Russian Masterworks

 Robert Henry


KSU Symphony Orchestra concert helps usher in “The Year of Russia”

KENNESAW, Ga. (Aug 29, 2016) — The first two events at the top of the bill for Kennesaw State University’s 2016-17 annual country study —“The Year of Russia” — set the stage for a yearlong examination of a land of vast complexity, diversity and cultural heritage.

The annual lecture series launched on Aug. 25 with three Kennesaw State faculty scholars providing an overview of Russia’s political and economic history and its role in a contemporary globalized environment.  

On Sept. 7, the 73-member Kennesaw State Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Nathaniel Parker, will perform “Russian Masterworks of the Early 20thCentury,” showcasing one of Russia’s most prized exports — its music. 

The concert repertoire includes Sergei Rachmaninoff’s "Piano Concerto No. 2," featuring artist-in-residence Robert Henry as solo pianist; a suite from Igor Stravinsky’s ballet “The Firebird” and "Eight Russian Folk Songs" by Anatoly Lyadov.  

“It’s a real honor to be a part of KSU’s ‘Year of Russia,’ Parker said.  “Music is a particularly effective medium through which one can experience different cultures. “One can get a taste of Russia by coming to a concert hall like the fabulous Bailey Center, right here in one’s own community, without having to fly to St. Petersburg.”

The all-student orchestra is taking on some of Russia’s most emblematic and best-loved musical compositions, Parker noted.

He explained: “Rachmaninoff’s ‘Piano Concerto No. 2’ is one of the great masterworks in the genre. This work is written—as are most of his compositions—in an extension of the late-Romantic Russian style associated with Tchaikovsky. This concerto is characterized by melodic lyricism, colorful orchestration, and virtuosic demands of the solo pianist. Russia was one of the first countries where a group of composers made a conscious effort to create a nationalist musical style that distinguished itself from the western European mainstream.  A key component of that nationalism is the use of Russian folksongs, like those set by Lyadov. Stravinsky also makes use of Russian folk elements in The Firebird, combining them with spectacular orchestration and the beginnings of modernist techniques in harmony and rhythm that would come to characterize his mature style. The Firebird launched Stravinsky’s career and he quickly became one of the most influential composers of the 20th century.”

Robert Henry, the featured soloist, is an internationally recognized pianist who has won acclaim as an orchestral soloist, recitalist, accompanist and chamber musician. He has performed solo recitals at Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, and London’s Wigmore Hall, and presented concert tours of the U.S., England, Nova Scotia, Russia, Italy, Czech-Republic and Poland. Critics have praised Henry’s “flawless technique, smooth and limpid phrasing and exciting programming.” He has garnered four gold medals in international piano competitions and captured special honors for his performances, including Best Performance of a 20th-Century Work and Best Performance of a Commissioned Work.  In 2010, Henry released his debut album, “Twelve Nocturnes and a Waltz,” and recently released a second album, “As the Songbird Sings: Music of Schubert and Brahms.”

As a result of strong collaborations between Kennesaw State’s Division of Global Affairs and College of the Arts, as well as community partners, music and arts figure prominently in this year’s study of Russia.  Throughout the year, featured performances and events include fall and spring concerts by the Kennesaw State Wind Ensemble; a production of Aton Chekhov’s landmark play, “The Three Sisters”; fall and spring film festivals; and folk songs and dance by the Atlanta Balalaika Society, which will be the centerpiece of a special “Year of Russia Day” celebration on Oct.19.

As the first in a series of more than 30 lectures, panel discussions and conferences, last week’s introductory overview lecture featured talks by Kennesaw State faculty members with expertise on Russia.  They included Alice Pate, professor of history and scholar of the Russian Revolution, who shared thoughts on Russian exceptionalism; Jack Moran, professor of political science, who compared and contrasted Russian and American political values; and Mikhail Melnik, professor of economics, whose personal experiences growing up in Russia underscore the vast political and economic transitions that have occurred there over a relatively short period.

“I was literally born into a country that no longer exists,” said Melnik.  “And my grandfather [whose life spanned the 19th and 20th centuries] was born under a whole different regime.”

Kennesaw State scholarship and expertise are well represented in this year’s study of Russia. In addition to Melnick, a scholar of Russia’s fiscal reforms and its transition to a market economy, and Pate, a scholar of the Russian revolution, this year’s study includes lectures and panel discussions by six faculty members who will present on Russian music, culture, media, economy and Arctic policies. The series also includes presentations by nearly two dozen scholars from universities across the country. Eight Kennesaw State faculty members and six students are participating in a Russian learning community that will travel to Russia in the spring. 

Dan Paracka, DGA’s director of internationalization, characterizes Russia as an engrossing and important country, citing its complex history and its critical role in global affairs.  His introductory essay for the “The Year of Russia” details major historical developments that have shaped Russian identity and influence.  

“Russia is the world's largest country — a diverse country with diverse neighbors,” Paracka said. “As such, it is a country that has long played an integral role in shaping the context of international relations and is a critical global partner for promoting a stable and sustainable future. The ‘Year of Russia’ provides a strong basis for increasing both our students’ understanding of Russia and Kennesaw State's partnerships with Russian universities. We welcome the community to our campus for the variety of events."


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit