Giving Diplomacy a Chance through Music
By C. Naseer Ahmad
“Give diplomacy a chance,” reasoned voices are screaming given the stormy seas the world is wading through these days. But there was no need for screaming at the Russian Embassy on March 28, 2014 because diplomacy had a chance and music won the hearts, the minds and the souls, without firing a single shot.
As Ambassador Sergey Kislyak started to speak, it became quite apparent that musical diplomacy was hard at work – banishing acrimony from this august gathering. An erudite and interested audience - comprising of diplomats, academics, numerous college students and professionals from all walks of life - was hungry for the compositions of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Ludwig van Beethoven, Robert Schumann and Sergei Rachmaninoff.
“Lensky’s Aria” from Yevgeny Onegin - which was arranged for the cello and the piano version in 1879 by Mikhail Bukinik (1872-1947) – underscored how interconnected is the world we live in. Bukinik was born in Dubno, west of Kiev, Ukraine. After attending music school in Kharkiv, he became a cello teacher in Moscow.
A stellar performance by Adrian Duarov and Di Wu made every moment a moment of pure joy. Daurov, who made his debut at the age of 15 with the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra, is a versatile cellist who has appeared on Regis & Kelly Live, Good Morning America, the View and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Di Wu – a Chinese American – made her debut at the age of 14 with the Beijing Philharmonic and has been described by the Wall Street Journal as “a most mature and sensitive pianist.” Together these accomplished and award-winning artists became exemplars of uniting people through musical diplomacy.
The crisis in Crimea and Ukraine has the potential to derail diplomacy but determined efforts by diplomats and Embassy Series united people through musical diplomacy at the Russian Embassy. Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s remarks suggested a vigorous effort behind the scenes to keep the diplomatic channels open. National President Club President Myron Belkind took the opportunity to invite Mr Putin for a conversation with the Press and the people of the United States.
As spring rolls in, some very interesting concerts are coming up. On April 25, 2014, the Mendelssohn Piano Trio, one of the most exciting ensembles on the national and international music scene, will perform at the Embassy of Slovenia.
In the Mendelssohn Piano Trio, one sees people united through musical diplomacy too. Pianist Ya-Ting Chang is from Taiwan; violinist Peter Sirotin is from Russia; and cellist Fiona Thompson is from England. The Washington Post has described the group’s Brahms cycle of piano trios and piano quartets presented by the Embassy Series as “unfathomably beautiful”, “transcendent” and “electrifying.”
Evenings of Operetta are planned at the Austrian and Hungarian Embassies. The Arabella Quartet, which received a glowing review from The Boston Musical Intelligencer, will perform at the European Union Ambassador's residence. Chamber Music of Ravel & Debussy is scheduled at the Embassy of France.
Great things don’t happen in a vacuum, so neither music nor diplomacy is an exception. Leadership, providing direction and mentoring play an important role in all successful experiences. This is where Embassy Series Founder Jerome Barry shines.
An example of success can be felt in a recent communication of a very proud mother: “I'm so glad the Embassy Series is going so well. You built such a major community institution - you should be proud. Jacob is doing very well. He graduated from Oberlin with a degree in piano performance (jazz) and a degree in physics... He's now in Massachusetts in his second year of a PhD program in physics at Harvard. He's still playing piano (and composing) ... You really were a wonderful influence for him at a crucial time. Among many other things, you were an accomplished professional, a true role model, who took him seriously and required his performance in many senses of that word.”
It is no wonder then that these exciting Embassy Series concerts give diplomacy more than a chance; they make it come alive with verve and passion.
(Photographs provided by Morris Simon, Embassy Series)