"I detect a note of relief in that applause," said David Lloyd Kreeger, amateur violinist and arts patron, taking the microphone. Behind him in the lofty Corcoran Gallery room was a Steinway and in front of him was a black-tie-clad audience of 200. "You know I'm not going to play."

The performers last night were Mstislav Rostropovich and family. The instruments: one cello (Slava's), one piano (sometimes 23-year-old daughter Elena's, sometimes Slava's), one violin (Pieter Daniel's, husband of Elena), one soprano (wife Galina Vishnevskaya). In addition there were one mezzo-soprano (Renata Babak) and 38 portrait paintings.

The paintings were the work of Russian e'migre' and Rostropovich-friend Gabriel Glikman. The faces -- some long and angst-ridden, some Cubist-like and energetic (such as the one of Rostropovich himself) -- were to be part of the performance.

"The purpose is not just an exhibit," said Glikman before the performance through his interpreter, Helen Yakobson, professor of Russian at George Washington University. "It is a happening."

And with that, he energetically launched into an explanation of this Russian tradition of putting music and art together, one to interpret the other. In fact, that's where you could see how Glikman and Rostropovich could be good friends. They both love to talk. Yakobson, nodding as she listened to his Russian, occasionally had to put up her hand and gently say "Stop now," or "Nyet, nyet."

"Mr. Glikman comes from a milieu of artists and painters and musicians and people of creative endeavor. These are his closest friends," said Yakobson, surrounded by walls of portraits of Shostakovich and Rostropovich and Stravinsky and Prokofiev and Dostoevsky (Glikman didn't know him). "He feels their pain, their torture of creativity. You know, it's all terribly Russian. He's very keen on portraying the emotional charge."

And so seemed Rostropovich: "I would like to share with you a real Russia," Rostropovich told the audience, "a Russia that does not exist."

With each piece of music, Rostropovich stopped and told the audience how he related certain portraits to that music. His own portraits did not escape him: "You see in this portrait," he said, referring to the somewhat abstract one behind him, "four fingers are coming out of each arm. You may think that's a little strange, so that's why in the other portrait, he makes for me six fingers on each hand . . ."

Rostropovich owns several of Glikman's works. But, said Kreeger, who hosted the event along with National Symphony Orchestra board president Leonard Silverstein, "Don't ask Glikman how all these paintings came to grace the walls of the Corcoran. It's a secret."

As for Glikman, who lives in Vienna, this was his first trip to Washington.

"Mrs. Glikman loves Washington," he said through Yakobson. "And she would very much like to live here. She is the generalissimo, and she makes the important decisions in life."