Russian pianist Ekaterina Sarantseva, in a glittering black gown and long pigtail, joined American violinist Eugene Fodor in the poignant harmonies of Mozart's Sonata No. 4 in E minor. It was a diplomatic duet in a week devoted to United States-Soviet relations. Fodor put down his honey-colored violin to tell the audience that he and she had met for the first time that day at rehearsal and that neither spoke the other's langauge. But musically, he said, ``It's as though we'd been living next door to each other all our lives.'' The audience in the vast yellow amphitheater here at Chautauqua nodded and applauded under the summer stars.
``Star wars'' was the subject of the Soviet-US duet the next morning between President Reagan's senior arms control adviser, Ambassador Paul Nitze, and Dr. Pavel Podlesny, leader of the Russian delegation to the Chautauqua Conference on United States-Soviet Relations. And while they went at it con brio, they were not playing from the same score; there was little harmony.
Mr. Nitze's appearance surprised both Soviets and Americans at the June 24-28 conference, who had been expecting to hear national-security adviser Robert McFarlane until he canceled because of the hostage crisis in Lebanon. It was a week of surprises here, as the Soviet delegation gingerly met Middle America at this century-old Victorian encampment for culture, public affairs, and religion.
The Russians came, in a sense, to Brigadoon, as Chautauquan Tom Cochran puts it: ``Chautauqua appears just once, for two months every summer, and then disappears'' like the mythical Scottish village that vanishes in a mist. Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko said Lake Chautauqua reminded him of the deep lakes of his native Siberia: It is a laser blue, so bright in the clear country air that it almost hurts to look at it.
The Chautauqua Institute, which began more than 100 years ago as a tent meeting for Protestant Sunday school teachers and ministers, sits like some idyllic Victorian version of Thornton Wilder's ``Our Town'' on the shores of the lake.
The Chautauqua conference on US-Soviet relations marked the kickoff of a season that includes the usual Chautauqua mix of intellectual and cultural stimulation. It was diplomacy by day and culture by night. There has been no cultural agreement between the US and the Soviets for several years, so the event broke ground as US and Russian performers made rare appearances together on stage.
Monday night, Chautauquans turned out with their pillows and blankets (the benches are hard, the nights cool) to hear one of the foremost Russian poets, Andrei Voznesensky, mix it up with American singer Tom Paxton; they were followed by the Kingston Trio.
Voznesensky, wearing a white suit, blueberry shirt, and wide smile, listened to his poems read in English, then delivered them in rich, consonant-studded Russian. He rocked back on his heels, his right arm hammering the air with the force of his words in poems about Marc Chagall (``man lives by sky alone''), about noses, about war and a ``ghetto in a lake,'' where Nazis had killed hundreds of Jews. Finally he said, ``I make small experiment with you,'' and he recited a poem in Russian, without translation, about the life and music of the old Russian Church, symbolized by the bells of St. Basil's in Moscow. It was also a cry against the hardships of artists, as Voznesensky's voice rang out bright as brass in the night.
The next night Yevtushenko, a tall man in a white peasant shirt and khaki pants, appeared in a ``Concert for the Earth'' with the Paul Winter Consort, which joined poetry and music. In his deep, rolling voice Yevtushenko recited poems about the Grand Canyon (``granite sandwiches of red icebergs''), about dwarf birches, and a a dove-gray goose he had shot for food. ``And I would like happiness, but not at the expense of the unhappy/ And I would like freedom, but not at the expense of the unfree,'' were a few of the more memorable lines he ventured in what he calls ``my Siberian English.'' No translation needed.
Late the following afternoon what filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard once called ``the children of Marx and Coca-Cola'' met and mingled at a community reception at the huge, vintage Victorian Atheneum Hotel at which Chautauqua president Daniel Bratton was host. One brunet mother asked Voznesensky to pose for an instant-camera photo with her two children and told him how much she enjoyed his poetry. In a room full of slightly shy but warm handshakes and smiles there were a few holdouts, like the dowager who muttered to a friend, ``No, I don't want to shake their hands; I want to kick them in the pants.''
That night the Chautauqua audiences, which had been singing along with some performers as though they were sitting around a campfire, stomped up a storm with an evening of jazz. Russian jazz composer Georgi Garanyan picked up an alto saxophone and joined the Louisiana Repertory Jazz Ensemble in an evening of high-stepping, fast-strutting, pre-1930s classic jazz. They joined Garanyan in the soulful ``Dark Night,'' a Russian jazz number, and he waded joyfully into ``Sweet Georgia Brown'' with them.
The week was full of seminars and addresses during the day, on everything from ``How Can We Improve Relations With the USSR,'' starring a former National Security Council member, Dr. Helmut Sonnenfeldt, to a talk on infant care and medicine by a Soviet gynecologist, Dr. Tatiana Cherakhova, and a lecture on the Strategic Defense Initiative (``star wars'') by the SDI director, Lt. Gen. James Abrahamson (which the Soviets say nyet to).
The silver-haired hawk Paul Nitze, who has served presidents since Franklin D. Roosevelt, gave the toughest speech of the week on the last day, saying that the US with its SDI is not ``inciting the militarism of space -- the Soviets have been doing it for 20 years.'' And he ticked off a horror list of military space weapons that he said the Soviets have been working on during that period. After Nitze's tough speech and the questions that followed, Podlesny jumped to his feet and took the mike. Then he and Nitze went at it for a few minutes like the ``Dueling Banjos'' number played in the bluegrass section of the previous night's concert.
Podlesny, a wiry, intense man dressed in shades of brown, insisted, ``We have no research directed to fighting space weapons'' and repeated the point the Soviets had pounded home all week: They refuse to negotiate on nuclear arms control unless the US shelves ``star wars.'' At a press conference before his speech Nitze had said he thought the Soviets might start softening on SDI: ``It's wholly probable, likely, and necessary that the Soviets will change their view.''
When the week wrapped up with a concert by Roy Orbison, the Elvis-like rockabilly star, two tangible things had happened. Chautauquans in the amphitheater had taken a voice vote to recommend that the US and Russia take the steps needed to conclude a new cultural exchange agreement in the near future. And conference director John Wallach said negotiations are already relations next year in Russia at a Black Sea resort, provided that similar access to Soviet citizens and broadcasting coverage are included. ``Some bridges have been built this week,'' said Mr. Wallach.
Podlesny, who was about to lead the Soviet delegation on a weekend visit to Niagara Falls and a steel mill and a little shopping, said of the conference:
``No doubt it is useful. First of all we were in a good atmosphere, no acts of direct hostility, although there were some questions from the audience that were complicated and maybe some unfriendly.'' But, he said, ``I was deeply moved by the very, very friendly attitude of the people, by the sympathetic tone and their serious interest, which impressed me.''