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MUSIC/DANCE : You Say You Want a Revolution? Try Being a Cellist in One

February 16, 1995|CHRIS PASLES | Chris Pasles covers classical music and dance for The Times Orange County Edition.

Timothy Landauer, principal cellist of the Pacific Symphony, describes his philosophy of music directly and simply. "You have to communicate," he said. "Every note has to have a meaning."

It is a philosophy that critics have praised since the first notes the 31-year-old played with the Pacific in 1992. The praise continued with his work in the Pacific's chamber music series at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana, where he will play next on Friday and Sunday.

Landauer was born to a musical family in Shanghai. His father was associate principal cellist of the Shanghai Symphony; his mother was a pianist. His world was musical and open and joyful. Then, when he was 3, it all came crashing down. The Cultural Revolution had begun.

"I remember the Red Guard coming into the house and taking all our records," Landauer said. "All that was Western was the enemy--enemy arts, enemy culture. . . .

"Everything had to be done secretly. Privately, we'd play music. All the windows would have to be closed. My father put surgical tape over the F holes (of his cello) and muffled it with pillows, in addition to using mutes. Those were the measures we had to take to avoid being discovered. That was a very bad period."

Strangely, the repression had an opposite underground effect.

"Music became a way of emotional outlet for people," Landauer said. "On the surface, there was tremendous repression. But underneath that, many people were learning music. If you didn't have a skill, you'd be sent to the countryside. In China, there is a vast difference between the city and the countryside. City dwellers don't want to be sent there. It's really like exile, hard labor.

"If you were supposedly a skilled person, there was always a propaganda band you could join. It was a Catch 22. They needed people to play their songs. Their propaganda machine needed people. So they had to allow this growing number of musicians. They couldn't really kill them because they needed them. On the other hand, you had to be very careful what you did.

"A great many people took up lessons. Financially we were OK, but it was just sort of a black market. My father basically taught privately. If you didn't get caught, it was OK.

"That's why, actually, you see many people my age and several years younger than I am that are professional musicians. Before that, there were not many. We were a byproduct of that revolution."

The revolution ended in 1976, when Mao Zedong died. Then "they opened up all the conservatories and institutes," Landauer said. "A new period happened."

The family was able to emigrate in 1980. "Los Angeles was a surprise," he said. "I had no idea of the vastness of the city. The first thing I loved about Los Angeles was the space, the freedom. I felt that. It took a while to get used to it. So big."

He studied with Eleanore Schoenfeld at USC, where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees and also served for three years as an assistant to distinguished cellist Lynn Harrell.

He became first cellist of the Pacific in 1992. And last year he formed a trio with Sheryl Staples, now concertmaster of the Pacific, and pianist John Novacek, shortly after they played in the Pacific's chamber music series at the Bowers.

Landauer's level of achievement will be clearly acknowledged when he plays the cello obbligato at the first performances of Elliot Goldenthal's hourlong work commemorating the suffering of the Vietnam War. The work, commissioned by the Pacific Symphony, is scheduled to debut at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on April 26 and 27. Famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, however, will play the part on the Sony recording to be made shortly afterward by the Pacific Symphony.

Landauer has no bitterness about the switch. "I'm tremendously honored to (bow out of the solo) for Yo-Yo," he said. "Who doesn't want to have a solo on this big a label? But it's really an honor for all of us. And no, I don't feel deprived, not at all."

* What: Works by Mozart, Bruch and Ravel on the Pacific Symphony Chamber Music Series.

* When: Friday, Feb. 17, and Sunday, Feb. 19, at 8 p.m. (Dinner begins at 6:30 p.m.)

* Where: The Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, 2002 North Main St., Santa Ana.

* Whereabouts: Santa Ana (5) Freeway to the Main Street exit. Drive south to the museum (parking adjacent on 20th Street).

* Wherewithal: $50, includes dinner at Topaz Cafe (at the Bowers).

* Where to call: (714) 567-3600.

MORE MUSIC/DANCE:

Famed soprano Leontyne Price will sing a recital of works ranging from Handel and Mozart to Verdi, Reynaldo Hahn and Henri Duparc on Saturday, Feb. 18, at 8 p.m. at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Cerritos Court Drive. (800) 300-4345.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will offer a variety of works Friday, Feb. 17, through Feb. 26 at the Wiltern Theatre, 3780 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. The programs will include "Revelations," "Carmina Burana" and "Night Creature." (310) 825-2101.

Carl St.Clair will lead the Pacific Symphony in Mozart's Symphony No. 40 and Mahler's Symphony No. 4 on Wednesday, Feb. 22, and on Feb. 23 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Cheryl Parrish will be the soloist in the Mahler Fourth. (714) 556-2787.

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