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Over-the-Line Approach for S.D. Classical Music?

Violinist Frank Almond III suffers from a peculiar type of bicoastal schizophrenia. In New York City, he is the student; in San Diego, he is the teacher. While he is completing the final year of his Master’s program at Juilliard in New York, he is also one of this year’s Stauffer Visiting Professors in String Performance at San Diego State University. During the 1988-89 academic year, Almond has made several visits to the SDSU campus to perform, give master classes to string players, and talk to classes about the music profession.

Veteran San Diego prodigy watchers recall Almond as the local teen-ager who won third place at the Paganini Competition in Genoa, Italy, and as one of two American laureates in the 1986 Tchaikovsky International Violin Competition in Moscow.

Almond was scheduled to perform last night as guest concertmaster for maestro Donald Barra’s San Diego Chamber Orchestra. Regular concertmaster Igor Gruppman was busy with the San Diego Symphony string auditions, so Almond agreed to step in. This visit will also serve as a kind of trial--for both parties--should Gruppman’s workload as the San Diego Symphony’s concertmaster cause him to give up his chamber orchestra post. Almond displayed a decorous interest in the position.

“It’s a real possibility. Their season is not so extensive that I would have to live here. If I could get along artistically and personally with Barra, I’m guardedly optimistic about the possibility,” said Almond.

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While he is pursuing his solo career--he will make his Boston debut later this week at the Gardiner Museum--he is also keeping up his concertmaster chops. He is still the concertmaster of the Juilliard Orchestra, and this summer he did a stint as concertmaster of the Batiquitos Festival Orchestra for the first three weeks of that ill-fated North County venture.

Although Almond counts himself as one of the few people hired by the festival who was actually paid his contractual fee, the former pupil of Batiquitos Festival director Michael Tseitlin admitted it was one of the most chaotic and ill-planned festivals he had ever encountered. And he confirmed that the festival’s shoddy reputation spread to the East Coast almost immediately.

“Even as early as when I came back to play in the La Jolla SummerFest in August, the word was out. You can’t involve that many well-known music people and not expect news like that to make the rounds.”

When asked about his programming for the March 5 recital he will play at SDSU’s Montezuma Hall, he promised to include some approachable contemporary music.

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“There’s no question that people are tired of the same old stuff. It’s not smart, and it doesn’t do anybody any good,” said Almond. “I’ll play a new piece I recorded a couple of years ago that everybody seems to like, called “Birds in Warped Time” by Somei Satoh. I gave the American premiere of it a couple of years ago, then recorded it. Everybody started buying the record and playing it all over the radio, and last month the New York Times put that disc on the critics’ choice list.”

Since Almond grew up in San Diego, he is well aware of the challenges local classical music promoters face. His suggestion for a new San Diego festival aimed at a broader audience: an over-the-line chamber music festival, where concerts would be played in the evenings on Fiesta Island after the infamous ball games.

Music of the Holocaust. The San Diego Jewish Community Center’s College area branch will present a concert Feb. 5 featuring music written by four composers of the Terezin concentration camp. Pianist David Bloch of Tel Aviv’s Rubin Music Academy and mezzo soprano Emile Berendsen will perform songs and chamber music that survived this infamous cultural ghetto--also known as Theresienstadt--an interim concentration camp set up by the Nazis just outside Prague where Jewish composers and artists worked before being sent to other camps for extermination.

“One of the composers, Victor Ullman, was a pupil of Schoenberg,” said local program organizer Eileen Wingard. “While in the camp he wrote some 25 works, and was even assigned to review concerts given there.”

Some of this music has survived, even though the composers did not, because it was saved by the composers’ relatives.

“Gideon Kline, whose Alban Berg-like piano sonata will be performed, is survived by a sister who lives and teaches in Prague. She saved his Terezin compositions,” Wingard said.

Before coming to San Diego, Bloch and Berendsen will give the program in New York City. In San Diego, they will be assisted by three members of the San Diego Symphony--violist Gary Syroid, cellist Karla Holland-Moritz and violinist Wingard.

The program, part of the community center’s music series, begins at 2 p.m.

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Just one rebate. When cellist Yo Yo Ma canceled his Symphony Hall recital last Tuesday, the staff of the sponsoring La Jolla Chamber Music Society worried about the number of people who might show up expecting to hear Ma and pianist Emmanuel Ax. After all, Ma’s management had given but one day’s notice of the cancellation, and the society had to scramble to get the word out. Out of the 2200 ticket holders, only 44 showed up for the recital, and only one asked for a refund, according to the society’s executive director Neale Perl. Perl is still searching for a date to reschedule the popular duo.

Quartet winners. Winners of the San Diego State University high school and junior college string quartet competition, held the weekend of Jan. 21-22, are the Teller-Chappui Quartet of Los Angeles and a quartet from the local Academy of Strings. Each quartet received a $600 award, and the Grace Davis High School string quartet from Modesto was named runner-up. Members of the Lark Quartet, SDSU’s resident string quartet, judged the contest.


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