The age-old tradition of Russian bell ringing was in danger of being entirely forgotten during the Soviet era, when most of the traditional church bells were destroyed, and the activity was prohibited. But it managed to survive, and will be on display in a free concert at the San Francisco Public Library on Larkin Street this Saturday. Ringing the bells will be percussionist Victor Advienko, who plays a set of bells provided by Novato’s Blagovest Bells. Introducing the performance will be that company’s general manager, Mark Galperin, whose background is in both physics and the history of Russian bell ringing.

There’s more information about the concert at the San Francisco Public Library‘s website.

Victor Avdienko says rather than picking up these bells, they’re mounted in place. “The difference with Russian bells is that the bells are fixed, and the clappers are all attached to a rope. So traditionally, you’d have up to 13 bells in a tower, and you can have all those ropes come to one person, and I’ll manipulate the ropes with either foot pedals or both hands.” The bells in church towers can be thousands of pounds, but this collection, a set of six on a stand, plus two flat bells or ‘bila’ that enable these concerts to take place away from the orthodox churches that have the bigger instruments. “The primary function of Russian bells is not melody, it’s rhythm,” Avdienko says. “So, it’s very similar to gamelan music, where the larger bells will be playing at a much slower rate, and then as they get smaller, the smallest ones play the real rhythmic interest in Russian bells.” Saturday’s concert will include both traditional peals, as well as improvisations. “It’s a relatively new thing now, especially in the United States. When I grew up, I grew up here in San Francisco, I’m a Russian Orthodox. I never knew about all these things. And as a percussionist, when I saw how it’s played, it’s like, OK, well that’s a new percussion instrument for me right now. It’s like a drum set. I can play all the ropes and all the feet, and it was pretty easy for me to figure out.” Avdienko’s association with Blagovest Bells began when he was performing a work by Shostakovich with the San Francisco Symphony, and needed to find a set of bells. “All roads pointed to Mark [Galperin], because he’s a real campanologist. He knows everything about bells from a physical aspect, because he was a physicist, and also all the spiritual aspects.”