From Russia With Love

Siberia. The barren landscape that serves as a backdrop to our gymnasium, football stadium, and ice skating rinks. The area of our campus that no student ever wants to visit during the wintertime, or for that matter, at any time of the year. The far-off Andover playing fields are named for the well-known frozen desert of northern Russia. Usually, when Andover students think of Russia, they think of a land with harsh winters, short summers, and desolate landscapes. They rarely think of the beautiful works of art by Levitan, poetry by Akhmatova or the brilliant dissonances of Stravinsky. Two talented piano duettists, married couple Barbara and Gerhardt Suhrsedt, determined to expose the Andover community to the rich Russian culture, presented “Slava: The Glory of the Arts in Tsarist Russia.” The presentation combined Russian music, art and poetry. They first presented Bortkiewicz’s “Russian Melodies & Dances number one in A minor,” a sad piece that plodded along as accompanying audiovisual equipment flashed different Russian paintings upon a white screen behind the piano. Levitan’s “Eternal Peace,” a painting that showed a little boy bundled on a sled in a dark countryside, created an especially sinister effect. It flashed upon the screen as the pianists came to a long, drawn-out section, clearly reflecting the hardships of starving Russians during long winters. With its low dark notes, the piece was quite sad and poignant. “Overture to Russia and Ludmilla,” composed by Mikhali Glinka, greatly contrasted with the depressing Borkiewicz work. It was both extremely loud and fast, creating a happy though frenzied effect. In this piece the Suhrstedts showed off their skill, as both kept track of melodies that wove in and out of each other. They also managed to pay close attention to dynamics, using hairpin crescendos and decrescendos often. Despite the obvious talent such a piece demands, at times the duettists played a bit mechanically, perhaps because of so many previous performances. After playing pieces from a few of Russia’s little known composers, the duettists moved on to play excerpts from Stravinsky’s well known ballet “Petrushka.” In this piece, their four hands played the parts of a full orchestra. They rolled over the keyboard, first portraying a swift Russian dance and then a festival in full swing. During a quick-paced section, they brought to life the magical story of three puppets that come to life at a jolly festival. The section included many high pitches that were not a part of most of the dancing sections. With this piece, the pair finally seemed to come alive, giving a personal edge to the performance and seemingly hoping to bring the audience into the presentation. Besides the various Russian musical selections, the couple also shared many Russian poems that reflected various aspects of Russian culture. One of the most touching was “The Specter” by Anna Akhmatova. Her poem spoke of the period when the public was unsure of the Romanovs’ fate after they had been murdered. The poem spoke of the rebellions “horses race [racing],” of the lonely street lamps, and of whirling snow flakes in the air. Another poem, “Prophecy,” by Mikhail Lermontov, also spoke of the revolution, but instead about how everyone was waiting for the “crown to fall,” and the Romanovs to be dethroned. Despite a sub-par performance on one musical piece, pianists Barbara and Gerhardt Suhrsedt triumphantly gave the Andover community an eye-opening glimpse into Russian culture and history. The fusion of music, visual art, and the written word lent a sense of uniqueness to their presentation, “Slava: The Glory of the Arts in Tsarist Russia.”