Martin Hubbard is an investment banker in Irvine by day and a music philanthropist by night.
He began underwriting music programs a little more than a year ago, after violist Catherine Matovich, who had grown up in Newport Beach, returned to Orange County with her Russian emigre husband, pianist Leonid Levitsky.
"I was just taken with Leonid," recalls Hubbard, "and with the music and the plight as he described it of a lot of the Eastern Bloc musicians who were in a state of upheaval.
"We came up with the idea of having a concert, and (there) was so much enthusiasm from the audience that Leonid suggested--and I concurred--that perhaps we ought to organize a series."
The idea blossomed as the Newport Beach Recital Series. The first program took place at the Newport Center United Methodist Church on Jan. 7, 1994, where programs followed in February and March.
But the April program never happened. Cellist Alexander Kniazev, who had been scheduled to play, and his wife had a car accident after a concert in South Africa. "It was a tragedy," Levitsky says. "His wife was killed."
Kniazev was badly hurt. "He lay in a hospital in Pretoria for 1 1/2 months. We are very happy that he is OK now. He will be here for the next concert"--tonight at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. Levitsky and Kniazev will play works by Schumann, Brahms and Franck.
Born in the Ukraine, Levitsky, 42, moved to Moscow as a teen-ager to pursue music. He graduated from the Moscow Conservatory and began an active solo and chamber music career that included serving as pianist for the competitors in the International Tchaikovsky Competition.
But with the breakup of the Soviet Union and the withdrawal of state support for the arts, life for him and other artists turned hard.
"Life there is difficult now," he says. "Many musicians have already left to find work abroad. I cannot say all. The Moscow Conservatory is still there. But we lost a lot of musicians."
Matovich was concerned that Leonid would encounter some culture shock on moving from Russia to Orange County. "I was worried about him because (in Russia) we went to wonderful concerts almost every night. I had grown up in Orange County, but I hadn't been here for 12 years, so I remembered what it was like when I left, before the Performing Arts Center was built, before the Irvine Barclay Theatre was built."
But, Hubbard says, "Leonid was surprised by the variety and quality of the music in this community. He was also surprised at how poorly attended it was, relative to his experience in the Soviet Union."
The first Newport Beach Recital program had gone well, but "there was no continuity with that audience to subsequent performances," Hubbard says. "They came the first time because we did it and it was new and it was interesting, but they weren't really an audience that followed chamber music or really looked for chamber music."
So, looking for that audience, Hubbard and company repeated their programs at various sites, including Leisure World, a church in Laguna Beach and the Richard Nixon Library in Yorba Linda.
"We came to the conclusion that we needed a home in order to build an audience," Hubbard says. "It would have been nice if that home could have been the church, but the reality is that the audience we're after doesn't take it seriously unless they go to a theater."
Hence the move to the Irvine Barclay, where they plan to offer a wide variety of chamber music. "There is a very standard repertoire that everybody plays everywhere," Hubbard says. "Leonid tends to try to put together concerts that aren't quite that standard."
There isn't much of a budget for their plans. "We've sort of done it ad-hoc," Hubbard says. "I can tell you now from experience that it costs us in the neighborhood of $7,000 to do a concert. That's all. Because of the way we've structured it, we have no overhead, so all of our money goes directly for the concert hall, airplane tickets and paying musicians."
Hubbard says he and his wife, Margie, are providing most of the money themselves, "other than what we can take in from ticket sales.
"The next steps are pretty straightforward. I felt that if we built up enough credibility, we could then say, 'We started it; we've had performances, we've had some success. Now let's see if we can interest people in supporting it financially.
" 'Let's see if we can now put together an organization and raise money, have a budget, begin to do things in a less ad-hoc way.' We've just barely started that process."
Other local arts organizations have been supportive. "I've had probably the most contact with the other groups," says Matovich, who teaches English as a Second Language at UC Irvine and plays as a substitute violist in the Pacific Symphony.
"I certainly don't think they've been anything but helpful. They feel like it helps boost their arts organizations because if people are listening to chamber music, they're involved in classical music. And if you have a love of music, you really should try to support it."
* The Newport Beach Recital Series continues tonight with cellist Alexander Kniazev and pianist Leonid Levitsky in a program of Schumann, Brahms and Franck at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine. 8 p.m. $8 to $26. (714) 854-4646.