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Still, in Saratov he attended a seven-year “children's music school” along with regular classes—where he discovered his knack for science, like his mother, a microbiologist, and his father, an expert on water ecosystems. Soon, the time came for him to choose between science and music. “As both my parents were from the scientific world, it happened that I chose science.”
When he began as a student at Moscow State University in 1967, however, he discovered that studying science didn't mean giving up his violin. That same year, the university established a chamber orchestra, and Konstantinov signed up. He was placed in the last stand of violins.
Over the next 10 years, he moved up, seat by seat, to the front of the 15-person orchestra—eventually becoming the “konzertmeister” of the first violins. In 1991, he took over as director. Among the university scientists playing in the orchestra, four are from Konstantinov's research group, which studies how cells harvest energy from oxygen molecules.
While the orchestra occasionally plays for university events—including a ceremony for HHMI President Tom Cech a few years ago—his fondest performances are those in which singers join the orchestra. In 1995, they teamed up with a popular philharmonic ensemble to perform odes and semi-operas by English composer Henry Purcell and oratorias by Italy's Alessandro Scarlatti. These performances included both singing and speaking parts.
Coordinating the musicians with the singers offered Konstantinov a new challenge. The results—the first authentic performances of many of these masterpieces in Russia—were well worth it, he says.
Photo: David Rolls