The small, windowless basement of the New Utrecht library (1743 86th Street) last Sunday became the debut site of Lincoln Center Local, a new initiative out of the legendary institution that brings world-class art and performances to libraries throughout Brooklyn.
With Sasha Papernik on piano and vocals, assisted by her band, a small audience received an intimate serenade of American songbook standards, Russian folk music and Papernik’s soulful originals.
Papernik was lively and interactive during the warm performance, encouraging the audience to participate – particularly in the Russian-language children’s songs that she grew up with.
“I grew up speaking Russian and English – so it seemed natural for me to sing songs in both languages,” said Papernik. The mingling of Russian and American cultures is infused in her lineup, including her original songs. “I’ve researched how these songs have appeared in Russian classical music. I am really interested in how folk, pop, jazz, and classical styles overlap.”
While many in the audience appreciated hearing Russian sing-along songs and standards from Irving Berlin, Papernik’s most rousing performances on Sunday were her soulful originals – songs about love and friendship and rebellion. And, yet, much of the playful piano strides of Russian folk and American classics found their way into her contemporary tunes.
“I’m sure that all of these styles appear – not necessarily on purpose at first, but probably because I just love all this music and think all of it is equally important,” she explained.
The performer grew up in Sharon, Massachusetts, near Boston. Her parents were both immigrants from Moscow, and while they didn’t settle in one of New York’s popular Eastern European enclaves, she still has some roots locally that, unsurprisingly, have made its mark on her work.
“[Our family has] friends that live in Brighton Beach. Also, I love to visit the area and did one of my album photo shoots there,” she said.
Papernik arrived in New York to study at the Manhattan School of Music, where she met those she shared the stage with on Sunday: Kyle Saulnier (bass), Will Clark (percussion), and Nadje Noordhuis (trumpet). While none of the three speak Russian, the Russian-language songs have become second nature for them, she said.
Aside from working with Lincoln Center as a Meet The Artist fellow and through the Lincoln Center Local program as a teaching artist, Papernik was featured in this year’s Musical Explorers program at Carnegie Hall. Last year she released her album Victory, and is currently working on a new album, Papernik + Wu, a collaboration with partner Chris Wu to create “four hand piano music.”
Meanwhile, the Lincoln Center Local program will carry on with performance in other libraries across Brooklyn, with both in-person performances and HD streams of live performances at Lincoln Center’s Manhattan institution. The center’s reps say that the goal is to preserve art in local communities as a means to uplifting the quality of life.
While the New Utrecht performance was the first of the series, which continues until September 27, it’s not the first time the center has produced performances in local libraries. It’s the evolution of a smaller program last seen a few years ago, in which the center partnered with three to four branches in ear borough. Lincoln Center said they hope to continue expanding on the current program.
The program will continue all summer long, at libraries including the Kings Highway, Coney Island and Kensington branches. For a full schedule, check here.
Listen to some of Sasha’s music here, and follow her work on Facebook and Twitter.