They Like the Music, But Is Russia Ready for ... the Tango?

by Public Relations Office—Cedarville, Ohio

This past summer, Cedarville University music professor Dr. John Mortensen introduced the city of Eisk, Russia, to the Argentinean tango. And that’s just one of the stories he brought back to his students.

Mortensen’s friend, professor Mikhail Petukhov of the Tchaikovsky Conservatoire, invited him to perform for a new concert series, of which Petukhov was the artistic director. “They wanted someone international,” Mortensen says. “And by ‘international,’ I mean, of course, ‘guy who takes a long plane ride.’”

Presented in a large theater that is part of the Palace of Culture, the concert allowed Mortensen to perform a variety of music — from classical scores to the works of Russian composers like Rachmaninoff and the aforementioned Argentinean tango composer Astor Piazzola.

The concert even made the news, as the two local TV stations in Eisk both wanted an interview. Mortensen spoke with one 10 minutes before the concert, the other 10 minutes after. Best of all, he could tell the concert-goers really enjoyed the performance. “When the audience likes something in Russia,” he says, “they clap in rhythm together. That’s what they did after the tango.”

But before arriving in Eisk, he spent some time in Moscow, practicing at a conservatory where many great pianists studied. “I don’t have to tell you what this means to a pianist,” he says. “These are the rooms where the compositions of Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and others were played for the first time, while the ink was still wet.”

For Mortensen, the opportunity was more than just a chance to perform for a Russian audience: it was also a learning experience.

“You have to toughen up in this kind of situation,” Mortensen says. “You’re jet-lagged in unfamiliar territory performing in front of an unknown audience. You don’t know how you will be received, so you have to be flexible and very prepared. It gives me great stories to share with my students.”

“We recognize the importance of our faculty proclaiming the Good News in unique ways,” says Beth Porter, chair of the department of music, art, and worship. “John is a consummate performer and educator, which allows him to use music — the universal language — to bridge barriers of time and culture. This kind of depth and richness adds value for the students who, in turn, benefit from their professors’ experience.”

Up next for Mortensen: he and Petukhov are working on a very ambitious project — performing the entire set of Bach keyboard concerti for one, two, three, and four pianos in a series of concerts across Russia, the U.S., and perhaps the United Kingdom.

Mortensen describes the interaction of multiple pianos and orchestra as almost zoo-like. But he adds, “You start hearing the music three-dimensionally, like a conversation. It’s an amazing opportunity.”

Though the concert series will take some time to organize, it promises to be yet another opportunity for a Cedarville professor to enhance his skills internationally … and participate in something that will undoubtedly benefit the students in his classroom.