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O.C. MUSIC / CHRIS PASLES : A Violinist Takes His Final Bow

August 04, 1993|CHRIS PASLES

"The concertmaster is neither management nor labor. He belongs to neither, is accepted by none and respected by nobody. It's a lonely profession." --Endre Granat

Endre Granat resigned as concertmaster of the Pacific Symphony last month after 10 seasons with the orchestra so he could spend more time with his 12-year-old son, Nicholas, who lives in New York. He will continue to live on the West Coast, playing in Hollywood film studios and also in Orange County as part of the Opera Pacific orchestra. His statement above notwithstanding, the concertmaster is second only to the conductor in importance to an orchestra. Granat recently talked about his life, his work as concertmaster and his thoughts about the Pacific. The interview will continue next week. Endre Granat says his life story can be told "in five minutes or less" but it's a lot more complicated than that.

Born 56 years ago in Miskolc, Hungary, he fled during the 1956 Revolution, swimming across Lake Ferto to Austria.

"I was a refugee in Vienna for a grand total of 12 hours," he recalled recently during breakfast at a restaurant in Hollywood. "Then I took off for Paris, but I was caught at the French border by the Swiss border guard. I didn't have a passport. I didn't have a penny. So I became a refugee in Switzerland. I spent five years there.

"(The Swiss) took me down to the police and I declared myself to be a political refugee. They shook my hand and that was the end of the story. Nothing to it. Those days it was fairly easy. I was 19."

Professionally, he'd been following in the footsteps of his father who had been concertmaster of the Budapest Philharmonic for 40 years. His father had to push him into studying the violin. Children "need the push," Granat said over his eggs and coffee. "To teach a kid to play . . . is like force-feeding a goose. It may be necessary, but it's totally against human nature. . .

"Learning has to be done at a very, very early age," he added, "simply because your mind--it's not so much the fingers as your mind, your musical mind--is still being formed. Then it takes you 10 years to find out if you are going to be mediocre, bad or decent. It really does take that long."

Before leaving Hungary, Granat had studied violin and composition at the Franz Liszt Academy with Zoltan Kodaly and Gyorgy Ligeti. He finished his schooling in Switzerland, became concertmaster with the Hamburg Symphony in the '50s, and worked with such luminaries as Ernest Ansermet and the Suisse Romande Orchestre from 1959 to '61. For the next three years, he was concertmaster with Sir Charles Mackerras and the Gothenburg Symphony ("he was just Charlie in those days").

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Granat came to this country in 1964. Through 1966, he was assistant concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell, and assistant to the legendary pedagogue Joseph Gingold at Indiana University. Moving to Los Angeles, he studied for five years with Jascha Heifetz and worked with such composers as Bohuslav Martinu, Frank Martin and Luciano Berio. When Berio completed his Sequenza IX for Solo Violin, Granat played the premiere.

Berio dedicated the work to the memory of Granat's first wife, Andrea, who was slain in their Sherman Oaks apartment in 1975.

Granat had been teaching at Cal State Northridge and returned home to find her body. Remembering the tragedy, he said the killer was never caught.

"When my wife died, I stopped playing. I just closed up the case" for a year. Then, he went to Korea on a Fulbright grant for two years, and returned to Los Angeles where he began working as a studio musician in Hollywood.

In 1983, the Pacific Symphony beckoned. It was being led at the time by Keith Clark; Granat joined because he "had been looking for an outlet to play some terrific music again." He remarried in 1980 and divorced in 1988. Nicholas is from the second marriage.

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During his tenure at the Pacific, Granat saw "enormous changes. When I joined, it was a community orchestra rehearsing on weekends and playing in (Santa Ana) high school. We had an audience of maybe 1,200. I don't know how many concerts we played, but it was a fraction of what they do now.

"There was no formal choir association. We did not have a pops series. We had nothing to do with the ballet. There was no ballet. There was no place for ballet."

Still, even in those days, "we had some extraordinary concerts. Keith Clark had some grandiose plans, and we played some grandiose music which at the time the orchestra probably shouldn't have tackled. It's one thing to have a great number of wonderful players; it's another thing to have a great orchestra. Eighty extraordinary musicians do not equal an extraordinary orchestra. That takes years."

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