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Students to Benefit from Husarik Trip to Russia

Students to Benefit from Husarik Trip to Russia(Posted: May 29, 2014)

Current political entanglements in Russia gave a UAFS faculty member cause to think about his planned trip to the country, but not enough to make him cancel it.

Dr. Stephen Husarik, humanities and music professor at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith, has had a lifelong interest in going to Russia, so he saved up and decided to go 10 months ago with two primary reasons for making the trip.

"I wanted to see the Hermitage Gallery in St. Petersburg and the Moscow Conservatory and Great Hall where Van Cliburn won the 1958 Tchaikovsky Piano Competition," said Husarik, who travels often and implements what he sees on his trips into his classes at UAFS.

Husarik, who just returned from Russia, said he was nervous about going there because of the current political turmoil and because traveling by plane is not as simple as it once was.

"You have to dismantle everything in all of your suitcases in order to get past security and customs these days," he said. "It's a cumbersome task even for a savvy traveler like me."

His time in Russia, however, lived up to his expectations.

"In St. Petersburg, I saw the fabulous palaces of Catherine and Peter the Great," he said. "It's difficult to say which of these is more impressive and in which way," said Husarik. "Catherine's palace has an all-amber room in it that took a decade to recreate after the war, and crowds of tourists come to see it. Modeled on the French version from Versailles, Catherine's palace has a touch more extravagance in the decoration than the French one."

He also visited the Peterhof Palace gardens, which boasted some 150 fountains.

"On our way back from Peterhof, we stopped by the World War II monument dedicated to the Russian citizens of St. Petersburg in honor of the Russian people who fought off the German invasion," said Husarik.

He said this was the only piece of sculpture that has impressed him emotionally in recent years.

"You have to understand how deeply felt the experience of fighting off the Germans was to the people of St. Petersburg," he added. "Hundreds of thousands died. Those who survived were eating only one piece of bread each day as a food ration. They were so weak they couldn't even lift up dead people off the street to carry them away for burial."

Husarik called the Hermitage Art Museum "unbelievable."

"They have two Leonardo's, many Rembrandt's, Raphael's, and it goes on and on," he said. "The Hermitage has so many pieces in the collection that they can't display it all, so they rotate the collections."

He said one special feature of his tour was when he was driven 20 miles north of St. Petersburg to the Staraya Dervenya Museum restoration facility and given a private tour to see how art objects are stored, restored and prepared for shipment.

"This was a great privilege and one of the highlights of my trip that tourists rarely get to see," he said.

Husarik also attended an invitation-only town hall meeting at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Moscow that included business people, diplomats and visiting citizens.

"I saw photos on the wall of famous musicians who played at the residence, including Van Cliburn and Dave Brubeck," he said. "And when I saw the Steinway concert grand piano sitting there, I just couldn't keep my eyes off it. After the meeting broke up for cookies and drinks, I went to the Charge D'Affaires, who is the acting ambassador, and asked if I could play it."

After receiving permission, Husarik went into a large atrium where hundreds of people were standing and played three numbers, an arrangement of Errol Garner's "Misty," the "Harp" Etude by Chopin and the "Ocean" Etude, also by Chopin. He said people seemed to like the music he was playing.

"When I finished, I went back to thank the ambassador," he said. "She gave me a thumbs up and thanked me for playing. It was one of those memorable moments in a musician's life when you get to play on a beautiful piano of that sort in a particular setting. It was obviously not the same piano that Cliburn had played on during the '60s for Nixon, but Cliburn came back several times before he passed away in the '90s and may have played it.

"I also believe it was the one that Brubeck played on for Reagan, and it may even be the one that Horowitz played on when he visited the residence in the late 1980s," he continued. "It any case, it is a very well taken care of instrument – the best of its kind – and it sounded great in that large atrium with a high ceiling and all of those people standing around."

Another memorable piece of Husarik's time in Russia included a visit to the Russian Art Museum, where he discovered dozens of plaster casts of famous pieces of sculpture.

"Two Russian art historians came up with the idea to do this 100 years ago," he said. "You can't imagine how important it was to do this for students so they can get close-up views of such monuments."

Husarik took photos of Michelangelo's David that are forbidden in Florence.

"I photographed David from above, below, the side, everywhere – it was ridiculous," he said. "I got dozens of pictures of the most famous statues in the world this way, pictures I can now use freely in my humanities classes."

A visit to the Tretyakov Gallery of Russian Art was also important to Husarik.

"What interested me most of all, and what I anticipated most, was the painting of Modeste Mussorgsky done by Illya Repin just two days before he died," Husarik said. "Seeing this was a life-long goal for me since I used to play and talk about Mussorgsky's 'Pictures at an Exhibition.' Other people might be more interested in the paintings of Dostoevsky, Chekov and Puskin. For me, it was Mussorgsky."

Overall, Husarik called his Russian experience a positive one.

"I now know that there is a parallel universe in which all of the trends over the past 300 years – popular and classical – have been imitated in Russia and that there are equally great Russian counterparts for all of the Western writers, composers, artists and performers."

The two-week trip also included a few days in Paris before and after going to Russia, but Husarik did it all with one focus – looking for opportunities to integrate museum culture and important historic monuments and venues into his humanities courses.

He visited more than two dozen museums, historic monuments, homes of famous musicians, and palaces, as well as the Mariensky Theatre to attend "A Midsummer Night's Dream" ballet.

"This was a highlight of my trip because every dancer performed to perfection," he said, adding that he also heard many pieces not in the suite that Mendelssohn published separately. One "pre-classical number" really impressed him.

"I'm going to use it on the final exam next year in music history for stylistic analysis," he said. "Although Mendelssohn wrote it, it's a perfect example of the earlier string tremolo style. He was a true master to be able to switch styles like that."

Article by: Sondra LaMar, Director of Public Relations

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