Oleg Timofeyev is a renowned recording artist, ensemble director, and festival organizer, best known for his leading role in the revival of the Russian seven-string guitar tradition. He was born to a Moscow family with a long-standing musical tradition. His mother Natalia Timofeyeva (neé Schneider) is a well-known cellist and composer, who graduated from the Moscow Conservatoire, where she studied with Aleksandr Shirinsky and Mstislav Rostropovich. His grandmother, Amalia Weksler (1903-1994), was an excellent pianist, and spent many hours with young Oleg, teaching him the principles of truly Romantic musical performance of the early 1900s.
All of this musical heritage notwithstanding, the family decided that Oleg should become an architect. Therefore, he first graduated from an Art School (1978) and then from a math school (1980). But something made him learn classical guitar on his own, and in 1981, while studying at the Moscow Institute for Chemical Engineering, he began taking lessons from a remarkable teacher: Kamil Frautschi. This was a powerful experience that shaped Oleg’s understanding of music, arts, and life. Many years later, after Frautschi’s death in 1997, Oleg would direct and produce a documentary film about this outstanding thinker and teacher (Frautschi, 2008; for more information, go to arbatfilm.com).
Around 1983, Oleg Timofeyev became involved in the early music movement. At that time, the Soviet educational system and philharmonic concert life had an ambiguous relationship with anything pre-Soviet, not to mention the potentially dangerous (religious) music of Renaissance and Baroque. Only a handful of musicians pursued performing careers on the viola da gamba, harpsichord, Baroque violin or lute, as part of a quasi underground movement, and with a sense of finding themselves in an informational vacuum. Only sheet music from the GDR, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland was found on the shelves—but no editions from the West. In this climate, Oleg learned to play recorder, viola da gamba, and lute to rather high professional standards: he participated in festivals in Viljandi and Tallinn (Estonia), as well as Moscow and Nizhni Novgorod (Russia). His solo and ensemble playing was frequently broadcast on Soviet TV and Radio.
Coinciding with the openness of Gorbachev’s Perestroika, this was a time of rapid professional growth and great creativity in Oleg’s career. Yet, in view of the continuing informational vacuum, there was a growing awareness that study in the West was a necessity. In 1989 Oleg Timofeyev was invited as Artist in Residence to the University of Iowa. Making full use of the University’s excellent music library, and its first-rate collection of facsimile editions and microfilms, he continued his independent research. About this time he also took lessons from New York’s outstanding lute teacher, Patrick O’Brien. After attending several seminars of the Lute Society of America, Oleg joined the ranks of American lutenists.
In order to pursue his life-long interests further, in 1992 he enrolled in the Early Music Program at the University of Southern California, where he earned an M.A. in Early Music Performance a year later. During his studies at USC, Oleg was mentored by James Tyler, the Program’s Director and a world-class early music expert, and earned his M.A. in Directing Early Music Ensembles in 1993. Soon thereafter, Timofeyev enrolled in Duke University’s graduate program in musicology, earning a Ph.D. in Performance Practice in 1999. While at Duke, he worked under guidance of musicologists Peter Williams and Alexander Silbiger. Throughout his graduate years, Oleg also kept taking instructions from Patrick O'Brien, James Tyler, and Hopkinson Smith.
Timofeyev's recording debut occurred in 1999 with a solo lute album (The Wandering Lutenist, Centaur 2409) and the groundbreaking The Golden Age of the Russian Guitar (DOR 93170). A reviewer for Guitar Player wrote: "The Golden Age of the Russian Guitar succeeds on many levels - emotional, technical, historical - and is essential listening for anyone who is passionate about guitar." The German magazine Gitarre & Laute granted this recording five stars out of five, while the British journal Classical Guitar stated that "Timofeyev emerges as a specialty player of the highest order." In 2000 Timofeyev recorded The Golden Age of the Russian Guitar, Vol. 2 (DOR 93203), which was received equally warmly.
Ranking high among Timofeyev's plans for the near future is the project to rediscovery and reconstruct a repertoire for the Ukrainian relative of lute and theorbo -- the Torban.
Dr. Oleg Timofeyev - dissertation abstract
The Golden Age of the Russian Guitar: Repertoire, Performance Practice, and Social Function of the Russian Seven-String Guitar Music, 1800 - 1850, PhD diss., Duke U., 1999. 584 p. Order from UMI: UMI AAI9928880
Abstract: This dissertation is the first scholarly attempt in any language to address the all-but-forgotten Russian seven-string guitar tradition. The most distinctive feature of this instrument is its "open-chord" tuning (D G B d g b d'). In chapter one, a number of organological links are discussed that shed light on the origin of the instrument, arguing that the Russian guitar was the result of a cross-fertilization between the Spanish guitar and the 18th-century cittern. Numerous examples from literature, personal diaries, and visual arts collected in chapter two document the important important role this guitar played for the Russian noble and middle class during the first half of the nineteenth century. Chapter three presents in detail the lives and works of the three guitarists-composers who founded the unique musical style for the instrument: Andrei Sychra, Semion Aksionov, and Mikhail Vysotsky. The variety of ways in which Russian folk songs were incorporated into their works presents the special focus of chapter four, since it is precisely this inclusion of folk material that gives the repertoire its particularly Russian sound. Finally, in chapter five the musical climate among the guitarists of the 1840s (Morkov, Liakhov, Sarenko, Vetrov, Zimmerman) is discussed, with emphasis on their connection to the works of the previous generation. A translation of the entire text of Mikhail Stakhovich's 1854 "Essay on the History of the Seven-String Guitar" is appended, since this text is a unique testimony of an active participant and first historian of the tradition. On the accompanying CD, twenty short compositions from this tradition are recorded.