Taking Young Musicians to the Next Stage

Josef Woodard is an occasional contributor to Calendar

Starting a music festival can be arduous, intimidating business, but it can also be tinged with the excitement of a new beginning. Just ask Laura Schmieder, who, with her husband, Eduard, is launching the inaugural International Laureates Chamber Music Festival, with five concerts in different venues around Los Angeles starting this Thursday, and running through Aug. 6.

As festival names go, this one may not be the most romantic, or the most informative. Then again, this model is a work-in-progress, flung into being by the force of a good idea and given the support of such stellar names on the advisory board as Yehudi Menuhin, Gidon Kremer and Ida Haendel. The central notion of the festival, and the hosting organization, Young Artists International, is to celebrate young--but not green--talent, and give a public platform to carefully picked musicians at a tender stage in their careers.

“What we are doing is quite unique,” said Laura Schmieder, the artistic/executive director of the festival, who has an infectious zeal about the project, and no false modesty. “There are many festivals and organizations geared toward helping young musicians, but none with such ideals and high goals.

“Little did I know what I put myself into when I started. I had a very successful teaching career here in Los Angeles. I was privileged to teach very advanced students. That’s where the idea came from, because my students were winning these competitions everywhere and then they were stuck. What else? Nothing else would happen for them.”


The Russian-born Schmieders, who moved to Los Angeles in 1986, are noted violinists and teachers: Eduard commutes to Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and Laura has taught at Colburn School of Music, the Idyllwild Summer Program, and Interlochen, among other institutions. Her life as a concert impresario and now festival founder began more recently, when she organized the Sundays at Two series of chamber concerts at the Beverly Hills Library, beginning four years ago. The ongoing recital series has developed a unique emphasis on young musicians. Out of that experience, a larger vision grew.

“We are new,” said Schmieder of the nonprofit Young Artists International, which seeks to help novice artists with management, competitions, financial assistance and other administrative functions, in addition to presenting the annual festival. “We received our nonprofit status in November of ’97, [and] all of our board members tell us that we are moving with huge steps. My husband says, ‘Well, what’s to wait for?’ We have a sense of urgency. We have to do this.”

A movable feast, the festival will include concerts at the Clark Library in Los Angeles, Raitt Hall at Pepperdine, the L.A. County Museum of Art--for broadcast on KUSC-FM--the Beverly Hills Public Library, and finally, at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex at Cal State Los Angeles. The six musicians will mix and match on all the programs, designed by the Schmieders, and they will be coached by Eduard Schmieder and Zvi Zeitlin, and Menachem Pressler.

‘I always felt that young artists,” Laura Schmieder explained, “don’t have enough exposure. They get bits and pieces, here and there, when they go to competitions. We’re not talking about the musicians who go to international competitions, who win first prize for the fourth consecutive time--they have engagements. But we’re talking about artists who might get second, fourth or sixth prize, but are no less talented. They can deliver to the audience and sometimes give them something even more special than those in the spotlight.”


The festival, she hopes, will nurture that kind of talent. “The communication that there used to be between the artist and the audience is largely lost,” Schmieder says. “People listen to the recordings a lot. Even those who go to the Dorothy Chandler, they go maybe once a month. They hear one and then the next one, and they really don’t remember the difference. So they don’t know what it means.

“We believe that this art of communication with the audience has to be protected. This is why we’re looking for young artists who, we believe, are able to communicate to the audience--or will be able to do so.”

This is where another aspect of the Y.A.I. operation comes into play: management. The festival has an ulterior purpose for the Schmieders. “We don’t want to use the words audition or testing, but in a way, it is,” Schmieder commented. “We will see how our artists are able to react to the audience. Shall we further promote them? Shall we break our heads trying to convince the people we know in the industry, to give them a green light?”

