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Two music colleagues team up for concert in Russia

Nov. 9, 2007

KALAMAZOO--A funny thing happened on the way to St. Petersburg.

A simple Internet search and a few trips to Russia have deepened ties between music professors in the land of balalaikas and their colleagues in the Western Michigan University School of Music. That relationship continues to grow this week, as six Russian musicians travel to Kalamazoo to attend the annual Russian Festival at WMU.

Here's how it all came about.

Igor Fedotov, WMU associate professor of viola, has worked tirelessly to develop relations with Russian institutions, including bringing performers from Pushkin, Kalamazoo's sister city, to the annual Russian Festival. In 2005, the Haenicke Institute for Global Education established a formal partnership with the prestigious Rimsky Korsakov St. Petersburg State Conservatory of Music. The rector of the conservatory, a grandson of Tchaikovsky, invited WMU's School of Music to participate in the International Week of Conservatories conference. Fedotov, who conducted research in Russia last year as a Fulbright Scholar, didn't want this opportunity to slip away.

The question was, with whom would he perform?

The invitation stipulated that he perform a piece written by an American composer. Fedotov knew several American compositions, but wanted to perform something new and give it its Russian premiere.

Fedotov went to the Internet search site, Google. He hoped to find a composer and performer who had written a piece to be played in collaboration with a violist.

The name at the top of the search list was Dr. David J. Colson. The name sounded familiar. According to the Web, Colson had written a piece titled "Quiet Places" for viola and vibraphone. Fedotov was intrigued. He had never met Colson, but was sure he'd heard the name. But where?

Fedotov had been in Russia on his Fulbright award when Colson was appointed the new director of WMU's School of Music. After looking through some information about Colson on the Web, Fedotov quickly realized who he was.

"When I realized that this was the same person who was now the director of the WMU School of Music, I couldn't believe it," Fedotov says, with a hardy laugh.

He approached Colson with the idea of traveling to Russia, not only to perform, but to try to bring about exchanges of faculty and students with conservatories and music schools there. Having the music school's director travel with him would be perfect.

Having just assumed the reins of the music school officially on July 1, Colson was totally immersed in his new job. What's more, he'd never been outside the United States and had planned a trip to India before he applied for the director's job at WMU.

"It all happened so quick," Colson says. "I had just come to WMU and I was just trying to figure out the job and learn the culture of the University. But Igor was so passionate about this. And from my limited knowledge about the School of Music, it was my understanding that this had been an ongoing effort and was important. I wanted to be supportive of all the hard work Igor had done."

The trip to India could wait.

Colson came to WMU from California State University, Chico, where he was chair of the Department of Music and held the David and Helen Lantis University Chair, the university's first endowed professorship. Fedotov joined the WMU School of Music faculty in 1998 and is principal violist with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. In October, while he was traveling to Russia, the University announced he had won WMU's Emerging Scholar Award.

Pooling their extensive experience and knowledge, they set off for Russia with much bigger things in mind than to just perform. They visited Herzen State Pedagogical University, with whom WMU is developing a summer program of intensive Russian language and culture, under the direction of Dr. Dasha Nisula, WMU professor of foreign languages. They attended and performed at the international festival that brings together music educators from institutions of higher learning from across the globe. WMU was one of only two U.S. institutions invited to perform. The festival annually attracts representatives from such famous international music schools and the Royal Welsh and England conservatories, Paris Conservatory and many more.

The gala concert in which the pair performed is dedicated to celebrating 200 years of diplomatic relations between the United States and Russia and involved artists from both countries. In addition to Colson's piece, Fedotov performed a sonata he discovered by a Russian composer during his recent Fulbright research and was accompanied by Dimitri Chassovitin, professor of piano from the St. Petersburg Conservatory and a recording partner of Fedotov's.

After five days in St. Petersburg, meeting with faculty, lecturing and working with students, the pair set off for Cherepovets for a visit at the Cherepovets Region College of Arts and Handicrafts. The WMU ambassadors also took a side trip to Vologda to meet with regional government representatives. The next day, they traveled to Moscow, where they met with the director and faculty of the Moscow State Institute of Music and the U.S. Embassy's cultural attaché.

"It was a fabulous trip," Colson says. "Igor went out of his way to make this an experience for me. I came away with a different understanding of the country and the people, an understanding I never would have acquired simply as a tourist."

Now the two are trying to build on the many connections they made on the trip, hoping to start cultural and student exchanges that will grow and stretch far into the future. A contingent of six people from Cherepovets will be at WMU this week, including three students who will participate in the Russian Festival this weekend.

Colson is optimistic that WMU's Russia connection will grow.

"The potential there is very rich," he says. "We need to pull the trigger on this. It's important for WMU to showcase and demonstrate what this school really is and what it has to offer."

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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