Ask Bella Gutshtein if the second year of Russian Cultural Center concerts has a theme, and you can see her scratching her head — even through a phone conversation.
Gutshtein, a concert pianist, and her husband, Boris Sandler, are the fuel behind the cultural center.
They say the center hasn't calibrated its brand enough yet to start setting themes.
But there is an overriding one: great music. The center hasn't restricted its performers to Russian but has allowed the series to be a chef's restaurant; the performers create the programs from what excites them and what they think will excite the listeners. This season, there's the embrace of the familiar, as in Dvorak's String Quartet, and the rare spice — art songs from Tchaikovsky.
"The artists are talking about it when they get together. One says, 'Well, this has always been one I've wanted to do,' and they all make sure that they can learn this program around the other dates they're playing." Gutshtein said.
"We have a very friendly, very intimate relation with each other.
"We're all equal in this. We're all responsible for what's happening at Koreshan."
The art hall at the Koreshan Historical Site in Estero looms large as the series venue. It's a vintage wooden building constructed with warm acoustics, and it still holds its original 19th-century Steinway.
Gutshtein waited more than eight years while that hall was being restored. As the nexus of cultural productions for the religious community, it held entire orchestras, framed theater and dramatic readings and hosted debates in an historical setting. And as a venue embedded in a forest, it was twice perfect for this series, she said.
If you go
What: Russian Cultural Society of Naples chamber music series
Cost: $30 each; subscriptions, $84 (three concerts) and $108 (four concerts); holiday concert, $55 (not part of subscription)
Where: Art Hall at Koreshan State Park, 3800 Corkscrew Road, Estero
Reservations/Tickets: Suggested because of space limitation; RSVP to 239-596-8404 or email email@example.com
"The place is mesmerizing. It has power to heal people. It's in the woods and nature, and that's where it (classical music) should be played," she said.
"The sound of the trees, the birds, the brooks ... I thought I would love to take classical music back to nature, and this does."
Enough music lovers agree with her that the series was sold out last year. It has expanded this year from four to five concerts. The opening performance Nov. 17 will feature Naples Philharmonic violinist Sania Whitaker and musical luminaries from her family in Europe and Israel: Victor Derevianko, her father, on piano, and his wife, Diana Cahanescu, on cello.
The next event will be a fundraiser to help cover the program's costs, after one funding source had to lower its contribution this year.
That one promises nourishment for vocal-music lovers as well as chamber music fans, with table seating and a wine-and-cheese reception. Roza Bulat, an Uzbekistan-born soloist, will offer, among other works, songs by Tchaikovsky, and the Glinka Grand Sextet is on the orchestral program.
The concert series (tickets are $30 each unless otherwise noted):
■ Chamber Music 1: "A Family Affair," 4 p. m. Saturday, Nov. 17. Artists will be Victor Derevianko, piano; Diana Cahanescu, cello; Sania D. Whitaker, violin.
■ "Voices Of Russia": Holiday concert at Koreshan, 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 30. Single ticket, $55; tables for six, $400; art and preconcert reception at 3 p.m. Seating for this event will be limited to 60. Artists will be Roza Bulat and musicians from the Naples Philharmonic, along with Gutshtein as pianist.
■ Chamber Music 2: "Music of Beethoven and Mozart," 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24. Beethoven Serenade for String Trio in D Major, Op. 8, and Mozart Piano Quartet in G Minor, K478.
Artists will include Bella Gutshtein, piano; Boris Sandler, violin; Monica Biacchi, viola; Susan Bergeron, cello.
■ Chamber Music 3: "Music of Brahms and Dvorak," 4 p.m. Sunday, March 17. Artists will include Kenneth Friedenberg, French horn; Gutshtein, piano, with the Naples String Quartet — Sandler and J. Kozbial, violin; J.T. Posadas, viola; Adam Satinsky, cello.
Brahms Horn Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 40, and Dvoák's String Quartet No. 8. in E Major, Op. 80.
■ Chamber Music 4: "Music of Haydn and Schubert," 4 p.m. Sunday, April 28. Artists will include Chaika Piano Trio — Gutshtein, Sandler and Satinsky; Naples String Quartet. Haydn String Quartet No. 2, Op. 33 ("The Joke"), one of Haydn's "Russian" series; and Schubert Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat Major.
The Russian Cultural Center of Naples also is a sponsor of the annual Holocaust memorial program, an event separate from the series. It will be on Jan. 27.