iPalpiti’s world of talent

Edward Schmieder conducts as Luiza Borac plays piano during a rehearsal in Hannon Theater at Mount Saint Mary's College in Brentwood for the upcoming iPalpiti Festival.
(Anne Cusack, Los Angeles Times)

To the uninitiated, the name “iPalpiti” might conjure up a new line of Apple products. For those most familiar with the artist foundation and two-week music festival of the same name based in Los Angeles, iPalpiti is about spotlighting international talent (mostly string musicians from their late teens to early 30s) and presenting those players in a broad and creative range of musical combinations and repertoire.

Now in its 13th year, iPalpiti has also become a respected fixture in L.A.'s summer musical calendar with public performances throughout the city and in Beverly Hills. On Saturday, the festival culminates with its annual showcase concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall, featuring the iPalpiti Orchestra and guest soloists.

“The level of performance is extremely high,” Los Angeles Philharmonic principal concertmaster Martin Chalifour says of the festival. Chalifour, an artistic advisor to iPalpiti, held a master class with some of the 26 professionals in this year’s program. He believes that iPalpiti’s musical excellence arises in no small part from the dedication and distinctive background of the festival’s founder, music director and conductor Eduard Schmieder.

“Eduard is on the juries of multiple competitions and he is one of the people best placed to find world talent, for he does this for weeks every year,” says Chalifour. In describing Schmieder’s teaching style and conducting, Chalifour says, “It is not an autocratic approach. He encourages his musicians to listen to one another.”

iPalpiti is an idiosyncratic spelling of the Italian word for “heartbeats.” And, according to a few of the participants in this summer’s festival, the name is fitting, due to the infectious emotional energy that the music-making aims to create and — unique to this year — the festival’s celebration of the birth bicentennials of Romantic composers Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann.

Schmieder, a noted violin pedagogue born and trained in Russia, came to this country with his wife, Laura, in 1979. Both self-described refuseniks (Jews living in the then-Soviet Union prohibited from emigrating), the Schmieders finally were able to settle in Beaumont, Texas. Eventually he obtained successive teaching positions at Rice University in Houston, USC, Southern Methodist University in Dallas and Temple University in Philadelphia, where he has instructed since 2006.

In spite of the itinerant teaching, Los Angeles has remained the Schmieders’ permanent home for 20 years. Their comfortable house in the Hollywood Hills is in strong contrast to when they first came to this country, penniless and isolated. Much of what Schmieder, 62, says he is trying to achieve with iPalpiti is making it easier for young musicians to establish a career.

“I understand how incredibly difficult it is for young musicians to get recognition,” says Schmieder. “That always has been the case from the days of Buxtehude and Mozart. But composers can live after their deaths, performers cannot.”

Unfortunately, he says, “talented musicians don’t always find their way.”

Inspired by the bighearted generosity of violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who lent his name and support to iPalpiti, Schmieder began the foundation (formerly known as Young Artists International) in 1997 with help from his wife, also a violinist. Since then, iPalpiti has awarded more than 200 scholarships to gifted young musicians from 42 countries, based largely on recommendations from colleagues and an advisory board that includes pianists Vladimir Ashkenazy and Yefim Bronfman, violinist Gidon Kremer and cellist Lynn Harrell, among others. For its annual summer festival here in L.A., iPalpiti covers all participants’ travel expenses, room and board.

Schmieder is happy to count the many alumni who have moved on to substantial careers and play in the world’s top orchestras.

Romanian-born pianist Luiza Borac, who participated in one of the first iPalpiti festivals, is one such alum. Widely praised for her recent recordings of the piano music of Georges Enescu on the Avie label, Borac returns to iPalpiti as the featured soloist in Chopin’s First Piano Concerto on Saturday’s Disney Hall program.

“I think the secret of this festival is that Eduard encourages you to be yourself and allows you to move into this musical world to find your own language,” says Borac. It’s an intense and concentrated period of rehearsals and performances over two weeks. But she adds, “It becomes pure joy because it is so interesting to see these pieces in a new light and to bring them to new life with new people.”

What will be particularly novel about Saturday’s execution of the Chopin concerto is the smaller-sized orchestral accompaniment, minus many of the woodwind and brass instruments commonly heard in performances of the work today. This more transparent orchestration is closer to Chopin’s original intentions, Schmieder believes, and is based on old orchestral parts preserved in the composer’s native Poland. Sharing the program with the Chopin is Schumann’s Cello Concerto, with German cellist Julius Berger. It too features a reduced orchestration that Schmieder says is most reflective of the composer’s intentions.

It might be considered unorthodox but Schmieder believes that this arrangement is the most appropriate way to honor the occasion. “I believe we can celebrate composers’ anniversaries not only by paying tribute but by being faithful to their original desires,” he says. “It took two centuries before music of the Baroque era was played properly. Why not with the Romantic composers, the same faithfulness?”

The bicentennial tribute will continue Saturday evening with “In Memoriam Frédéric Chopin,” a recent work by Canadian composer Ronald Royer that is inspired by Chopin’s Nocturne in E minor, Op. 72, No. 1.

For Saturday’s program, iPalpiti’s musicians, who have trained most of their lives to become soloists, will instead play together as orchestral musicians under Schmieder’s baton.

Chalifour feels that it’s excellent practice for the festival’s young players. “You can be a finer soloist if you know how to fit in with each other,” he says. In fact, he says, the networking possibilities of this festival alone carry enormous weight.

For Schmieder, the festival’s reward is the ardent music-making. It gives meaning to all the time and effort that he and his wife have spent to make iPalpiti possible.

“For me, it’s important to convey the music in an electrifying manner, through incredible, enormous energy. If it’s strong and sincere, then the audiences get excited. It’s not enough to execute a composition technically,” he says. “Fortunately, we have young musicians who play with such honest enthusiasm.”

Schmieder says that iPalpiti is about laying the right groundwork for the next generation.

“I know how [this music] has changed my life,” he says. “I just couldn’t live with the thought that it was evaporating before my eyes.”