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 Two Pianos: Playing for Life

A multimedia Concert Documentary with Exhibit, Videos & Print Materials
about human perseverance under oppression

The setting

Berlin, 1933: a group of dismissed Jews petitions for a separate organization that will allow suddenly-unemployed Jewish artists to perform for Jewish-only audiences.  The “Culture-League of German Jews” (Kulturbund Deutscher Juden) is approved by Joseph Goebbels’ Ministry of Enlightenment.  Dozens of Kulturbund chapters soon form, by 1935 becoming the sole public access to culture for Jews still in Germany.  Early members of its Leipzig branch include three young Jewish concert pianists and their music-loving businessman husbands.

The performance

Combining live classical music, narration, archival projections and post-performance audience Q & A, Two Pianos follows the friendship and careers of Jewish pianists Anna Burstein Bieler-Suwalski (1908-2003) and Halina Neuman Schulsinger (1908-1999), who like their friend Tanya Zunser Ury (1907-1988) played Leipzig Kulturbund concerts for segregated Jewish audiences under the Third Reich. Piano selections these formidable pianists played are performed on two grand pianos by Stanislava Varshavski and Diana Shapiro, artists-in-exile whose stories echo the characters'.  

Two Pianos highlights its principals' tenacity, passion and devotion to craft. As talented student “alien residents” at Leipzig's famed Conservatory founded by Felix Mendelssohn, Anna, Halina and Tanya mastered new languages and cultures. As young Jewish mothers they advanced their professional piano careers while juggling child-care and Nazi restrictions. Their paths soon diverged through flight from Germany on one hand, and deportation, the Warsaw Ghetto and forced-labor camps on the other. They reconnected as naturalized American citizens, teachers and performers, remaining close friends for the rest of their long lives. 

Two Pianos premiered June 2018 at Philadelphia's Settlement Music School, where Anna taught piano for nearly four decades. Subsequent performances with scripts similarly tailored to the venue were presented in Leipzig Germany (June 2019), where Anna and Halina met and married; and Rutgers University-Newark (October 2019), where Halina joined the music faculty after reaching America. Our first post-COVID (and first open-air) performance at the spectacular restored Untermyer Gardens-Yonkers NY (May 2022) broadened the story to include Anna's older sister, pianist Rebecca Burstein-Arber, and what happened when Rebecca crossed paths on Mt. Scopus with progressive Zionist millionaire Samuel Untermyer, the Gardens' founder. 

More detail on each performance, including highlights videos and concert reviews, is at Highlights videos are also on our Two Pianos You Tube Channel.
Mendelssohn Conservatory
June 2019
Untermyer Gardens
Yonkers NY
 May 2022