MUSIC : Eldredge Hopes to Play 'Passionate' Tchaikovsky

Allison Eldredge was sweet and polite during an interview that interrupted her Sunday afternoon freedom. She was also exuberant. After all, she has a great deal in which to exult: At the age of 20, the cellist has a career that would make many of her elders envious.

New York-born but California-reared, Eldredge is the product of parents who committed themselves wholeheartedly to nurturing her talent. Her mother, Juilliard-trained pianist Yoshie Akimoto, started Eldredge at the piano when the child was 3. Today, they concertize as equal professionals, in a mother-daughter duo. Their first recording, on the Pony Canyon label (a Japanese firm) is scheduled for U.S. release this season.

Her father, businessman Stephen R. Eldredge, has always joined his wife in exceptional devotion to the development of their daughter's gift. When Allison turned 14, the Eldredges moved from Laguna Hills to the East Coast to enroll the eldest of their three children in Juilliard's pre-college division. This year, Eldredge will receive her bachelor's degree from Juilliard--after seven years of study.

Eldredge is quick to cite musical inspirations in her career, from her mother to the recordings of the late cellist Jacqueline DuPre. When Eldredge performs with the Pacific Symphony at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre on Saturday, she will play a Peresson instrument that was built for DuPre in 1970 and loaned to her by DuPre's husband, pianist-conductor Daniel Barenboim.

Barenboim is not the only one obviously impressed by her abilities: By the time she was 13, Nancy Reagan had invited Eldredge to play at the White House. The list of major orchestras with which she has appeared includes the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Royal Philharmonic in London (with which she has recorded the A-minor Concerto of Saint-Saens and Lalo's Concerto in D Minor, also for the Pony Canyon label). And this season alone, Eldredge can look forward to more than 40 recital and orchestral dates.

Fervor shines in Eldredge's attitude toward music. When queried about preferences within the performing literature--and particularly about Tchaikovsky's "Variations on a Rococo Theme," in which she will be featured Saturday--the cellist replied: "I love playing Russian music . . . Beethoven and Brahms . . . but anything passionate is wonderful. There's plenty of that in this piece!"

Besides her youthful enthusiasm, a sense of deeper understanding permeates Eldredge's description of the variations: "It's not your typical 'rah' Russian work, like Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff or Prokofiev, or even the Tchaikovsky symphonies. It's a much more delicate and charming piece, combined with pure virtuosic brilliance. It bears a witness to Tchaikovsky's love and respect for Mozart. So it's a very contrasting piece from his typical, almost bombastic work, such as the '1812' Overture that will end the program."

Outdoor forums worry her a bit, partly because she recently found herself performing amid a mosquito onslaught that was intensified by lights focused on the stage during a muggy night. This time, she said, she will consider arming herself with long sleeves and insect repellent, determined "to portray to the listeners what a divine work this is. And that's a great . . . responsibility, but I just want those who are familiar with it--and those who aren't--to feel how beautiful this music is."

Shuttling between her family's woods-enshrouded home in Connecticut and her apartment in New York City permits Eldredge to enjoy both the solitude of nature and the bustle of city life. But her thoughts always seem to return to music: "I go to many concerts when I am in the city, which is most of the time, and I listen to recordings all the time. Just about 24 hours a day. (Even) if I'm not practicing, there's music going on."

Despite her absorption in music, the cellist remains flexible about the direction she hopes to take her career: "I love performing altogether. . . . I hope to be able to continue concertizing and to further my career as a cellist. I really don't know (about specific goals). It depends on how things go. I'll just flow with what happens naturally."

Bruce Ferden conducts the Pacific Symphony and cellist Allison Eldredge in a Tchaikovsky program with fireworks Saturday at 8:30 p.m. at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, 8800 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine. Tickets: $8.50 to $37.50. Information: (714) 474-4233.

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