Oleg Timofeyev: Transcript
Russian Jewish guitarist
My name is Oleg Timofeyev (pron. TimoFEEV), but usually I pronounce it Oleg Timofeyev (pron. Tim-OH-fay-ev) so that people will be able to reproduce it. And I'm from Moscow, Russia, but I lived in Iowa City, Iowa, for 14 years. Music brought me here and marriage kept me here, I should say. My wife has a tenured position at the University of Iowa, and that's the reason why we have this strong anchoring right here.
The Russian seven-string guitar—and this instrument actually is unusual—is disappearing, particularly now. And of course, as it often happens in our world filled with dialectics, it's almost erased from the face of the earth. There is a certain revivalist movement, two or three people. But eventually it's likely there will be more, that we'll hear more of the Russian seven-string guitar. I'm the only person who does it in the west.
The instrument was popular in Russia throughout the 19th century and was actually invented on the Russian soil towards the end of the 18th century. The inventors were Czech. We don't know who exactly did it, but there was one person called Ignatz von Held, the other person, Andrei Sychra. Now I'm going to try to play a piece that is mentioned in the very well-read novel, War and Peace. There is a place where Natasha visits her uncle, and the uncle plays the guitar. (Music)
I found myself a bundle of various ethnicities, and I—even though I don't have that many types of blood in me. You know, basically my father was ethnically Russian, as I thought, and my mother is just simply Jewish. So when I grew up in Moscow, I thought of myself as a Jew. So for people like me to come to America and be greeted as, "Oh, you're Russians." You know, "No, sorry, we're not really Russians, you know, we're Russian Jews." The distinction is impossible to make, so eventually you kind of get used to the fact that you're just one of those Russians, just like others. Estonians, Georgians, all of them come here as “Russians.”
Being here I was becoming a Russian, in a way, because one day I just discovered that I have this amazing luxury, the access to Russian classical books, of Russian literature, of poetry. So I was getting more and more interested in Russian culture in general and Russian music in particular. (Music)
I would say that a lot of people listening to the tone of the guitar readily imagine Spain, and life in America is just kind of a temporal association. You hear (music) and you think of Spain. But that's just unfortunate; that's a misconception. There was a powerful tradition in Russia. If you read through a lot of Russian literature, you'll find a lot of references to guitars. My modest goal is to make it more wide known and to bring it to people today.