Violinist Yevgeny Kutik was born in 1985 in the city of Minsk, in what is now Belarus. When he was 4 years old, his parents decided it was time to leave the country and come to America.
"We were a Jewish family, and they were feeling pressure constantly for the fact that they were Jewish," Kutik explains. "My mom got fired from her position as a violin professor because they had exceeded the quota for the number of Jews that could be working there. I was made fun of, going to preschool, because I was Jewish."
As a condition of leaving, they were stripped of citizenship, as well as most of what they owned. Kutik says he was stunned at what his mother — who was also his first violin teacher — fought to keep.
"I think you can only take about $90 per person, and two giant suitcases. My mom insisted on putting in these old scores, collections that she had used playingwise and for teaching," he recalls. "My grandmother and my family were like, 'Why? Why are you wasting this precious space with these scores?' "
Included in the stash were compositions by Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky and more. Kutik wouldn't explore the music himself until years later; now, he's devoted an entire album to what he found. He spoke with NPR's Robert Siegel about the making of Music from the Suitcase: A Collection of Russian Miniatures. Hear more of their conversation at the audio link.