For the first festival, the musicians were chosen through personal contacts by an “international council” of advisors. The list includes local hero Jonathan Karoly, the cellist accepted into the ranks of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at age 23, to Romanian violinist Alexandru Tomescu, Japanese violist Fumino Ando and Russian violinist Boris Brovtsyn-Gruzenberg, all of whom have awards and critical acclaim in their favor, if not household-name status.


One of the more “seasoned” players on the list is 27-year-old Los Angeles-based pianist Robert Thies.

Winning international competitions has become a standard career boost in the classical field, but the professional effects are not always sure-fire. Thies, who won the coveted Gold Medal at the Prokofiev Competition in St. Petersburg in 1995, has struggled to set his career in motion since then. “I’d be lying,” he says, “if I said I didn’t have some expectations from winning such a competition, hoping that things would go better than they have.

In the world of classical music, Thies noted, “the supply far outweighs the demand for musicians.”

Except, perhaps, for Russian musicians. From his perspective, Thies sees a certain cultural bias in place. “The Russians are still thought of as the top musicians in the world,” he said. It’s harder for an American: “My girlfriend and I were joking that I should change my name to something Russian to get some attention.”


One of the entrants in the Y.A.I. festival from the Russian contingent, 25-year-old Valentina Lisitsa, is well on her way. A frequent collaborator in piano duos with her husband, Alexei Kuznetsoff, she’s on the Audiofon label and is represented by Columbia Artists Management. She began playing at age 3 in her native Russia and came to the United States six years ago, studying in Indiana and then in Dallas, where she met Eduard Schmieder.

For the upcoming festival, she was called on by Laura Schmieder, “asking if I’d be able to participate because they had a problem with another pianist, who complained he could not learn all this repertory in a short time.”

In Lisitsa’s experience, a special kind of ageism may be the biggest obstacle for up-and-coming musician faces. Youth, she says, often isn’t an asset. “When you are young and are able to play, people consider you lightly, because you still have to grow up. Then you get old, and can’t play as easily, but then you get famous. Somehow, there is a consideration that you have to be very old to understand deep music, for example, [they] say you can’t play Schubert unless you have reached your ‘60s. Well, Schubert died in his ‘30s, and he was able to write this music. Why do you have to be so old to understand it?”

For Lisitsa, the prospect of coming to Los Angeles for the first time, playing chamber music with peers is a reward in itself. “It’s always a great experience, because you get lots of different points of view. I love chamber music because of this. You get much more than you get with any teacher.”


From the public’s vantage point, the festival holds promise as a source of new discoveries as well as a chamber music oasis in the generally music-dry months of summer. The question now: will it fly? Will audiences come out to hear musicians, however worthy, who aren’t part of the classical celebrity circuit?

Schmieder is hopeful. “This is only the beginning,” she says. “These concerts will be recorded live and CDs will be issued [on Telos Records]. We’ll use our artistic advisors'--" she paused, “I don’t want to use the word power, but conviction. They will use their conviction to help these young artists get into the mainstream.

“We have gotten great support. People feel that there is a missing link, and it’s important to address that.”



INTERNATIONAL LAUREATES CHAMBER MUSIC FESTIVAL, Progam 1: Music by Ysaye, Paganini, Chopin, Tchaikovsky. Clark Library, 2520 Cimarron St. Dates: Thursday, 7 p.m. Price: $15. Phone: (310) 281-3303.


Additional programs include:

Saturday, 8 p.m.: Raitt Hall, Pepperdine University, 24255 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. Music by Dvorak, Enescu, Paganini, Mendelssohn.


Aug. 2, 4 p.m.: Bing Theater, LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd. Music by Rachmaninov, Ravel, Liszt, Chopin, others.

Aug. 4, 7 p.m.: Beverly Hills Public Library, 444 N. Rexford, Beverly Hills. Music by Dvorak, Ysaye, Mendelssohn, Stravinsky.

Aug. 6, 8 p.m.: Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Cal State L.A., 5151 State University Drive. Music by Franck, Strauss.

Tickets: $15. (310) 281-3303.