Misha's Gang (aka Russian String Orchestra) performing in their usual Fringe venue, theSpace @ Surgeons Hall are always on my “to visit” list at this time of the year. There are a few reasons for this, but high on that list is the sheer technical quality of these young musicians (most are under 30 years old, and many are far younger than that), their seemingly endless repertoire of music, and of course their musical director Misha Rachlevsky.
Misha's Gang is a show that you can return to year after year and know that the programme is going to be completely different from your last visit, and even during their stay here at The Fringe, the performance schedule is constantly changing. What never changes though is the quality of the music, and these, amongst many others, are reasons why this show has been one of the runaway success stories of The Edinburgh Festival Fringe in recent years.
Every time I come to one of Misha’s performance I discover new music, and with today’s “Scandinavian Smorgasbord” filled with music from Edvard Grieg, Jean Sibelius, Lars-Erik Larsson, Carl Nielsen, Niels Gade and Jacob Gade, Misha’s Gang delivered a mixture of known, and “how have I not discovered this music before” musical moments for me this afternoon. There were of course, as usual, a few surprises in the performance’s music, and I am not giving any of those away to people yet to catch up with the show.
Music has no national or ethnic boundaries to Misha Rachlevsky, it is all part of the same wonderful, and never finished, musical tapestry, and that concept of us all being part of something far larger than we perhaps imagine was clearly demonstrated with Misha's Gang performing with Scottish harpist Karen Marshalsay.
One of the never ending pleasures of any performance from Misha's Gang is always for me watching how Misha himself is moved by the music he is conducting and how those emotions are conveyed to the orchestra and to the audience. It is obvious that music is not just a passion for Misha Rachlevsky, it is woven into the very fabric of his life, it is as essential to him as breathing, and somehow to him, music is a living and breathing entity in itself, a force of nature like the wind or the rain. Somehow Misha understands what is below the written notes of music, he understands that this music is not a mechanical collection of notes and spaces, but a window into the very souls of the men and women who created it. It is this special understanding and the ability to teach young musicians to open their hearts and minds to a bigger picture that makes Misha Rachlevsky such a special educator.
I always like the ethos that the Russian String Orchestra and Misha Rachlevsky bring to the Fringe, that understanding that classical music is not the property of an intellectual class of society, but something universal that belongs to every one of us. Misha always reminds us that the music that he plays is a living connection to those who wrote it, and why they wrote it. Also any performance of the Russian String Orchestra is a reminder to anyone who has elitist thoughts about music that these musicians could easily perform in and fill far more prestigious venues at the official Festival. Perhaps this review will encourage a few people who might not normally step out of their regular comfort zone for their classical music to do as Lou Reed advised and take a “Walk On The Wild Side” that is The Fringe.
There is a double chance to catch up with everyone this year as the Russian String Orchestra (with Misha of course) also have a series of concerts at Old Saint Paul’s.
theSpace @ Surgeons Hall
Aug 9-12, 14-24
1 hour 10 minutes
Country: Russian Federation
Group: Russian String Orchestra
Review by Tom King