Russian Guitar Festival brings music of the Ukraine to Iowa City and Cedar Rapids

IARGUS Russian Guitar Festival

Various locations — Thursday-Sunday, March 12-15

The ninth annual International Russian Guitar Festival and Seminar (IARGUS) returns today to the Iowa City area. Taking inspiration from the links between the traditional Russian guitar and Ukrainian stringed instruments, this year’s festival focuses on Ukrainian folk and classical music.

The festival kicks off tonight with the concert “The Grand Opening: Music of Ukrainian Jews” at 7 p.m. at Agudas Achim Synagogue in Coralville, 401 E. Oakdale Blvd. The concert features musicians performing in a variety of Jewish musical idioms, including the festival’s director, Oleg Timofeyev.

The concert, subtitled “The Forbidden Music,” highlights Timofeyev’s own personal struggle with preserving the Jewish musical tradition in Russian in the 1980s. As Timofeyev explained in a press release for the festival, he, along with his wife Natalia and associate George Arutunyan, were only able to perform Jewish music at private residences at this time because of the climate of state-sponsored anti-Semitism.

Timofeyev performs again in a concert on Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. at the Congregational Church in Iowa City, 30 North Clinton Street. He’s joined by John Schneiderman and Stefan Wester to present a series of compositions for Russian seven-string guitar that highlight various aspect of Ukrainian music. A second concert, “Gypsies and Cossacks,” takes place at 8 p.m. The concert explores an imagined musical encounter during the 18th century between the two ethnic groups.

The festival puts on two gala concerts over the weekend, the first at CSPS Hall on Saturday at 8 p.m. and the second at the Englert Theatre on Sunday at 7 p.m. These concerts will feature musicians Taras Kompanichenko and Danylo Pertsov from Kiev, Ukraine and Julian Kytasty from New York. In addition to the traveling musicians, the evenings will be filled with lively Yiddish songs, Ukrainian guitar music and thrilling Russian-Gypsy dances.