Quick Search
Advanced Search
  National Orchestras of Siberia: The Past and the Present  

In 1920s the government of the Soviet Union declared the beginning of a cultural revolution in the country. Its primary goals were: liquidation of illiteracy of the population, citizens’ familiarization with the achievements of world culture, and maximum development of creative abilities in each person. The important role in reaching these tasks was given to playing the national instruments, by means of what citizens could get a better introduction to folk music and works of classical composers.



 *The partial or entire republication of articles and texts is prohibited without the written approval of "Greek Dance Archives".
National Orchestras of Siberia: The Past and the Present



Prof. Dr. Victor Kitov

Secretary IOV-Buryatia,

Department of national instruments and

orchestral conducting Institute of Music,

East-Siberian State Academy of Culture and Arts, Russia



The biggest part of the Russian Federation, which has freely stretched all the way eastward from the Ural Mountains, is called Siberia. This huge region with the beautiful nature and unique natural resources is populated by dozens of indigenous peoples. The most numerous of them – Buryats, Yakuts and Tuvinians – live in Eastern Siberia. In XX century, thanks to the government policy of the USSR, these peoples acquired their own statehood, written language, literature, theatres, and philharmonic societies. For the first time in their history, practically all the residents of these republics became literate and educated people.

In 1920s the government of the Soviet Union declared the beginning of a cultural revolution in the country. Its primary goals were: liquidation of illiteracy of the population, citizens’ familiarization with the achievements of world culture, and maximum development of creative abilities in each person. The important role in reaching these tasks was given to playing the national instruments, by means of what citizens could get a better introduction to folk music and works of classical composers. Owing to this government policy, professional orchestras of folk instruments started appearing in different republics of the Soviet Union. These musical groups were intended to serve as a model to numerous amateur folk music orchestras that were created in clubs and other cultural centers. The enrollment to amateur groups was open to regular public. The quantity of these orchestras reached tens of thousands. To prepare leaders of amateur orchestras, a network of Colleges of Music with the Departments for Musical Teachers were open throughout the whole country. These Departments became a foundation for the future three-level system of Music Education for musicians and conductors of folk music orchestras. It should be noted that all these processes covered not only the central areas of the country, but also its remote regions, in particular Siberia: republics of Buryatiya, Sakha (Yakutia), Tuva. As an example, we can take a closer look at the establishment of the folk music orchestra in the Republic of Buryatia.

Between 1920-1930s the musical community of Buryat-Mongolian ASSR (that is how Republic of Buryatiya was called up to 1956) vigorously discussed an idea about organization of a national orchestra. This idea was reflected in formation of the Buryat professional musical art. It is widely known, that the Buryat folk instrumental music performing was individual (solo), ensemble traditions did not exist at that time. In 1930s P. Berlinskiy, composer and ethnographer, took a leading part in extensive preliminary work that preceded the creation of the first folk orchestra. As a result of this work, Buryat traditional musical instruments were collected and thoroughly studied, the trends of instruments’ subsequent unification and reconstruction for future orchestral groups were established. To find an optimal model for the national orchestra was not an easy task. It was necessary to create a group that would correspond to the structure and tasks of orchestral performing, and at the same time to keep an original sound of instruments themselves. Therefore, it was decided to take into account the organizational principles of both symphonic and Russian national orchestras. It led to creation of the orchestra, which included 11 kinds of musical instruments divided into 26 orchestral parties, which were performed by 84 musicians. It was given a name of the Orchestra of National Instruments of the State Philharmonic Society BMASSR. So, in 1940 the first professional orchestra among indigenous peoples of Siberia was created in Buryat-Mongolian ASSR.

As it is generally known, the orchestra of national instruments, unlike the ensemble of national instruments, can only perform a repertoire specially written for it. Therefore, composers V. Moroshkin, P. Berlinskiy and young Buryat authors – D. Ausheev, B. Yampilov, Zh. Batuev were involved in creating the original orchestral repertoire. All of them became the members of the Buryat-Mongolian ASSR Union of Composers created in 1940. Thanks to the works of these and subsequent generations of Buryat-Mongolian composers, the original repertoire for group and solo Buryat instrument performing was created. The National Library of the Republic stores manuscripts of more than 300 instrumental scores and almost 1000 vocal-instrumental compositions. In spite of a wide variety of musical pieces in the repertoire of the Buryat National Orchestra, all of them are united by an important quality – clearly expressed national colour which roots back to the Buryat song folklore. This circumstance is quite predictable, as in other case; the type of a national orchestra itself loses any sense.

