November 13, 2007


From a Trash Bin, Singing Cossacks and a Bitter Dispute (KAREEM FAHIM, 11/03/07, NY Times)

Like many strange tales, the story of the antiques dealer, the scholars from Scotland and the contested archive of a Russian conductor begins in the suburbs of New Jersey.

The papers belonged to Serge Jaroff, conductor of the Don Cossack Chorus, a singing group founded by members of the Russian Imperial Army that rose to popularity in the 1930s.

Mr. Jaroff, who died in 1985, lived in a tiny green house in this town near the Jersey Shore. Lisa Myer, a 49-year-old antiques dealer, says that two years ago she found the conductor’s belongings — photographs, letters, paintings, sheet music and other memorabilia — in a trash bin outside the house. She packed what she could into her car, she says, and took it back to the log cabin in Farmingdale, a 15-minute drive away, that she shares with five dogs.

The story might have ended there, with Ms. Myer content to sell off hundreds of papers from the collection on eBay, as she had been doing.

Instead, it has mushroomed into an acrimonious international dispute over the archive, which collectors say may be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. [...]

Born in 1896, Serge Jaroff was a Don Cossack, a group that settled along the Don River in Western Russia; its members were as famous for their singing as for their military abilities.

In the course of his life, Mr. Jaroff fought the Bolsheviks, formed the chorus in an Ottoman internment camp and later made a professional debut with the group in Vienna.

His choir of male singers, who sometimes wore their Cossack uniforms on stage, performed music that included haunting Russian Orthodox church hymns in concert halls around the globe. The chorus was featured in Hollywood films, and, in 1955, appeared on Ed Sullivan’s show.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 13, 2007 6:08 AM
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