CLASSICAL MUSIC / KENNETH HERMAN : Czech Cellist Learns the Tune Is Different in West

In Milan Kundera's novel "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," the surgeon protagonist finds himself demoted to a common window washer because of his outspoken political views. This portrait of life in Czechoslovakia after the 1968 Russian invasion nearly became the script for Czech cellist Zdenek Prouza.

In the late 1970s, Prouza was a member of the Czechoslovak Chamber Orchestra, an ensemble that travelled and performed throughout Europe. Like Kundera's stubborn surgeon, the young cellist could not keep his politics to himself.

"First the authorities asked me to join the Communist party," said Prouza. "When I told them that as a musician I had nothing to contribute to their politics, they said that if I did not join, I would not be allowed to finish my formal musical studies."

Since Prouza did not relish becoming a routine laborer, the certain fate of any Czech who does not complete his educational requirements, he quietly defected when his chamber orchestra was on tour in West Germany. He had no relatives in the West, and all of his family is still in Eastern Europe.

After playing six years with German and Austrian chamber orchestras, he moved to New York to pursue a solo career in America. He will make his West Coast debut in a solo recital at San Diego State University Feb. 26, at 2:30 p.m. in Smith Recital Hall.

"It has taken me a full year to adjust to the American system," explained Prouza. "I knew the two systems were different, but you don't know how cold the water is until you jump in."

Prouza had been accustomed to Germany's predictable, bureaucratic musical establishment, where government exams qualify musicians for orchestra positions and solo engagements. In America, he has learned that the informal recommendations of colleagues are more likely to land him an engagement. Fortunately, he had the foresight to marry an American whose profession is arts management.

He has also learned the desirable American trait of adaptability. He has performed several concerts, including two gigs at Carnegie Hall, with popular vocalist Judy Collins. And how does a serious, European cellist mesh with the four-piece rock group that backs up Collins?

"Just fine. My cello was amplified, of course, and I did not have lengthy solos. But Collins is a classically-trained musician. She heard me play and invited me to perform with her."

The Friends of Czechoslovak Music, a local organization which regularly offers musical programs at SDSU, is presenting Prouza. Not surprisingly, half of his program is devoted to music by Czech composers Joseph Suk, Leos Janacek, and Bohuslav Martinu.

Atherton's Hong Kong connection. Former San Diego Symphony music director David Atherton has been appointed music director and principal conductor of the Hong Kong Philharmonic. According to Nancy Laturno, manager of Atherton's soon-to-be-launched Mainly Mozart Festival at the Old Globe Theatre, Atherton's three-year contract with the Hong Kong orchestra will commence September, 1989, and will require the 45-year-old British maestro to spend 15 weeks yearly on the Hong Kong podium.

As Atherton noted at a press conference earlier this month, he maintains three residences around the globe. The Hong Kong appointment justifies his digs in that Asian city. In addition to his local abode--Atherton claims he spends more time in San Diego than anywhere else--he also hangs his hat in London, where he remains guest conductor with the BBC Orchestra.

Happy reunion. Way back in 1969 at the tender age of 17, violinist Zina Schiff made her solo orchestral debut playing Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto with the San Diego Symphony under the baton of then music director Zoltan Rozsnyai. The Heifetz pupil went on to a solid solo career, returning to San Diego several times. On her last musical visit in 1984, Schiff played Ernst Bloch's Violin Concerto with the San Diego Symphony under David Atherton.

This week Schiff is back in town for a reunion of sorts. Tonight at Sherwood Hall she will again essay the Mendelssohn concerto with Rozsnyai, only this time with the United States International University Orchestra, the maestro's current orchestra. No doubt Eileen Wingard, San Diego Symphony section violinist and Schiff's sister, will be among the virtuosa's fans in the La Jolla audience.

San Diego, the viola magnet. For the last two days, the San Diego Symphony has been auditioning violists for both principal and section positions. According to the symphony, these posts have attracted applications from 110 candidates from 34 states, Canada, and Holland.

So long, Silver Gate. For two years, Betty McManus and Lynn Schubert presented chamber music in historically and architecturally significant locations around the county. From the stately residences designed by Irving Gill to the ornate downtown office of San Diego Trust and Savings Bank, Silver Gate Concerts found the right musicians for each location. While the series was successful on many fronts--they turned a modest surplus over to Save Our Heritage Organization, their sponsoring organization--Silver Gate Concert series has been disbanded. Schubert and McManus cited personal reasons for not continuing.

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