Vodka, borscht, music – from ‘Russia with Love’

Courtesy of Julie Brown

Celebrating after an intimate chamber performance at “From Russia with Love” are, from left, violist Dmitry Kustanovich, violinist Oleg Sulyga and Music in the Mountains President John Anderson. The event, a fundraiser for the classical music festival, was held at the home of Jim and Nancy Fisher.

Toasting, singing, great food ... we might well have actually been in Russia at “From Russia with Love.”

Wow is the first word that comes to mind. The event, a fundraiser for Music in the Mountains, was held Feb. 16 at the home of Nancy and Jim Fisher, and organizers went all out, starting with valet parking and ending with party favors that included Russian chocolates and mini-bottles of Stolichnaya.

Fisher’s favorite color is red, and her spectacular kitchen has numerous red touches. Add the fact that it was timed around Valentine’s Day, and the bright red tablecloths, white candles and gleaming glassware really set the scene.

In between, guests enjoyed a plethora of goodies, most created by Jimmy Nicholson of Durangourmet, who did a lot of experimenting and recipe searching to create a Russian-inspired menu that he thought would appeal to an American palate.

The evening started with passed appetizers that included blini, miniature buckwheat pancakes served with a dollop of sour cream and caviar, served in bright red spoons; liver pâté on black bread; and Nicholson-cured salmon with lemon and dill served on toasted brioche from Jean Pierre Bakery. I could have made a meal just of those, as they were scrumptious, but I had seen the menu for the evening and needed to pace myself.

I think it’s a law that a Music in the Mountains fundraiser has to include music, and the music was the best of intimate chamber music. The Fishers, who didn’t just open their home for the event but underwrote it as well, had brought in two Russian musicians from the festival orchestra. I have seen them both on stage many times, but this is the first time I have met them, and they’re both charming as well as talented.

Dmitry Kustanovich on viola and Oleg Sulyga on violin found themselves at an impasse when it came time to select music for their performance, because they said none of the Russian composers created music for a viola/violin duo. So they christened a few honorary Russians, including Bach, Halvorsen and Martinu; and for fun, Mozart’s Duo for Violin and Viola No. 1 in G, K 423, which he wrote for the archbishop of Salzburg, Austria. Anyone who saw the movie “Amadeus” will remember that Mozart and the archbishop had a hostile relationship at best, and Mozart wrote the piece to help his friend Franz Joseph Haydn, who had only completed four of a six-piece commission for the archbishop before falling ill. Mozart thought he was tweaking his nose at the archbishop by submitting the duo under Haydn’s name, but he was really making us a gift.

Both Sulyga and Kustanovich told great stories, but the most quotable moment of the evening came before the Martinu piece, when Kustanovich described it as the most difficult piece of the evening, and began it with “Wish us luck.”

Before moving on to the seated dinner, Anna Passalaqua, who helped organize the event, told the crowd of more than 50 that no Russian party would be complete without toasts and singing. Then we learned a new piece of trivia – the 1960s hit “Those Were the Days” is actually a translation of a Russian song from the turn of the last century. Who knew? So, to the accompaniment of Passalaqua on guitar and our two professional musicians, we gave it a pretty good shot after drinking a shot – of vodka, that is. (Toast, remember?)

Then it was on to a decadent meal, starting with small plates of oysters in the half-shell with red caviar; small shots of a deluxe borscht; and cured and smoked meats, cheese, pickled mushrooms and peppers.

The entrée included beef-and-rice stuffed cabbage; pirozhkies, a potato and beef pastry; beef and vegetable skewers; and Olivier, a Russian salad.

Passalaqua, who hails originally from Southern Siberia, had recruited friends to help with the serving and explaining the crosscultural experience, and it was a pretty high-powered crew, mostly from Russia. Passalaqua is the vice president of credit administration at Bank of the San Juans; Katya Licciardi is director of reimbursement at Durango Orthopedic Associates; Svetlana Ferguson is studying to be a pharmacist; and Leila McSween, who actually comes from Kazakhstan, is the assistant controller at Red Cedar Gathering.

I guess you can tell by their last names that every one of them is here because of a love story. And that is what the evening was, in the end, a love poem to their homeland that they shared with us.

Bravo, and bolshoe spasibo!

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These folks don’t know if they’re getting snow or blue skies for their birthdays – Michelle James, Deb Campbell, Fred Kroeger, Stephen Linn, Jenn Lopez, Jake Washburn, Maddox Bryant, David Clark, Ted Cooper, Donna Hanes, Steve Pye, Lorraine Rombeck, Tim Smith, Darrion Wells, David Alkire, Jack Benner, Brooke Ellis, Gordon Greve, Rachel Priest, Virginia Rohr, Paul Broderick, Charlotte Pirnat, Mary Husemoller, Fausto Miranda, Brian Govreau and Peggy White.

Birthday greetings also go out to one of my favorite ladies, Beverly Darmour.

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Ward Lee is recovering from a health crisis that saw him going to Denver for one surgery Jan. 15 that turned out to be two surgeries and a stay in intensive care.

He will probably be in the hospital at least two more weeks, and cards would be much appreciated. Send to Ward Lee, Room 827, c/o University of Colorado Hospital, Anschutz Inpatient Pavilion, 12605 E. 16th Ave., Aurora, CO 80045.

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Roses may be in store for the anniversaries of John and Pati Sandhaus, John and Vi Kessell, Sam and Kathy Burns and David and Sharon Mantor.

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