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Gutierrez Is Back From Sick Leave

July 22, 1986|MARC SHULGOLD

For some people, the occasional illness might be no more than an inconvenience, an unwelcome disruption. For the touring major-league professional musician, a high fever is a ticket to disaster--and so it was for pianist Horacio Gutierrez during the six weeks of his decidedly involuntary hiatus earlier this year.

Knocked off his feet by mononucleosis, he was forced to cancel more than a dozen important U.S. appearances in March and April. "It was a terrible time," he said. "When your life changes so suddenly and so drastically, you realize what a mental attitude you form-- everything centers around the concert situation."

Two of those canceled appearances were under the auspices of the Los Angeles Philharmonic: the first, a concert at the Music Center led by Andre Previn; the second, a Music Center recital.

Tonight, finally, Gutierrez and the Philharmonic are able to make music in 1986, when the Cuban-born pianist tackles Prokofiev's Second Concerto at Hollywood Bowl, with Paavo Berglund conducting.

As frustrating as his sick leave was, the pianist noted a pair of additional ironies. "I flew to Europe in January, even though I was not well, and made all the scheduled dates. Travel there is very rough and the fees are not as good as here.

"So when I came home, I was really sick. I made the Avery Fisher Birthday Concert (March 2 in New York) by the skin of my teeth. After that I collapsed, thus missing out on the American dates. Here, the going is easier, and I get better money."

Gutierrez also points out the cruel timing of his illness: out of action for those elegant indoor events, out among them again just in time for the less glamorous world of music-making under the stars.

"Outdoor concerts just don't seem to agree with me. One summer at the Bowl I did continual battle with a flying insect. And just recently, I appeared at Waterloo (in New Jersey), where it was so hot and muggy and wet, playing the piano was like skating on ice. I actually had to leave the stage between movements to grab a towel.

"When my friends saw me walk off, they thought I was having a relapse."

Despite such reticence toward alfresco performing, Gutierrez manages to put in a good word for the Bowl--and not just as a diplomatic gesture. Cahuenga Pass was, after all, the site of an important concert debut for the pianist, who did much of his growing up in Los Angeles.

The year was 1970. Gutierrez had just captured the Silver Medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, an honor that went largely unheralded in the U.S. press, he claims. However, Philharmonic executive director Ernest Fleischmann arranged a concert at the Bowl for Gutierrez and another local boy who had just made good in Moscow, violinist Glenn Dicterow.

"That concert was a tremendous boost for me," Gutierrez said. "Zubin Mehta conducted, and there's no way to diminish the importance of getting an opportunity like that. It made the difference for me."

Surprisingly, Gutierrez all but dismissed the glories of capturing the Tchaikovsky Competition. "It's wrong to think that winning it makes a career. There is prestige, but there are no guarantees of performing engagements or recordings.

"The Cliburn and the Leeds competitions are actually more prestigious in the eyes of many. There is solid follow-through for the winners in terms of performing guarantees, and so far no political controversies.

"You can, however, turn the disadvantages of the Tchaikovsky into advantages: You enter as a student, but once you've survived the pressure, you emerge a professional."

All well and good, he admitted. But, again, no assurance that work will be forthcoming. "When I won the Silver in Moscow," Gutierrez said, "I had a manager--Hurok had already heard me. And after the Bowl concert that summer, I found myself with Mehta in my corner. Having people like those two behind me was crucial at that point."

Medals are nice, he said, but they're no substitute for good friends in high places.

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