

Formed in 1995, the modest quintet includes Iryna Orlova (domra), 
Anatoliy Mamalyga (bayan), Peter Rothe (prima balalaika), Tom Barnes 
(contra-bass balalaika) and Lynn McConnell (alto balalaika). The name of 
the group is adapted from the folklore of many Eastern European countries 
that share, a common theme about the "firebird" - a magical glowing bird 
from a faraway land. The story of the firebird folklore inspired many literary works, the most famous being Igor Stravinsky's ballet "The 
Firebird dazzled the crowd at once, opening the performance with a 
lively tune that immediately made us understand we were in the presence 
of greatness. The group then quietly lulled the audience with a lilting 
waltz called Griozy or "Dream Waltz."

Orlova, a domra virtuoso, grabbed our attention with her extraordinary 
skill on the round-shaped instrument whose sound can be mistaken for a 
mandolin. It requires muscles of steel and fingers as deft and quick as a 
cat to reach the highs and lows of chords on the neck of the delicate instrument. Orlova, we learned, has been playing the domra since the age of 10. 
She is a graduate of the Kiev Conservatory and is the Ukrainian national 
laureate of the All Ukrainian Folk Musician Competition held in St. 
Petersburg in 1979. She has toured extensively through North America, 
Europe and Asia.

The program ebbed and spiked with impressionistic spirited songs and 
old-world melodies that lifted us up, then moved us along. Firebird 
indulged the audience with a soulful rendition of "Lara's Theme" from the 
beloved movie "Dr. Zhivago" and the lively dance tune from "Zorba the 
Greek." I had to restrain myself from waving a hankie in the air and danc- 
ing and spinning in the aisles.

McConnell, the alto balalaika player, has recorded three albums and 
performed professionally with several Russian groups including the 
Troika Balalaikas, Tziganka, the Great American Gypsy Band and the 
Neva Russian Dance Ensemble. She represents the Firebird Quintet 
through her company, Lynn McConnell, World Artists, and is one of the 
founding members of the Balalaika and Domra Association of America.
Barnes is one of the founding members of the Los Angeles Balalaika 
Orchestra. Rothe has made several recordings and is a balalaika expert 
who has played for decades. Mamalyga is the principal musical arranger 
for Firebird. He is an honored artist of Ukraine and a laureate of the 
Second International Golden Accordion Competition (New York 2000).

These musicians guided our emotions from light and lively to roman- 
tic tragedy as they accompanied a mystery guest, the Ukrainian soprano 
Anna Belaya. Belaya, who arrived from a New York opera audition, took 
the performance over the top with her sultry Garboesque good looks and 
an equally beautiful set of vocals during the first and second halves of the 
The Indian Wells Valley Concert Association has brought sophisticated 
cultural events like this to our valley since the late 1940s. It also arranges 
free concerts for the students in our area, in conjunction with the evening 


  “Firebird is musically superb!”        Los Angeles Times

“Firebird…music that speaks directly to the emotions.”      Reno Gazette


Diane Mitchell, President, Hemet CCA

On Mother’s Day weekend, The Firebird Balalaika Quartet performed twice in Hemet, to the complete delight of both audiences. The first concert on Saturday, May 12, 2007, was for the free concert series Music @ The Library, with a second appearance on Sunday, May 13 for the Hemet Community Concert Association. This was a return by request for the group, who played a well-remembered concert for HCCA in 2002.

The balalaika is a triangular 4-stringed instrument rather like the mandolin. For most Americans, their introduction to this quintessential Russian folk instrument was the film Dr. Zhivago; hence “Lara’s Theme” is an obligatory number on such programs. Speaking as one who has heard this tune countless times, and really didn’t care to hear it again, I was most pleasantly surprised by the beautifully arranged Firebird version. Fans of the film could relive every emotion, but it was superb in its own right – I actually enjoyed hearing it!

The musical and artistic directors, Iryna Orlova and Anatoly Mamalyga, are virtuoso performers – she on the domra, a round version of the balalaika, and he on the bayan, a kind of accordion. They included several duos on the program – most effective were “The Peddlers” and a gypsy tune by Monti. To make the quartet, they were joined by Peter Rothe and Tom Barnes. Their playing was without exception musical and entertaining, from the most melancholy café song to the liveliest folk dances. Mamalyga is also responsible for most of the arrangements in the program, which were first-rate.

Also joining the group for these concerts were tenor Alexander Agamirzov and Vadym Khavrun, another bayan player. Agamirzov pleased the crowd with passionate singing in the familiar “Moscow Nights” and “On That Long Road”, as well as three other beautiful songs. Khavrun’s skills were showcased by a literally show-stopping performance of the Paganini/Liszt “Campanella” – an extremely difficult piece, which he played with confident ease. (After listening to his recording after the concert, I am even more impressed with this young musician!)

Throughout the concert, the audiences enjoyed the clever remarks of Rothe, who served as emcee; and the visual aspect of the concert was enhanced by the traditional costumes worn by all participants. After a very generous program, the audiences clamored for more – and had to be sent away wanting more, as the Firebird had given all they had!

There are a couple of other Russian folk groups making the rounds these days, and I can tell you honestly that the Firebird is musically superior, with authentic performance technique and a varied, entertaining program. They are professionals, who can do a great concert in any venue, as this weekend proved. The audience in the library conference room with no sound system or stage lighting enjoyed themselves just as much as the audience in the fine hall with full technical support – because the music was simply wonderful, regardless. Your audience will love them!


World Artists


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