By Terri Tabor

Daily Journal

Maestro Alexander Kantorov received something at the Tupelo Coliseum Tuesday night he had never received before.

It wasn’t a packed house, a plethora of roses or a standing ovation, rather a key to the city presented by Mayor Jack Marshall.

“I’ve never been presented with keys from cities,” the conductor and founder of the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra “Klassika” said through an interpreter in an interview during the intermission in the orchestra’s performance. “I’ve enjoyed the stay here very much and to have gotten the key to the city was an additional pleasure.”

The orchestra’s Tupelo concert is part of an eight-city, exclusive tour in conjunction with the “Palaces of St. Petersburg: Russian Imperial Style” exhibition that begins Friday at the Mississippi Arts Pavilion in Jackson.

While the Russian orchestra has played in front of thousands in places like Belgium, Germany and Japan, the maestro was pleased with the crowd of nearly 1,680 that came to the Tupelo Coliseum. “I am very happy that we have so many people as a whole at the concert,” he said. “I think the audience’s attitude toward the orchestra is very kind.”

Although the short, dark-haired man didn’t appear nervous in his dressing room as he glanced over his music and drank a soda, he admitted he did have some butterflies. “I’m always nervous. If a musician is not nervous, you see, he has to be retired.”

But on the conductor’s podium, not a tremble was detected in the intense conductor.

Beginning with Tchaikovsky’s overture-fantasy “Romeo and Juliet,” the small-framed maestro towered over his 85-member orchestra with the fierce and subtle waves of his baton. With solemn, frolicking and bellowing chords, the orchestra gave a moving interpretation of Shakespeare’s tragic love story.

After the finale, the percussion, brass and woodwinds were dismissed and Kantorov led the strings in an expressive, musical solo of Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings Opus 48.”

The maestro’s friendly rapport with the young orchestra, which averaged 27 years in age, was evident in the first half of the program. “I know everybody personally, privately,” Kantorov said. “I think that every conductor should know the musicians very close.”

Together the maestro and orchestra finished out an evening of Russian culture with Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony and were called back for four encores.

Dishing out hospitality

In return for the two-day gift of Russian culture, the residents of Tupelo gave the orchestra members a taste of Southern hospitality. The First United Methodist Church, All Saints Episcopal Church and First Presbyterian Church of Tupelo served the Russians with full-course meals throughout their stay, while the Elvis Presley Foundation hosted a tour of the Elvis Presley birthplace.

“The hospitality is very good. We admire how the people of Mississippi accept us. They have taken good care of us and we feel it,” said Vladimir Koutepov, first violin player for the orchestra.

One of the things that surprised the orchestra about Mississippi was the unseasonably warm weather. “It’s unusual that it’s February, but the weather is like summer weather because in St. Petersburg, it’s cold winter. We have snow,” violinist Anastasia Kalagina said.

Koutepov and Kalagina were two of the 85 symphony members who could speak English. Anastasia said while 90 percent of the orchestra members understood English, about 50 percent of them could speak it. “Everybody understands some English because we study it in school,” she said.

The orchestra will wrap up its Tupelo engagement with two children’s performances today at 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

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