One probably could not think of a better time of the year to bestow gifts upon those dear and near.  At the Embassy of France in Washington, Russian Chamber Arts Society founder Vera Danchenko-Stern was fêted by a large appreciative audience on the occasion of her 75th Birthday.  Assembling an array of both instrumentalists and singers, the evening was such a testament to the impact that she has had on the arts community in Washington and abroad.  Spending the core of the evening at piano, accompanying an array of colleagues, her presence during the evening was credo to the talent that she has contributed to.

The first half of the program celebrated her 50th anniversary of performing with her brother, the violinist Victor Danchenko works by Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and Schechedrin formed this section of the program. Mozart’s Sonata No. 25 in F Major, K. 377 was light and playful, marking the tone of the program, while the Meditation by Tchaikovsky added a reflective, contemplative tone to the first half of instrumental works. As the brother/sister duo performed, there was an undeniable since of enjoyment of performing together that perhaps could only be felt by close siblings.

Continuing the program were several singers with whom Vera has worked with extensively. Beginning the second half was mezzo-soprano Susana Poretsky, who sang four selections.  Two songs by Glinka opened her set:  “Night’s Soft Breeze” and  “I’m Here, Inezilia.”  It was in these songs that the rich quality of her voice was fully introduced to the audience.  Robust and resonant, these qualities also served her well in Verostosky’s “Old Husband” and the concluding “The Bells” by Bakaleynikov. Her performance certainly set the tone for the fine singing to follow.  Baritone Timothy Mix was in good voice in his selection of songs by Borodin and Balakirev,  In particular, “For the Shores of the Distant Homeland” was rendered with such warmth and rounded tone. Closing his set was “Dark Eyes” accompanied by Genadi Zagor.

Instrumental gems presented a constrast in the next section of the program.  Clarinetist Julian Milkis began with elegant “Air” by Bach, accompanied by Alexander Sevastian on the bayan.  “Oblivion” by Piazzolla brought a haunting quality to the evening, while Kancheli’s “Miniature” allowed the two instrumentalists to perform more as partners rather than just one accompanying the other.  Rounding out the evening were two more singers.  Soprano Jennifer Casey-Cabot especially glowed vocally in two selections by Rachmaninov “How Fair This Spot” and and “In My Garden at Night.”  Bass Nikita Storojev added a sense of light-heartedness to the evening that was very personable and full of presence.

After a rousing improvisation by pianist Genadi Zagor, the entire company and audience joined in a rousing birthday salute to Vera Danchenko-Stern.

Patrick D. McCoy