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CRITIC AT LARGE

The Henri Temianka Slowdown: He's Entitled : Music: An icon of local cultural history, the founder of the Chamber Symphony Orchestra has decided to take it a little easier. He'll happily 'leave the fund raising to others.'

November 27, 1990|CHARLES CHAMPLIN | TIMES ARTS EDITOR

A violinist fiddles and a conductor conducts. An impresario may do either or both but he also has to raise money. Henri Temianka, who has been doing all three for years and enriching the cultural life of Los Angeles in the process, has decided that two out of three would be plenty good enough.

Just turned 84, Temianka, the founder of the Chamber Symphony Orchestra and the organizer of other Southern California musical events, has decided to take it a bit easier, as Daniel Cariaga reported in these pages last week. He will continue to perform and conduct, to give lectures and judge competitions when invitations arrive, but he will leave the organizing and the fund raising to others.

Temianka's involvement with the charming Sunday morning chamber music concerts (coffee and croissants on the patio of the Music Center before the performances in the Mark Taper Forum) will conclude with the concert on Dec. 9. What will happen with the Chamber Symphony Orchestra, which he founded in 1960 and which has premiered several interesting works over the years, is not immediately clear.

At lunch last week on the day after his birthday, Temianka mused on a very long life in music. "I love playing," he said. "I love conducting, I love to entertain. I love to communicate with audiences. I've got a reservoir of joie de vivre that's always there. But I'm weary of raising money and being responsible. By this time I think I'm entitled to take it just a little more slowly."

Temianka was born in Scotland to Polish-Jewish parents and lived in Liverpool until he was 5. ("I got there ahead of the Beatles," he says.) The family moved to Holland, where his father became a diamond merchant. Temianka studied in Berlin for two years, then in Paris, where he earned his keep by playing in a circus orchestra at night, and later amid the potted palms in restaurants.

By the time World War II broke out, Temianka was concertizing widely and his parents were living in Antwerp, Belgium. Disguised as peasants, they fled to France but were recognized as Jews by gendarmes and interned at a camp from which, Temianka says, 95% of those held were transshipped to death camps.

Temianka went to Washington and by sheer luck found a sympathetic State Department official who arranged U.S. visas for the parents, who crossed France and the Pyrenees but were imprisoned again by Franco's secret police in Bilbao, Spain. Temianka was able to contact an aristocrat/impresario for whom he had played in Bilbao and who got the parents out of jail and sheltered them in his palazzo until they were able to get aboard a ship bound for the United States.

Temianka himself came to California in 1939, dividing his time between San Francisco and Los Angeles, settling in Los Angeles in 1940. During the war he worked as an editor for the Office of War Information (he is fluent in four languages, including Dutch).

Back in Los Angeles, an extraordinary creative colony had ben created during the war, and many of its members stayed on afterward. "Thomas and Heinrich Mann were here," Temianka remembers, "and Franz Werfel, Lion Feuchtwanger, Bertolt Brecht, Bruno Walter, Erich Korngold. . . . So many. Yehudi Menuhin was here one summer as well, and we played our way through a vast quartet repertoire."

There were as well such resident virtuosi as Gregor Piatigorsky, Jascha Heifetz, William Primrose and Joseph Szigeti, and Temianka and various permutations of the others met to play chamber music for their own pleasure.

"Isaac Stern called from the airport one afternoon and said he'd just landed and could I get a quartet together for that night?" Temianka recruited a fair group: Heifetz on violin, Piatigorsky on cello, himself on viola. "I think it was the first time Heifetz played second fiddle," Temianka says.

In 1958, at the suggestion of some local leaders, Temianka launched Concerts for Children, performances by a small orchestra (and soloists like Heifetz) at which, in the manner of the late Walter Damrosch, Temianka gave explanatory lectures. "My crime in the eyes of critics," Temianka says, "is that I later carried the lecture idea on to the adult concerts as well. The audiences enjoy them; the critics don't."

Temianka will continue to give children's concerts and a series at Pepperdine, but, he says again, "I'm happy to leave the fund raising to others."

Contrasting the days of his youth with the present, Temianka says, "The jet age hasn't given us more leisure; it's only made life more tense. And we tend to forget everything but the moment. The older I get, the more I realize that there are ever fewer witnesses to the cultural history of the 20th Century, and especially the cultural history of Los Angeles.

"As a society we're becoming criminally forgetful of people who've been so important to us. Robert Hutchins at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara. Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood, so many others who made Los Angeles the fascinating place it was: Charles Boyer, Jean Renoir, Fritz Lang, still others who were less known but no less fascinating. There was an amazing collection of intellectuals and geniuses."

Temianka, with such leisure as he can now carve from his non-fund raising, is writing another book which, not least, will preserve some of his own rich memories of a Los Angeles that has perhaps not had all the press it deserved and that was not fully defined by days of the locust.

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