CAREER ‘WAS FOREIGN’ : FOR GITA KARASIK, MUSIC IS WAY OF LIFE
A lifelong pianist, Gita Karasik has only recently, she admits, paid much attention to the concept of career.
“I have played the piano since the age of 4,” says the black-haired musician, who appears at a Pro Musicis-sponsored recital in Schoenberg Hall at UCLA tonight, “and have always been very aware of the need to keep my work going.
“I come from a family of musicians, a family of Russian Jews, very work-ethic oriented.
“But the idea of having a career, or, God forbid, building one--that was foreign to us.”
Yet, Karasik acknowledges, she had all the advantages of a musical background. “In my parents’ home, there was always teaching--my mother is a pianist and my father plays all the string instruments--and there was always chamber music.”
A native of San Francisco who recently spent three years living in New York City, Karasik, with her lawyer/film producer husband, Lee Caplin, moved here last year.
In an interview at her hilltop Hollywood Hills home, Karasik admits that she prefers Los Angeles, despite leaving “many friends” in the East.
“The day we looked at this house, there were three bunnies romping in the yard. And since we moved in we’ve seen quail, squirrels and many different kinds of birds. Here we have all the advantages of the city--plus the quiet, which is terrific.”
And, “for the first time in my life,” Karasik has a private studio for her piano, books and records. “If I want to practice at 3 in the morning, I can. Having the piano out of the main part of the house gives me that extra bit of privacy I’ve really wanted all these years.”
Not that the 35-year-old pianist spends a lot of time at home. As a former Pro Musicis artist who later joined the rosters of Affiliate Artists and Xerox pianists, Karasik tours constantly. She reiterates a familiar phrase: “As long as I’m near an airport. . . . “
Of course, it’s not always that simple. Karasik recalls a recent experience:
“I was on tour, and was scheduled to come home for two days. My husband picked me up at the airport on Friday afternoon and we went to dinner. During the meal, he said, ‘This is not going to be a relaxing weekend. I accepted an engagement for you tomorrow night.’ ”
What Caplin had accepted was a performance of Mozart’s E-flat Piano Concerto, K. 271, which Karasik had not played in some time, with the Orange County Chamber Orchestra. The scheduled soloist, Stephanie Brown, had become ill and conductor Micah Levy needed a replacement.
“Well, it was a challenge,” Karasik remembers, “but a possible one. I think it went well.”
The quiet-spoken pianist seems to enjoy such challenges. She talks about one mix-up during a tour of mainland China.
“I knew I would play on consecutive nights in Shanghai. But I didn’t know that someone had promised two different programs--and that the second one contained music I hadn’t played in, actually, 19 years.
“Well, when I got there and saw the problem, I realized I had three choices--first, to say ‘No, I will simply play one program twice’; or, second, to substitute another second program, different from the one that had been promised, or finally to go ahead and play the expected program.
“So, on one day’s notice, I played the promised program. It all came back--I think the things you learn when you are very young stay with you a long time.”
As a Pro Musicis artist, Karasik says she has made her community-service appearances in every kind of venue and situation--except prisons.
“I’ve played in nursing homes, in the inner-city ghetto, in homes for the mentally retarded and the mentally handicapped, even in hospitals where the patients had no hands to clap with.
“In a formal concert, you worry about lighting, about placement of the instrument, the piano itself, the acoustics--all the little details that have to be right.
“In these other situations, nothing matters--not the lighting, not having a spinet or a grand piano, not the room--just the communication between you and the listener. Because that’s all there is.”
As a protege of, among others, Adolf Baller, Rosina Lhevinne and Karl Ulrich Schnabel, Karasik might be expected to espouse in particular the repertory of the first Viennese school. Not yet, she says.
“At this point, I don’t specialize. Later, maybe. Right now, I haven’t begun to narrow down my choices.”
Which explains her eclectic program scheduled for Schoenberg Hall tonight: a group of sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata, Henri Dutilleux’s “Chorale et Variations” and a Chopin group consisting of the Fantaisie-Impromptu, the Nocturne in F and the B-flat-minor Scherzo.
“The Dutilleux piece is fascinating,” Karasik says enthusiastically. “It was written as the required piece for an international competition, so every eight bars there is a major technical hurdle to overcome--in 11 minutes, that’s a lot of hurdles. But it’s a wonderful piece, rhythmic, lyric and pianistically idiomatic.
“The Chopin group--I put that in just because I wanted to.”