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Tuning In to Russia's Music Revolution

Pop music: The country's most famous artists, no longer bound by the USSR's creative restrictions, will perform at the Shrine Auditorium.

September 27, 1996|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Valery Leontev, Laima Vaikule, Philipp Kirkorov and Irina Allegrova. The names may sound like alphabet soup to most Americans, but they are among the most famous artists in the Russian pop music world.

No longer under the strict creative guidelines of the Soviet era, Russian pop has seen explosive growth in less than a decade. Leontev has been described as the "Russian Michael Jackson"; Vaikule is an equally bright light in Russia's growing firmament of music stars. Kirkorov, husband of the famous but now-retired singer Alla Pugacheva, is the first Russian pop artist to have a CD released in this country. He and Allegrova, newly emerging, are among the major performers of the future.

On Saturday, Leontev, Vaikule, Kirkorov and Allegrova, along with several dozen other Russian performers--part of a company of 128 singers, musicians, dancers and technical support people--make their West Coast debut at the Shrine Auditorium in an event titled "Song '96."

"The performance," explained Frank Oglachian of Russian Television, the show's presenting organization, "is a kind of Russian version of the Grammy Awards. It has taken place in Russia for more than 10 years, at the State Kremlin Palace, the most prestigious hall in Russia. All the stars of Russian music participate and consider it a great honor to be part of the show."

Last year, an earlier installment, "Song '95," was held in the United States for the first time before a capacity crowd of 5,000 at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. In May, "Song '96" had its initial American performance before a sellout crowd at New York City's Radio City Music Hall.

The singers are uniformly attractive and highly skilled. And, although most clearly owe a debt of inspiration to U.S. pop, they bring a touch of traditionalism to their music--a tinge of melancholy that might best be described as the Russian blues. American listeners will be equally fascinated--even without an understanding of the language--by the diversity of styles. There are singer-songwriters, hard rockers, dance queens and rap-tinged performers. And, in a bow to more venerable Russian pop, there will be a performance by Edita Piekha, a Sinatra-generation vocalist.

Among the other performers are Igor Nikolayev, Natalia Korolyova, Mikhail Shufutinski, Anjelika Varum, Tatiana Ovsienko and Leonid Agutin. Also present will be composer Igor Krutoi, described by Oglachian as the country's "foremost composer and songwriter" and winner in March of "The People's Artist of Russia" award.

"Krutoi and all the others are familiar names to the Russian and Armenian communities of Los Angeles," Oglachian said. "We have a Russian population of about 200,000--including the Russian Jews who have lived here for a long time, and the Russians who have emigrated here since the breakup of the Soviet Union. And there is an Armenian population of about half a million. So we feel there is a real audience in Los Angeles for this kind of music."

Oglachian is probably right about that. As of Tuesday, 3,500 seats--more than half the Shrine capacity--had already been sold.

"These performers are the most important stars in Russia," Oglachian said. "And we believe that Americans are going to like them just as much."

* "Song '96" plays Saturday at the Shrine Auditorium, 649 W. Jefferson Blvd, 6 p.m. $45-$200. (213) 465-2080.

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