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Happy Birthday, Glendale Philharmonic Orchestra

The Glendale Philharmonic celebrates its success as other artistic endeavors are struggling.

January 06, 2012|By Lynne Heffley
  • Members of the Glendale Philharmonic Orchestra pose for a photo at the First Baptist Church of Glendale on Tuesday, January 3, 2012. (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)
Members of the Glendale Philharmonic Orchestra pose…

The Glendale Philharmonic Orchestra was just a vodka-inspired whim a little over two years ago.

Sunday, the orchestra celebrates its second birthday with a performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” narrated by offbeat comedian Emo Philips, at the landmark First Baptist Church of Glendale. The festive program also includes Haydn’s Concerto No. 2 in D Major, the playful “Concerto for Typewriter with Orchestra” by American composer Leroy Anderson — and birthday cake for all.

That a professional classical orchestra was born at a time when other orchestras and the arts in general are struggling is noteworthy. That it has survived two years and appears to be thriving, although still on a shoestring budget, is even more so.

Not bad for an idea fueled by a vodka-tasting party hosted for a gathering of musician friends by Glendale Philharmonic founder and transplanted Russian cellist Ruslan Biryukov.

“I was slightly drunk,” the 33-year-old Biryukov said, laughing. “I just threw it out there. I said, let’s form an orchestra. I didn’t think anyone would take it seriously.”

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Yet that spur-of-the-moment suggestion caught fire. A few days later, Biryukov met with Mikael Avetisyan, music director of the Los Angeles Armenian Society Choir and former music director and principal conductor of the Armenian State Philharmonic Orchestra. He would become the Glendale Philharmonic’s artistic director and principal conductor.

They contacted other professional musicians and began considering venues that might serve as the orchestra’s home base.

“We were simply a group of musicians that wanted to play together,” Biryukov said, “and we were like children: ‘Oh, good, we are going to have an orchestra.’ Then within a few months it happened. And we were scratching our heads thinking, what should we do next?”

In fact, Biryukov appears to have known what to do. The youthful master cellist, who in 2010 was granted permanent residency status in the U.S. as an “Extraordinary Ability Artist,” and who has performed worldwide with major classical artists and orchestras, dug into his own pockets.

The fledgling group incorporated and began fundraising. The stated mission of its umbrella organization, the nonprofit Positive Motions Foundation, is “to perform positive change in the society through support of professional art forms.”

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