The orchestra required professionally trained musicians-performers. For this reason, in 1931 the Buryat-Mongolian College of Arts was opened. Students of the Departments for Musical Teachers were taught how to play such Buryat instruments, as khur and limba. Obviously, teaching process at that time faced a number of difficulties – there were no teachers specializing in these instruments (violinists or violoncellists were teaching how to play khur), there were no textbooks, and special repertoires. Despite it, graduates of this department became a foundation of the Buryat-Mongolian Orchestra of the Philharmonic Society. In 1950s the educational institution prepared khur and chanz performers from time to time.

Things drastically changed in 1970, when Ulan-Ude Musical College (a new name for Buryat-Mongolian College of Arts since 1956) opened the Department of Buryat Instruments. For the past years, teaching staff of this department had been filled up with professional musicians with higher education. Over 300 teachers and musicians specializing in teaching and playing khur, morinkhur, chanzy, shanzy, yochin, yatag, limby and other instruments joined the staff. It allowed opening classes of the Buryat Instruments in Schools of Arts for Children, in the Pedagogical College and School of Culture. Therefore, by 1990s the elementary and middle steps of musical education had been successfully operating. It made it possible to start preparing specialists of high qualification in The East-Siberian State Academy of Culture and Arts (VSGAKI). Gradually, the classes of Buryat, and later Yakut and Tuvinian National Instruments were opened at the Faculty of National Instruments. VSGAKI became the center of specialist training for the whole Eastern Siberia and it brought a significant contribution to developing of national instruments’ music performance in the region. So, graduates of the Yakut Orchestral Studio formed the Yakut Professional Orchestra of National Instruments, Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). Graduates of the Tuva Orchestral Studio formed the National Orchestra of the Republic of Tuva. Professors of this faculty published monographs, defended their theses, text books, collections of repertoires for national instruments of Eastern Siberia. But more importantly, the system of musical education for the national instruments training was finally completed. It consisted of elementary, middle and high levels of education. Owing to this, talented young people were able to get higher education in the following specialties: the musician-performer (soloist, member of ensemble), teacher, and conductor of a national orchestra.

Those are the most important stages of the formation of the National Orchestra in Buryatia. Similar processes occurred in the Republics of Sakha (Yakutia) and Tuva. In spite of the cultural originality of these ethnic groups, differences in their musical instruments and dates when the orchestras were created, the principles of formation and development of the national orchestras were the same for all of them.

That is how the past of the Siberian national orchestras looked like. What is their creative activity at the present time? What are the tendencies of their development in the modern Russian society?

The end of XX century has drastically changed lives of the majority of citizens of the USSR. The destruction of a socialist model of the government system in Russia and replacement it with its capitalist structure has touched practically all facets of Russian life. Most painfully it affected a social life of the society and its culture.

At the present time, one can observe that the orchestras featuring national instruments are on the wane. Almost all amateur national orchestras in Eastern Siberia are no longer performing. Now you can see only professional groups of musicians (that are based at the Ministries of Culture, Philharmonic Societies, or City Councils) and educational teams (at the Schools of Arts for Children, Colleges, and Universities). Russian federal authorities are trying to eliminate their funding of cultural and artistic institutions and to transfer such funding obligations to the local level. Largely due to a lack of federal funding, compensation of music teachers and musicians is inadequate to retain the top talent in this field. As a result, the musicians are turning to more lucrative professions. And it’s important to note, that it takes not less than 14 years in Russia to prepare qualified musicians and conductors of an orchestra. 

At this situation, it is quite natural that many young people loose any interest to the profession of a musician-performer or a conductor of a national orchestra. It is becoming more and more regular, that promising young musicians, wishing to develop their talents in playing folk instruments, have to choose other professions, which promise them a bigger income in the future.

