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Growing Up in Public

Violinist Leila Josefowicz debuted in the Monterey Bay as a child prodigy, and now returns as an acclaimed adult artist

By Scott MacClelland

Violinist Leila Josefowicz made her regional debut at age 14 in Monterey, playing Lalo's Symphonie espagnole at a sold-out King Hall with Oleg Kovalenko conducting. Now, at age 26, she returns to the Monterey Bay for tonight's UCSC Arts & Lectures program, one of the most anticipated classical events of the season, on the heels of her successful transition from child prodigy to mature adult artist.

It was after the Monterey appearance that Josefowicz and her entire family quit California for Philadelphia and the Curtis Institute of Music, to develop her already celebrated talent with Jascha Brodsky and Jaime Laredo. The 1994-1995 season was a watershed for the teen, as she made her Carnegie Hall debut with Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, toured Japan at the invitation of the Osaka Music Festival, performed with the Los Angeles and London Philharmonic orchestras and Boston Symphony, and made her first of many CDs for Philips Classics.

But the road to success has not been an easy one. In spite of growing success with music lovers, she has taken her share of hits from critics--mostly complaining about her interpretations of well-known masterpieces--and learned the harder lessons of a performing career while on the run.

"I wasn't prepared in my mid- and late-teens for the lifestyle," she said during an interview last week. "A lot of things I had to learn on my own."

Those "things" included living out of a suitcase, dealing with criticism, managing stress. "It's a very mental lifestyle," she acknowledges. "And a certain fatigue. If you don't really love it, it'll wear you out." In addition, Josefowicz, who now lives in New York, shares an apartment with her young son, Lukas.

Despite the tough demands, Josefowicz says, "I love performing, I love doing what I do for a living." If anything has made her life and career easy, it is the constant support of family and friends. "You need your support system. No one has truly made it on their own."

What, then, is it that sustains such constant discipline from early childhood, through adolescence, into adulthood?

"I love music," she declares, then elaborates, "What sustains me is discovering and experimenting with different repertoire. I would get very tired of playing the same things over and over. Programming is very much what I'm about. As a child, I didn't understand. And in some ways I feel that I'm still beginning. But it all still comes back to the music." Josefowicz has collaborated with such stars as Martha Argerich, Thomas Hampson, Jaime Laredo, Sylvia McNair, Andras Schiff and Andre Watts. How did she achieve such a rarified stature? "That's hard to answer with incredible certainty. I know I work extremely hard. And I always look forward to the next project. Before going to Santa Cruz I'm doing the L.A. Philharmonic at the Disney. Without looking forward and being excited, there's not much point."

She says everything in the Santa Cruz program "shares a certain eccentricity." For the Music Center Recital Hall, they include Olivier Messiaen's Theme and Variations, Beethoven's Sonata in G, op. 96, Esa-Pekka Salonen's Lachen Verlernt, Mark Grey's San Andreas Suite and Maurice Ravel's Violin Sonata. (The Salonen and Grey are unaccompanied; the others will include pianist John Novacek.)

"The Messiaen is a fantastic opener," Josefowicz raves, "with a riveting opening statement." The Beethoven is "the least played of his violin sonatas, and most gorgeous."

Salonen's work, meaning "laughing unlearned," is a variations in chaconne form, inspired by an episode from Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire in which a clown tries to get his audience to laugh. "It's a mix of the virtuosic and the very cerebral; a standup comedian with a dead audience. The music becomes quite desperate."

About the San Andreas Suite, Josefowicz says, "Mark Grey's style is entirely opposite, fresh techniques, new sounds, basically about different cultures and music in California." The program will be recorded for release on CD by Warner Classics.

While on the job, Josefowicz has a reputation for breathtaking technique, focus and intensity. But, while attending a concert at last summer's Cabrillo Music Festival, she was completely relaxed, gracious and charming with those she met. Her appearance at UCSC promises to be both.


Leila Josefowicz performs Wednesday, Nov. 10, at 8pm at the UCSC Music Center Recital Hall. Tickets are $30/$26, $26 for students & seniors with ID, $15 for UCSC Students with ID. Gold circle tickets are $40/$36. (831.459.2159)

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From the November 10-17, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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