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3 LACO Concertmasters Will Play Musical Chairs

Like Old King Cole, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra this year is calling for its fiddlers three--three concertmasters, that is.

The ensemble, which begins its 20th-anniversary season with concerts at the Wiltern Theatre tonight and Ambassador Auditorium on Saturday, recently announced the appointment of co-concertmasters Kathleen Lenski and Ralph Morrison. They will be in addition to Iona Brown, the orchestra’s music director, who also serves as a concertmaster.

The need for more than one concertmaster arose with the orchestra’s expanded performance schedule: 11 subscription programs, the traditional Christmastime “Brandenburg” Concerto series and seven of the eight productions by Los Angeles Music Center Opera this season. And while Brown’s dual roles might make this unusual arrangement seem like a high-class version of musical chairs, things have run smoothly thus far, according to Lenski and Morrison.

“For the six weeks Iona is here, Kathy and I both play, sort of in sympathy with her, following her lead and being more of a mirror image,” explained Morrison, 30 this month, who joined the orchestra as a second violinist in 1982.

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“For the other performances, only one or the other of us will play. That will mean taking the initiative with body language.

“We sat down in the orchestra’s office this spring and divided up the concerts according to our own schedules and what we wanted. It worked out very easily.”

Besides setting the performance example, the concertmasters’ duties include choosing bowings, playing solos within the section, making seating arrangements, presiding over sectional rehearsals, resolving sectional conflicts, hearing auditions and working with LACO administrators.

In a profession where seating position often becomes a matter of ego, the two had no problems with those concerts in which both will play, according to Lenski, 42, who joined LACO during its second season (1980-81), departed several years later to become concertmaster of the Long Beach Symphony--a position she still holds--and continues to pursue a solo career.

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“I chose to sit in the third chair, behind Iona, because I prefer it--it’s easier to watch her,” Lenski said by phone from Idyllwild, where she was vacationing with her husband, LACO principal bassoon Kenneth Munday.

“Ralph felt more comfortable in the second chair, next to her.”

It is this compatibility that is perhaps at least partially responsible for the twosome’s selection by Brown after a long search that began with the audition announcement in April, 1987.

The opening resulted from the fact that the contract of concertmaster Paul Shure, along with that of principal violist Janet Lakatos, was not renewed after Brown’s appointment as music director. A $1-million suit filed by attorneys for the American Federation of Musicians Local 47 on the two players’ behalf now awaits a trial date in Los Angeles Superior Court.

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More than 40 violinists applied; 13 of them were invited to audition in October. Brown then narrowed the field to eight, who played for her during the 1987-88 season. Lenski and Morrison were awarded the position in May.

The two share not only current duties but also similar histories: Both were born into musical families who planned their destinies from childhood.

Lenski’s father taught violin; she made her debut in her native Los Angeles at age 6, was a performing member of the first Heifetz master class and studied under Oscar Shumsky at Juilliard. She toured Europe as soloist with LACO and the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra, has performed in various festivals in the United States and abroad and is a founding member of the recently formed, highly touted Angeles Quartet.

Boston-born Morrison, whose mother was a professional pianist and father an amateur flutist, began playing violin at 5 because he wanted to participate in family chamber music jam sessions.

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He earned a degree in comparative literature at Columbia University and after various musical stints--playing in the Broadway orchestra of “Sugar Babies,” performing in South America with a Baroque chamber group he founded--moved to Los Angeles nine years ago. He has been concertmaster of the Santa Barbara Symphony and other Southland ensembles, records for television, films and albums and also works as an arranger.

Both violinists say that after last season’s difficulties, the atmosphere at LACO is one of optimism and excitement and they are looking forward to their new duties under Brown.


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