Glenn Dicterow let out a long sigh into the telephone, paused, the recipient imagined, to shrug with either frustration or resignation.
"I'm torn. But then, I've always been torn," he said. "You can't really serve two masters. But when I'm not doing the orchestra, I miss it. And if I'm not playing outside the orchestra, I get a little crazy."
The orchestra, in this case, is the New York Philharmonic, where Dicterow has served as concertmaster since 1980. Before that, he was the concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where his father, Harold Dicterow, has been a violinist for 44 years.
But symphonic playing, as much as Dicterow said it fulfills an almost physical need for him, is not enough. He also has a near compulsion--a "driving, driving force," he called it--to stand before an orchestra, the sound of his violin rising up like a single voice in the musical wilderness.
What has pushed him to solo with orchestras throughout Europe and America, he said, has nothing to do with ego or a desire for notoriety. Nor, he added, is he looking for accolades from music critics--although, when prodded, he acknowledged that they usually gush with superlatives over his playing.
No, he said, this driving force to solo is more than that. Something more, well . . . inner.
"When you are playing in an orchestra, you have this tremendous sound around you, and when you are playing great works like Mahler . . . there is such joy in that," he said.
"But when you solo, the music comes through you in a different way. It is as if you are the instrument, and not what you are playing. There is nothing like it I know."
Fortunately for him--and for Ventura County audiences--Dicterow's current employers have compassion for his artistic dilemma. Under his contract with the New York Philharmonic, Dicterow is allowed to perform between 10 and 15 solo concerts with other orchestras throughout the year.
Local audiences will have a chance to hear him when he performs Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 with the Conejo Symphony at 6 p.m. June 8. The concert, which will include Mozart's overture to "The Marriage of Figaro," and Dvorak's "Slavonic Dances," is part of the ninth annual Oakleaf Festival at the Conejo Community Park in Thousand Oaks.
So how did the Conejo Symphony land a soloist of Dicterow's stature? Elmer Ramsey, conductor of the orchestra, apparently took offense at the question. The symphony "has had a lot of great players" over the years, he said, especially at past Oakleaf festivals, which are not part of the orchestra's regular season.
"It just takes money," he said.
Dicterow, while declining to reveal his financial agreement with the orchestra ("It's not too cool to mention it"), agreed that many of the smaller orchestras regularly attract top players as soloists.
"In New York, you could pay a lot less for soloists, just because it was New York and they had the exposure and super status," he said.
"But I'll tell you, a lot of the smaller orchestras have Perlman on their series, and the so-called large soloists, because they pay well."
Finances aside, Dicterow said there are other rewards to playing with a regional or community orchestra. "They're so appreciative, and you know the musicians are trying so hard. Sometimes it's even better, because they're not soured like some musicians in the bigger orchestras who have attitude problems."
If ever there was a musician without an attitude problem, it would seem to be Dicterow. In interviews he comes across as warm, gracious and well-mannered, the type of son-in-law every mother would love to have--that is, if he weren't already married.
Brought up in Woodland Hills, Dicterow, 43, first picked up a violin at age 7, after his older brother Maurice had begun taking lessons. By the time he was 9 and Maurice was 12, the two were so accomplished that they were asked to perform J.S. Bach's Double Concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Dicterow's mother, Irina, a Russian-born pianist who accompanied her sons frequently during their early years, remembered her husband looking on from his orchestra seat as principal second violin.
"He was just so proud," she said of that concert. "You could just see it in his eyes."
Over time, Maurice's interests began to include medicine, but Glenn played single-mindedly, Irina said. By the time he was 15, he had soloed with the San Francisco Symphony and the Seattle Symphony, and at age 18 debuted with the New York Philharmonic under famed conductor Andre Kostelanetz.
He served as concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic until 1979, and won a bronze medal at the prestigious Tchaikovsky Competition. A year later, Dicterow moved to New York, where he lives with his wife and 2-year-old son.
Whenever his schedule allows, Dicterow travels to his parents' house in Woodland Hills or visits his brother at his private medical practice in Sherman Oaks.
This time, however, his family will make things particularly easy. They already have their tickets to the Thousand Oaks concert, and Maurice will be sitting only a few chairs away on stage.
A part-time violinist who is the Los Angeles Philharmonic's doctor when the orchestra goes on tour, Maurice Dicterow called Ramsey's office a few weeks back and asked if he might be allowed to play in the concert.
"The two started out playing the Bach with the philharmonic, so Maurice wanted to know if he could join the violin section. I told him it would be fine," Ramsey says.
"I guess it will be like old home week."