Indiana piano

Alexander “Lexo” Toradze is the center of a community of Russian and Georgian pianists—not in one the usual cosmopolitan centers, but in South Bend, Indiana.

In 1990, he married an American girl, a fledgling pianist from Florida. In 1991, he accepted a piano professorship at Indiana University at South Bend—a place best-known for Notre Dame’s football team. Transplanted to northern Indiana, he proceeded to recreate the intense mentoring environment he had known in Moscow, as well as the communal social life he had known in Tblisi. To date, he has recruited more than seventy gifted young pianists, mainly from Russia and Georgia. They bond as a family, with Lexo the stern or soft surrogate father. They make music and party with indistinguishable relish. Lexo’s big house, on a suburban street without sidewalks, is their headquarters. Since separating from his wife in 1999, he has densely decorated the downstairs rooms with an assortment of American, Russian, and Georgian books and embellishments; the upstairs walls remain blank. The basement comprises a Ping-Pong room, a table-hockey room, and a Finnish sauna. The swimming pool outside is used in winter for furious ice baths in alternation with languorous sauna sittings.

South Bend is welcoming, comforting, and incongruous. As new Americans, the members of the Toradze community eat pizza, play basketball, and barbecue salmon in the backyard. They are addicted to such gadgets and amenities as giant TVs and state-of-the-art audio systems. They shop for steak and vodka in the early hours of the morning in vast twenty-four-hour food marts. Their social rituals are Russian or Georgian. So is their informed enthusiasm for jazz, which preceded their arrival. Though they do not attend the football games, Lexo’s excitement was boundless when he discovered that the forward pass was a South Bend invention.


from “Vodka in South Bend: The life and music of a Soviet defector,” by Joseph Horowitz, Humanities, September/October 2008 :: via Arts & Letters Daily

Originally published at culture-making.com.

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