Negative influence of mass media on public consciousness, especially children’s and youth’s complicates the activity of the orchestras of national instruments. There is no more folk music on Russian TV channels and radio, especially on private stations. The public neither sees nor hears singers of national songs, ensembles and orchestras of national instruments. The same situation presents itself on local tele- and radio channels of the republics. Mass media spreads propaganda among Russians about such moral qualities, as individualism, greed, and violence. Folk music, certainly, is not an appropriate musical background for such "educational propaganda”. What seems to be more suitable is pop-music; songs performed not in your native language but in English are especially welcomed. Quality of these "compositions", a level of their performance does not stand up to criticism. The only TV channel "Culture" is not able to resist to this aggressive stream of antinational "culture". These are just some features of a cultural background that orchestras of national instruments are dealing with.

But it would not be correct to speak about modern national orchestras of Siberia without mentioning its positive aspects. Life, as always, is rich and multifaceted. Scientists, conductors, teachers, and musicians working in this genre, realize a real danger of the challenges, that are thrown the way of national orchestras and its activities, and they undertake great efforts to oppose to these negative processes. Small ethnic groups, such as Buryats, Yakuts and Tuvinians feel those challenges more acute, than others. Nowadays, their attention to studying their own language, bringing to public unfamiliar facts of their history is more profound. Buryats, Yakuts and Tuvinians show a strong interest in their folklore and sounds of their native musical instruments. It is not a coincidence that the National Orchestra of Tuva was formed in 2003, which is almost 60 years since the first attempt of its creation. Probably, it is right now, that Tuvinians felt an inner need in existence of a national orchestra, without which the musical life of this ethnic group seems to be impossible.

In Eastern Siberia the number of festivals and competitions for solo and group musicians of different ages and skill levels has increased. Thanks to the IOV – Buryatiya, there are different opportunities of presenting musical art of the region at the international competitions and inviting colleagues from other countries to our festivals and competitions.

This positive creative work which is being carried out by the members of professional national orchestras of Siberia, leaves no place for doubt that, this original genre of the musical art, the history of which goes back to the roots of the national folklore, will successfully continue to develop and please the audience with the sounds of native musical instruments.


Prof. Dr. Victor Kitov – the range of his interests in performing, conducting, and scientific and public work is outlined by instrumental music of peoples of the Russian Federation. After graduating from the Ufa State Academy of Arts named after Z. Ismagilov cum laude (1976) he got 3 qualifications: concert performer, conductor of national instruments orchestra, teacher. Since 1976 he has been working at East Siberian State Academy of Culture and Arts, having moved from the teacher up to the professor position (1998). In the 1970-s he actively performed as the bayan (button accordion) soloist playing classical music and arrangements of music of peoples of Russia. In 1982 he received Honours degree of the performing post-graduate course of the Russian Academy of Music named after Gnessins (orchestral conducting). In the 1980-s he headed a number of educational and amateur orchestras of Russian national instruments with which he prepared over 15 programs shown in Eastern Siberia and Mongolia. In 1983 he created Folk Music Ensemble “Siberian Souvenir” which for 25 years of its activity had acquainted spectators of many countries of Asia, America and Europe with music, songs and dances of peoples of Eastern Siberia. In the 1990-s he was the head of the Faculty of Cultural and Educational Activity. At that very time professional training of musicians on national Buryat, Yakut and Tuvinian instruments began and national orchestral studios were set up at the Academy. For his pedagogical and public work V. Kitov has been awarded honorary titles: the Honour Worker of Culture of Buryat ASSR (1990) and the Russian Federation (1996); Man of the Year (1998, The Institute’s International Board of Research); F.A.B.I. (1999, the American Biographical Institute); Corresponding Member of the International Slavic Academy of Sciences, Arts and Culture (2001). In the end of XX century he started his scientific work in which he generalized and analyzed solo and collective performance on national instruments in Buryatia, Yakutia, Tuva. As a result, scores for national orchestras of Siberia, monograph about the orchestra of the Buryat national instruments were published. In 2002 he was awarded degree of Doctor of Cultural Anthropology (the thesis was devoted to musical-instrumental creativity of the Buryats as the factor of art culture).


Ulan-Ude, RUSSIA

Tel./Fax: +7.301.2231274

E-mail: kitov@baikal.net