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A Baroque Biochemist
by Sarah C.P. Williams
On Tuesday and Friday evenings, biochemist Alexander Konstantinov walks away from his spectrophotometer and picks up a different fine-tuned instrument. He draws the violin to his chin and slides the bow across its special silk strings, creating the richly decorated sounds of early 17th century Baroque music.
Konstantinov, an HHMI international research scholar at Moscow Lomonosov State University, leads the university's chamber orchestra. They play pieces by Johann Hermann Schein, Johannes Rosenmüller, and William Lawes—lesser-known composers who came before Bach, Beethoven, and Vivaldi.
Baroque compositions encourage a feeling of harmony, Konstantinov says. “This music brings a discipline of one's ego. You feel yourself happy not just when expressing yourself, like many feel when playing a solo part, but feeling yourself a part of the entire ensemble. Inside the baroque orchestra you do not feel either a romantic hero or a small cog within a large score.”
Konstantinov's passion for music is a life-long infatuation that predates even his love of science. He first picked up the violin when he was five, with encouragement from his parents. At age six, he passed up an audition for a spot at the Central Music School in Moscow.
“This would have meant a professional music career,” says Konstantinov. But his father had been expelled from Moscow after World War II, moving the family to Saratov, a day trip away. “My parents did not venture to send me alone to boarding school in Moscow,” says Konstantinov.
Illustration: Peter Arkle