TOWNSEND -- A lot has happened in Russia since the debut of "The Nutcracker" in 1892.

The czarist regime was overthrown, the communist regime began and ended and Russia exists again with no czar.

Culture and history are intertwined, pianist Barbara Suhrstedt said.

Two artists will give a program at the Townsend Public Library featuring Russian music, art and poetry from the czarist era and will include works from the soviet years.

The classical musician has performed and traveled in Russia. She was struck by the beauty of what many consider to be a guttural language.

"The poetry is wonderful, very fluid," she said.

The time was right for Suhrstedt to put a new program together. She and her late husband toured with a duo piano program that integrated visual arts. She was ready to play solo piano works again.

Enter Tanya Sheppard. A native Russian speaker, she ran tours to the Soviet Union and later Russia. Showing her father's country to school groups and elders, she saw the effects on the community as the government changed.

She knows the culture. She grew up in Bayonne, N.J., where the family spoke Russian if her father, a Soviet soldier in World War II, was home, or German, her mother's language, when he was not.

"We learned English on the street," Sheppard said.

The Russian culture and religion was kept alive by weekly trips to the Russian House in New York City.

Samovars fill shelf space in her home.


Ukrainian embroidery covers the piano and protects tabletops.

Russian and Soviet art line the walls.

Lunch might be hearty Ukrainian-style borscht or barley soup.

It is just the atmosphere for Suhrstedt to absorb Russian culture while the friends prepare the program put together especially for Townsend.

"I will be stopping and talking. It's more a lecture recital," she said.

"I chose the poems for Tanya to read," she said.

The women praised the art and music created during the repressive soviet era, when the works of Boris Pasternak, the author of Doctor Zhivago, were banned.

Racy magazines and religion were not allowed either, Sheppard said.

But art continued to flourish.

The 50s, 60s and 70s were fabulous, Sheppard said. "There are even Russian impressionist artists."

After the communist regime dissolved in 1991, Sheppard was struck when she passed a newsstand.

"I never in my life thought I would see Russian version of "Playboy" next to an icon," she said.

They will present "Slava, the glory of the arts in tsarist Russia" at the Townsend library on Jan. 22 at 7 p.m.

Suhrstedt will perform on piano, talk about the visual art and provide translations of the poetry Sheppard reads.

"I enjoy introducing people to Russian culture," Suhrstedt said.

"Me too," Sheppard said.