Now in the middle of his 13th season as a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Alexander Treger is one violinist whose idea, from his first day on the job, was to stay in the orchestra.
"It was never my intention to play here for a while, then to leave, seeking work as a soloist, or as anything else," Treger says, backstage at the Pavilion of the Music Center after a morning rehearsal of the Philharmonic.
"You must remember, this was my first job in this country," the Russian emigre reminds his visitor. After leaving the Soviet Union in the early 1970s, he worked briefly as a member of the Israel Chamber Orchestra, before entering the United States and joining the Philharmonic in the summer of 1974.
"I wanted to play in this orchestra. I am not planning to leave it."
Still, citing the constant challenges to the players' musical skills, and the kind of drudgery the daily routine can become, Treger, 38, acknowledges that variety can save members of the orchestra from drifting toward apathy and burn-out.
"What keeps us rejuvenated and fresh are the chances we have to play solos, or in chamber ensembles, or in different combinations. This makes the job always interesting."
Some weeks, more than interesting. Tonight through Sunday afternoon, for a total of three performances, Treger will appear as soloist in front of his own orchestra, playing the First Violin Concerto of Dmitri Shostakovich with Andre Previn, music director of the Philharmonic, conducting.
Treger's intimacy with the First Concerto goes back to the mid-1960s, when he was a student in the class of the late David Oistrakh at the Moscow Conservatory. Oistrakh had played the world premiere of the piece in 1955, and introduced it to the United States shortly after.
"Oistrakh considered the First Concerto more than a virtuoso showpiece--which it, of course, is--he considered it a very deep, philosophical work."
Written in 1947-48, the concerto, Treger says, is "a meditation on life in the Soviet Union at that time." More than once, in the 1930s and again in the late 1940s, Shostakovich had been criticized by the regime of Josef Stalin for his compositions. The composer suppressed the work until two years after Stalin's death.
"You almost need to have lived in the Soviet Union in those years to appreciate the atmosphere of the work," Treger claims. "It is not elegant. It is sarcastic, grotesque, plain like heavy army boots. And it moves--is there an English word to describe a roller-coaster ride?
Even the most technically difficult part of the four-movement work, the Passacaglia before the finale, is not for show, Treger points out. "The cadenza there brings together themes from the entire work, as if Shostakovich is trying to explain the confusion of life around him. You see, he had been denounced, but never in ways he could understand."
Besides his Philharmonic-related services, Treger pursues another rejuvenating musical activity: teaching. He has been on the faculty at UCLA since 1975, and finds working with young people provocative.
"When I am asked why I teach, I give the answer Oistrakh used to give: Because I learn so much from my students.
"The point is not to teach a method or style of playing. There is no one way to follow, to the exclusion of all the others. The important thing is the music that comes out, not the way it is produced."
Still, there are basics, and Treger says he stresses them "aggressively."
"If I find a new student who does not have deficiencies or who does not need remedial technical work, then I concentrate on three basic aspects of playing. First, creating a beautiful sound. There is no more important element in playing the violin. Second, achieving reliable intonation--nothing is perfect, but we can strive. Third, the rhythmic aspects of playing."
Of course, he concludes, "It's all very individual. Everyone is built differently, has different physical talents or weaknesses. But a teacher can help. And, most important, a teacher can perhaps give the student the right musical perspective."