Stephen Bishop-Kovacevich has long been a pianist of acknowledged seriousness. At his London debut in 1961, his principal vehicle was Beethoven's "Diabelli" Variations; in Los Angeles appearances over the years, his programs have been nothing if not demanding.
Yet, in all these years, while whole regiments of his fellow pianists--think of Barenboim, Ashkenazy, Eschenbach and Perahia, among many others--were apparently deserting the keyboard for the podium, Bishop-Kovacevich never seemed interested in conducting.
Until he got a chance, that is.
"For 20 years, I've wanted to do it, " confessed the 46-year-old musician in a phone conversation from his home in London, where he has lived since 1959. "Then, about three years ago, I began to take some conducting engagements. And last summer I appeared at the Sydney Opera House in a Beethoven program, playing the First Piano Concerto, and conducting the 'Eroica' Symphony.
"That was it. The local sponsors liked the results so much, they created a post--music director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra--and offered it to me. Of course, I accepted."
According to Bishop-Kovacevich himself, his conducting engagements in the last three years, "have been wonderful, and helpful, experiences. They've helped everything, including my piano playing. This has been a tremendous shot in the arm. I feel 16 years old again."
A native Angeleno who grew up in San Francisco, he will appear as piano soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic this week (playing Beethoven's B-flat Concerto, with Sir Charles Groves conducting).
For the time being, and in addition to guest engagements as conductor of orchestras in Europe, the budding music director will travel to Sydney twice a year, each time for a period of "two to three weeks," to lead his chamber orchestra. He has already been invited, he says, to conduct a Mozart opera--"We haven't selected it yet"--at his Australian base.
As a conductor whose heroes are Toscanini and Klemperer, Bishop-Kovacevich admits to two dreams of podium glory: "Tchaikovsky's 'Pathetique' Symphony and Wagner's 'Meistersinger.' "
If called upon to conduct "Meistersinger" tomorrow, would he be ready?
"Well, no. But I might be ready to conduct it day after tomorrow."
RETURN OF NEW YORK CITY OPERA: For the first time since Dec. 5, 1982, New York City Opera will appear in Southern California Tuesday night when the company from Lincoln Center opens a 13-performance engagement in Segerstrom Hall at the new Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa. The troupe's latest production of Bizet's "Carmen," staged by Frank Corsaro, will be performed Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Corsaro's staging of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" takes the Orange County limelight Wednesday and Friday at 8 p.m. and next Sunday at 7 p.m. Leonard Bernstein's "Candide," as produced and staged by Harold Prince, occupies the final seven performances by the company from Jan. 20-25. See the music listing for times and casting.
TRANSITIONS: The 16-year-old Concord String Quartet--violinists Mark Sokol and Andrew Jennings, violist John Kochanowski and cellist Norman Fischer--will disband in May of this year. Since its founding in 1971, the ensemble will have performed more than 1,100 concerts by the time of its breaking up. Martin Weil, former executive director of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in San Francisco, has been appointed managing director (a new position) of Opera Pacific, the Orange County-based opera producing organization headed by David DiChiera. Weil's appointment with the company, which has a $3.5-million budget, is effective immediately.