“Only music clarifies, reconciles, and consoles.” When composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky asserted the unifying power of music during the nineteenth century, he could not have anticipated the state of international relations in the twenty-first. Nonetheless, the truth of Tchaikovsky’s philosophy was vividly demonstrated on Friday night when more than 200 students from American University and other area colleges attended a joint concert of the Young Artist programs from the Washington National Opera and the Bolshoi Theatre. The Russian Embassy hosted the evening.
Now in its eighth year, the WNO-Bolshoi Exchange program was launched by Carmel Institute of Russian Culture & History founder Susan E. Carmel to train young opera artists from the U.S. and Russia. The partnership—which Ms. Carmel underwrites—enables some of the world’s most gifted and promising opera singers and pianists to further their development through cultural exchange.
Guests enjoyed an evening of operatic favorites, followed by a buffet dinner that concluded with intricate Fabergé egg-inspired desserts.
Yasmin Chaudhary—an International Politics major at Georgetown University—has previously attended Carmel Institute events at the Russian Embassy with her fellow college students. “Some of these people are the next political leaders, so it’s definitely important,” Ms. Chaudhary said. “it kind of demystifies Russia.”
Some student attendees had never visited the Russian Embassy. “It’s actually my first time being to an embassy—any embassy,” shared Jae Song, a Science, Technology and International Affairs major at Georgetown. Ms. Song agreed with Ms. Chaudhary about the significance of cultural interaction. “An exchange between countries is very important—and I think culture is kind of the fun part of that,” she said.
The training programs at Washington National Opera and the Bolshoi are two of the most respected in the world. The WNO and Bolshoi alternate hosting duties each year, with each exchange trip lasting approximately two weeks. During that time, the artists are immersed in voice lessons, coaching, movement training, language study, and career counseling, as well as visits to local cultural attractions. The exchange culminates in two joint concerts uniting the members of both programs in performance, as took place on Friday night at the Russian Embassy.
While the WNO-Bolshoi Exchange Program is fundamentally about rigorous artistic instruction, it is also about building much-needed global unity through culture.
"In challenging times, a cultural dialogue is critically important,” Susan E. Carmel remarked. “Without dialogue, there is no hope. Without hope there is no future.” Person to person communication is vital, she said. “Culture helps you to have that dialogue, at least on a person to person basis. It also reaches out to the young people today, and reaches beyond where it is not political—and it can endure through difficult political times on a person to person basis, keeping those cultural bridges open and finding ways that we can cooperate.” Ms. Carmel also stressed the role of cooperation and mutual respect, which she noted “are critical for any kind of diplomatic relations, whether it’s political or not.”
Congratulating the performers after the concert, Ms. Carmel told them she was very proud of them, and looked forward to following their careers.
Anatoly Antonov, the Ambassador of the Russian Federation, observed that, “Among our guests tonight, [there are] many American students, educational and cultural figures, members of business and government organizations. For us, it is clear evidence that, despite the complicated situation in our bilateral relations, there is a great deal of interest towards the Russian culture."
"We have to keep this exchange alive,” urged Robert Ainsley, director of the Washington National Opera Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program. “This is the way we learn, the way we grow, and this is why this is special…Art is a great unifier. It’s the thing that brings us together. We can all appreciate beauty; we can all appreciate music.”
Miranda Dotson, a student at American University, agreed. “As an anthropology major, I think culture is what carries a nation—and what carries societies through history and time” she said. “Being able to connect with an individual in a society on a cultural level, and exchanging beauty and ideas is a great way to establish a friendship, especially when times are tense like these,” Ms. Dotson shared. “It’s great to be able to come here—have a wonderful dinner; see a beautiful performance; appreciate Russia for what it has to offer, and kind of put politics on the back burner.”
Photos from the event can be viewed on the Carmel Institute of Russian Culture & History Facebook page.