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The Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theater, which was founded in 1776 following a decree from Catherine the Great, is the oldest Russian orchestra. Its first members, like the theater’s singers and actors, were still serfs. The earliest programs presented Russian ballets and dramas above all; starting in the 1830s, the repertoire was expanded to include the great operatic literature of Europe, from Mozart to Verdi and Wagner. Around the end of the 19th century, the orchestra began to offer symphony concerts as well, and, starting in the 1920s, it developed into the authoritative ensemble for the performance tradition of Russian works, enlisting the best musicians from around the country for an orchestra that has come to include around 300 members. Leading conductors of the time have presided over its performances. Evgeny Svetlanov, Gennady Roshdestvensky, Yuri Simonov, and Alexander Vedernikov served as principal conductors during the last decades; composer Leonid Desyatnikov was appointed the new Music Director in 2009. An important role in the house’s reputation is played by the Chorus of the Bolshoi Theater, which from the beginning of the 20th century developed into an internationally acclaimed ensemble, performing in Western Europe at the invitation of the impresario Sergei Diaghilev. Today the Chorus, which also performs sacred music and a cappella literature, includes around 150 singers. Since 2003 it has been directed by Valery Borisov, a native St. Petersburger who was chorus master of the Mariinsky Theater before he began his appointment at the Bolshoi. Since the classical building that is the traditional house of the Bolshoi Theater began undergoing substantial renovation since 2005—leaving only a contingency theater space available for performances—the Ensemble, Orchestra, and Chorus of the Bolshoi Theater are in the meantime touring to a wide array of guest venues. The house is expected to reopen in the autumn of 2011.
Debut of the Ensemble, Orchestra, and Chorus of the Bolshoi Theater at LUCERNE FESTIVAL (IMF) in September 1993, in concert performances of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Iolanta, as well as of Rachmaninoff’s Aleko.