LA JOLLA — Among the San Diego brat pack studying at Juilliard these days, pianist Kenneth Bookstein has to work the hardest to stay in the public eye. Violinist Frank Almond Jr. kept the wire services humming this spring when he placed among the 12 finalists in the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. And pianist David Korevaar--like Bookstein, a La Jolla High graduate--made headlines last fall when he won the $40,000 Peabody-Mason competition in Boston.
So the 22-year-old Bookstein manages to perform locally whenever he returns to San Diego. In October, he was presented in a solo recital by the La Jolla Chamber Music Society at Sherwood Hall, and last Sunday he gave an afternoon recital at the La Jolla Athenaeum, 1008 Wall St. While he was putting the final touches on his Athenaeum program last week, he recollected his earliest performing experience in that quaint La Jolla venue.
"When I played the Athenaeum 10 years ago, a woman walked in in the middle of the concert with two grocery bags under her arm and said, 'What's going on?' She walked up to me and kissed me on the forehead and then walked out. It was all very surprising," he said with no sense of understatement.
On his way back to San Diego this summer, Bookstein played a solo recital at the Amherst College Music Festival in Massachusetts and appeared with the National Repertory Orchestra in Denver. Under conductor Carl Topilow, he performed Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini."
San Diego Pops fans may recall Bookstein from his 1983 appearance on the Pops' first all-Gershwin program at Hospitality Point. Just a few weeks after he tossed off "Rhapsody in Blue" and the variations on "I Got Rhythm" for the al fresco Mission Bay audiences, an injury to the muscles in both arms forced him into a year's hiatus of piano practice. Similar arm-muscle syndromes have curtailed the careers of pianists such as Leon Fleischer and Gary Graffman, so Bookstein sought medical advice to relieve the intense muscle pain that prevented him from playing.
Physicians, physical therapists and chiropractors from San Diego to Boston prescribed numerous treatments, but nothing was successful. After a year of futile medical attempts, a friend suggested Dorothy Taubman, a New York City piano teacher who had been successful in working with other performers with similar problems.
"She cleared up my problem in the first lesson," said Bookstein. "She discovered what I had been doing incorrectly (while practicing the piano). I was flexing two sets of muscles in each arm simultaneously, when I should have been flexing only one or the other."
During his suspension of piano practice, the bookish Bookstein plowed his excess time into learning Japanese and studying gagaku , which is 13th-Century Japanese court music.
Although Bookstein completed a master's degree at Juilliard in the spring, he will return this fall to continue study with his other faculty keyboard coach, Abbey Simon. When he is not teaching his assigned sections of music theory at the conservatory, he will be preparing the repertory for three competitions: New York City's Affiliate Artists Competition, Cleveland's Robert Casadesus Competition, and the Beethoven Foundation Competition in Indianapolis.
While the fourth member of Juilliard's San Diego brat pack, Gustavo Romero, attended Bookstein's Athenaeum recital, Bookstein rarely encounters his colleagues at school.
"The way New York works, everyone runs around as fast as they can," he said. "I occasionally see Gustavo fly by. David Korevaar I may run into mingling during an intermission at a concert. I see Frank Almond almost every day, however."