A production of Papers Please Inc.


                               playing for life

"Backstory" presentation, Grieg Haus Leipzig, 29 June 2019 (temperature 101 degrees F)


The Two Pianos "Backstory" introduces the Levins' intercontinental quest to recapture vanished worlds, how Two Pianos: Playing for Life came to be, and the characters' eventful lives.

The Piano Duo Stanislava Varshavski and Diana Shapiro lead off explaining their specialty -- playing concerts on two paired pianos or with four hands at one piano. The program begins with their transcribed rendition of the "Russian Dance" from Stravinsky's Petroushka, and ends with Felix Mendelssohn's Andante and Allegro Brilliante.  This music has intimate connections to Anna's family and Leipzig's cultural history.  Anna's older sister Rebecca Burstein-Arber (1894-1993) played the Russian premiere of Petroushka at Petrograd's Mariinski Theatre (1920).  Mendelssohn, a legendary Leipzig figure, was organizer and first conductor of Leipzig's Gewandhaus Orchestra and founding director of the Leipzig Conservatory.  He wrote this piece for two equally legendary Leipzigers, pianist Clara Schumann and her husband-to-be Robert Schumann, and premiered it in Leipzig with Clara (1841).  Anna's family connections to the Leipzig Conservatory date to 1908 when her father, bassoonist Jacob Burstein. brought his oldest daughter Bertha (1891-1987) from Tsarist Kishinev to study piano at the Conservatory, followed by Rebecca the next year. 

The "Backstory" outlines Anna's first return to Leipzig with Hirsch (1978) after they fled the Third Reich in 1936, including how that visit transformed the Levins' own lives.  It summarizes Hirsch's entrepreneurial rise (see A Border Town in Poland); Anna's pre-Leipzig-Conservatory paths in Bessarabia/Rumania and British Mandate Palestine; and their courtship, marriage and flight to safety.  Ken Hoffman describes his emotional involvement after the Levins reached out to share their 1980 interviews with his grandmother Halina -- her fiery appearance in Leipzig, equally fiery marriage to Jakob (Kuba) Schulsinger, and post-1938 Holocaust experiences before reaching America in 1951. Growing up, he had heard only "little hints"  of these stories.  Their contents represented a "special conclusion" for him.

The Levins note in the "Backstory" that as they conducted their interviews and began to assemble these oral histories, "We realize we have a much bigger story than a family’s.  The events Hirsch, Anna and their friends lived through and reacted to, shaped the 20th century.  They are vivid witnesses to those events." 

                             Hirsch & Anna, 13 Tschaikowski Strasse, 1978                                                                    Michael & Hirsch, Bach statue, Thomas-Kirche, 1982     
This ground-floor apartment at 13 Tschaikowski Strasse (formerly Koenig-Johann-Strasse) was Hirsch & Anna's Leipzig residence from  1931 through their departure in 1936.