The Russians are coming

The balalaika (baa-luh-like-a) — a large triangular three-stringed lute — is widely considered the national instrument of Russia. For the last 20 years, though, the instrument has found a home in the South via the Atlanta Balalaika Society Orchestra, a large-scale ensemble that boasts of being the premier Russian folk orchestra in the Southeast.

About 20 percent of the Balalaika Society's members are from the former Soviet Union, including recent immigrants and visiting guests, while a number of others have Russian heritage. "We're always looking for new members and, of course, somebody who already studied these instruments in Russia is a perfect candidate," says David Cooper, the orchestra's conductor, who has played balalaika since 1974.

This weekend, the Balalaika Society presents "A Russian spectacular of balalaika music, song and dance," which also features the Troika Balalaikas of Atlanta, various vocalists and dance courtesy of the Komenka Russian Ethnic Dance Ensemble of New Orleans. In addition to plenty of balalaikas, other traditional instruments — including the circular-bodied lute the domra (dome-ruh) and the Russian-style accordion the byan (bye-yawn) — will be heard. The various ensembles perform in traditional costume.

The concert repertoire includes folk, classical and traditional songs from old Russia, as well as Gypsy and other relevant Slavic items from Eastern Europe. The inclusion of Komenka Dance Ensemble meanwhile, constitutes an apt pairing of Russian culture in the South. "We just recently hooked up with them at the Russian Winter Festival last January in New Orleans," Cooper says of the group. "We don't have a Russian dance group here in Atlanta, but they don't have a Russian orchestra in New Orleans. So it is a perfect partnership."

The Atlanta Balalaika Society Orchestra performs Sat., May 19, at GSU Recital Hall. Call 770-977-8537 for more information.??