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MUSIC / CHRIS PASLES : The Concertmaster Bows to the Strings of Change

August 11, 1993|CHRIS PASLES

HOLLYWOOD — Endre Granat resigned his position as concertmaster of the Pacific Symphony last month after 10 seasons to spend more time with his 12-year-old son, who lives in New York. He will continue to live on the West Coast, playing in Hollywood studios and also in Orange County as part of the Opera Pacific orchestra. In an interview published last week, Granat talked about his life. The interview concludes today with Granat explaining his duties as a concertmaster.

"Every orchestra has its own sound," Endre Granat said recently over breakfast at a restaurant here. "It's the sum total of the players who play in it and how they blend together. The concertmaster has an enormous deal to do with this sound. He has to unify the whole orchestra."

The process begins, he said, before the first rehearsal, when he prepares the string parts by indicating how passages should be bowed or phrased.

"I try to satisfy my musical conscience that that's the way I would phrase it," Granat said. "But then, every conductor has his own ideas, obviously. You try to think with his head.

"In the case of a conductor you're familiar with, it's a fairly easy proposition. Otherwise, you kind of try to second-guess what would this conductor want based upon what I know about him."

During his tenure, Granat played under orchestra founder Keith Clark, music adviser and principal guest conductor Kazimierz Kord from 1989-90, and various guests during the search for a music director that led to the appointment of Carl St.Clair in 1990.

Each conductor had a different approach to music-making, according to Granat.

"Keith Clark was into the grandiose," Granat said. "Kord was into miniatures. He's a poet at heart and he wanted to have beautiful, mellow music, middle-European style. And that we did up to a time. . . .

"St.Clair is a different sort of person. He's tremendously influenced by Kurt Masur, more than anybody else, more than Bernstein. St.Clair has a tremendously Teutonic approach--lofty, weighty, big, heavy. That's what he favors."

Before the conductor gets involved, however, the concertmaster must wrestle with the composer.

If the composer is alive, fine. He can ask for clarification about a passage. "But when you're playing a piece by Mozart, how the hell do we know what he meant?" Granat asked.

"What does a dot over a note mean? Does it mean it's separated from the note previous to it, but not the next one? Or the next one, but not the previous one? Or both?"

Then again, there's the question of "Where does the human element get into it so you don't get a sterile rattling of notes, which you often do?"

Beyond the markings, there are endless ways of interpreting them.

"It's like the touch of a painter. It's not just adding the color blue, but how blue? How much pressure are you going to use on the brush? How much shading of that blue? This is what is really the artistry rather than just the artisanship of bowing."

After making all these decisions, the concertmaster is ready to meet "one on one" to see if the conductor agrees.

"If you are lucky and you can play it through for the conductor, then at least you know that on that particular day, this is what he wanted," Granat said.

"If you're very lucky, he remembers it the next time."

Conductors apparently change their minds.

"That happens very often, absolutely, especially in the case of the younger conductors when it's not yet written in stone what they do."

New problems can arise once the rehearsals start.

He said that Segerstrom Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, for instance, is so dry that "you need twice as many bowings as you would in Carnegie Hall, because Segerstrom Hall does not favor the strings, whereas Carnegie Hall does.

"It's not the worst hall, but certainly it doesn't do justice to strings--of any orchestra. It's not unlivable, but you have to adjust to it, both the listener and the player."

Moreover, "something that may have worked for one person may not work for a group. When I'm doing the bowings, I may not have thought that the flute player has to take a breath in a phrase that she plays with us. So then I have to adjust the bowings.

"You do this as you go, during the rehearsals. The concertmaster makes the change and everybody else makes the change. Meanwhile, you mustn't interrupt the conductor, who is communing with whomever he is communing with.

"Don't forget that the concertmaster has to be a chameleon in the sense that you may have to play the same Beethoven symphony with a different conductor a week later, and he has totally different ideas."

Such frustration is "the nature of the profession--to be subservient to the musical ideas of the conductor, whoever it may be, whether you agree with it or not."

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