Russian performer spreads sounds in state

TUPELO – Svetlana Kaltchenko is a citizen of Russia and Canada, but she’s found a home in Tupelo.
“It’s a nice town. It’s a nice community,” she said. “After you end up here, it’s hard to leave, lots of good people.”
She took a roundabout trip to Northeast Mississippi. In a way, it began with a bureaucratic mess for another member of Russia’s Vivaldi Chamber Orchestra, which toured the United States in 1995.
“Our harpsichord player couldn’t get a visa,” Kaltchenko said.
An American harpsichord player from the University of Southern Mississippi stepped in. After the tour, Kaltchenko decided to pursue a master’s degree in viola performance and teaching.
When she graduated, Kaltchenko and her husband, Alexei, moved to Canada. About five years later, she learned about a job teaching in Tupelo Public School District’s strings program.
“Well, life is really sometimes strange,” the 43-year-old said. “When I was at USM, a Russian group performed at the Civic Auditorium in Tupelo. We drove up from Hattiesburg to here to see the concert. Five or six years later, I was teaching in that building.”

Teaching and playing
Kaltchenko teaches orchestra to students at Tupelo High School and Tupelo Middle School, as well as Rankin and Lawndale elementary schools.
“There are not many places that offer violin in schools. It’s a big advantage for kids,” she said. “It’s not easy to learn, but some of them learn it easily and at a good level. We have some excellent kids and they play pretty good.”
She also performs with Tupelo Symphony Orchestra.
“I always played classical music,” she said. “It is my absolute favorite.”
She’s not always able to unleash her viola or her violin as she would like. She lives in an apartment, where loud music of any sort could turn neighbors into enemies.
“At home, I use a mute,” she said, pulling out a metal device that’s a little bigger than a man’s watch. It cuts the sound considerably. “I don’t like to use it, but if I have to, I will.”
Saturday’s Tupelo Symphony Orchestra program will feature music by a pair of Russians, Mikhail Glinka and Piotr Tchaikovsky. Kaltchenko is looking forward to hearing Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Concerto No. 1” ring out at Link Centre Concert Hall, where no mutes are necessary.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “I love the music. It’s one of my favorites.”
She practices for concerts after school and on weekends. Though class isn’t in session, she still has children to teach: Maria, 7, Michael, 9, and Nicholas, 12. The job is more challenging because her husband lives in Canada.
“He teaches physics in Canada,” Kaltchenko said. “He can’t find a job here. He’s looking for one, but it’s hard.”
He’ll come to Tupelo for Canadian Thanksgiving, and the Northeast Mississippi contingent plans to travel north for Christmas break.
“It’s like a 15-hour drive,” Kaltchenko said. “Only 1,000 miles. Kind of long.”
But not as long as the trip back to Russia to see family. By necessity, those visits are spaced out, and Kaltchenko makes sure her kids can make the best of spending time with their Russian relatives.
“We speak Russian at home. Sometimes, I have to remind them that they have to speak Russian. They want to speak English,” she said. “It’s the only way they can communicate with their relatives. If they don’t know Russian, they can’t communicate.”
Thanks to their time in Canada, the Kaltchenko kids also speak French.
“They watch ‘The Simpsons,’ the cartoon, in French,” she said. “‘Scooby-Doo,’ too. They’re translated from English to French.”
Tupelo has had its influence on the family, as well. Whenever they visit friends or go to the mall or the library, Kaltchenko and her children are surrounded by Southern drawls.
“Well, now, I’m getting used to saying ‘ma’am and ‘y’all,’” she said. “At first, it was strange for me, but I’m getting used to it.”

Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or

M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

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