IN SEARCH OF MIKLÓS
wrote music which is an inescapable
part of American cinematic culture.
Whenever you think of "Biblical"
or "Roman" sounding music,
like as not, you think of Rózsa.
I knew none of this when I first heard
his violin concerto, which was written
for, and recorded, by Jascha Heifetz.
All I knew was that it was fantastic.
Although Heifetz could imbue the most
quotidian, pointless piece of fiddle-fluff
with such power, conviction, and sheer
bravado, the piece would tempt even
the most conservative player. I sensed
that this music was special and felt
that, if offered the opportunity to
perform it, I would do it full justice.
The piece was hardly standard repertoire,
and it was unlikely Iíd ever have to
play it. Occasionally, I would suggest
it to a conductor, who would look at
the score, and politely decline. Eventually
I misplaced the Heifetz recording, and
forgot about the Rózsa concerto
A little while ago,
I found myself mired in a familiar predicament.
What to record? I knew what not
to record, but that still left 90% of
known violin repertoire. Frantic head
scratching ensued, and the usual excavation
of my unruly pile of sheet music. Finally,
a friend reminded me: "didnít you
always want to play the Rózsa
concerto?" Not a bad idea, since
itís the centenary of the composer.
I opened the music and started to play.
It was even better than I remembered:
beautiful, lyrical and savage by turns,
and very difficult. In other
words, just right! But the concerto
is half a CD, so what else to include?
Being totally out of ideas, I asked
Naxos for guidance: what would go well
with this piece? Their answer: Sinfonia
Concertante. Well, this was bizarre,
what does Mozart have to do with Rózsa?
In my infinite ignorance, I hadnít realized
that Miklós Rózsa had
written a double concerto for violin
and cello, for Heifetz and Piatigorsky
no less, and called it a Sinfonia
Concertante. I looked at the music,
and was amazed: here was instrumental
writing on the highest level, beautifully
scored, and totally new to me. It was
time to go in search of Dr. Rózsa.
I found and contacted
the Miklós Rózsa Society.
Over many months I had the pleasure
of meeting and discussing Dr. Rózsa
- as they called him - with John Fitzpatrick,
Jeffrey Dane, Steve Vertlieb, and finally
on my way back from Moscow, his daughter
Juliet. Rózsa wrote some of the
greatest film scores of the 20th
century, but his success as a film composer
- three Oscars, no less - completely
overshadowed what he considered to be
his real work, writing for the concert
stage. He wrote the violin concerto
after a long period of exclusively writing
for film, happily ensconced in a rented
house in Italy and a cloud of inspiration.
The concerto is a marriage of all the
traditions in which Rózsa was
steeped: the bel canto, virtuoso style
of violin playing from Western Europe,
the traditional folk music of Hungary,
and the orchestral lushness of the MGM
tradition. The Sinfonia Concertante,
written much later, is that rare creature,
a true double concerto. Very few composers
are totally at home in more than one
instrument, but Rózsa clearly
had a deep affinity for, and an understanding
of both violin and cello.
Both these works are
constructed in a somewhat episodic way,
with sudden tempo changes, and separation
of thematic material into sections.
Perhaps writing for film had encouraged
this. I was very lucky in having a conductor
for the Naxos recording sessions, Dmitry
Yablonsky, who braved the difficulties
of mobilizing the huge orchestra to
move with agility and precision. Since
we were recording in Moscow, the orchestra
members were not familiar with Rózsaís
works, and their demanding rhythmic
structure. Hungarian music - Rózsa
was Hungarian - follows a very
different system of accents than Russian
music. Therefore, it can sometimes be
difficult to create the proper phrasing
of Hungarian music for Russian musicians.
I was also very lucky that my cellist,
Andrey Tchekmazov, was able to bring
to the music a lyricism I had not noticed
in Rózsa before.
In the process of making
this recording I fell even deeper in
love with the music. The score is rich,
and revealed its mysteries very slowly.
As I delved deeper into the story and
the music of Miklós Rózsa
I decided to try and celebrate this
manís legacy, and also his 100th
birthday. I needed support, and when
I called Dr.Bruce McMahan, of the National
Christina Foundation, he understood
immediately. He suggested I stop by
to visit him in Florida on my way back
from a concert in St. Maartin I was
performing with Andrey. We discussed
the amount of time, effort, and frankly
money that would be necessary to make
the Miklós Rózsa Centenary
a reality and he generously agreed to
be a lead sponsor. Since Bruce was not
familiar with Rózsa, I am lucky
that he has always liked my work and
had confidence in my artistic judgment!
Thanks to the support
of Ambassador Andras Simonyi, the first
concert in celebration of Rózsaís
centenary birthdate was held at the
Hungarian embassy in Washington. The
guest of honor was Janos Starker, the
great Hungarian cellist, friend of Rózsa,
and dedicatee of Rózsaís cello
concerto. Playing Hungarian music for
one of my musical idols was both frightening
and exhilarating: What if he hates it?
What if he doesnít?. But the best part
was that I felt I had started to bring
Miklós Rózsa home to a
new audience and to the concert stage
lived a "double life" (as
he entitled his autobiography) between
the world of Hollywood film scoring
and his love of classical music. He
won the Academy Award in 1945 for his
score for Hitchcock's Spellbound
(still his most popular work), again
in 1947 for A Double Life, and
for a third time in 1959 for Ben-Hur,
but his classical works do not get the
attention they deserve. It is the intention
of this project to change that, to build
new interest in these wonderful compositions,
and to see them performed again worldwide.
Since Dr. Rózsa was born in Budapest
on 18 April 1907, Ms. Khitruk and her
associated artists have decided to use
this anniversary as the starting point
of their recording and performing project.
More about Rózsa at http://www.MiklósRózsa.org/.
New York-based Anastasia
Khitruk comes from a musical and artistic
family. After immigrating to the United
States, Ms. Khitruk continued the violin
studies she had begun at Moscow's Central
Music School. Her talent was immediately
recognized when she made her orchestral
debut at the age of eight. Since then,
she has appeared in concert and recital
worldwide, including numerous performances
in Boston, Los Angeles, New York, Aspen,
London, Geneva, Adelaide, Sofia, Paris,
and Moscow -- where Katerina Birukova
of Vremya wrote: "She sparkles with
brilliant violin playing." Ms. Khitruk
has appeared on television and radio
in England, Russia, Germany, the United
States, and Australia. Her concert series
in Bulgaria, during the prestigious
Sofia Music Weeks, was televised and
greeted with enthusiasm. In his review
of her performance of the Shostakovich
Concerto No. 1 at the Adelaide Festival
for Real Time, Chris Reid declared,
"Anastasia Khitruk is masterful!" She
has been a prizewinner at numerous competitions
in the US and internationally, including
the Paganini International Violin Competition.
The recent Naxos release, CD 8.570028
"Virtuoso Music at the Court
of Catherine the Great" of
her performances of the solo violin
music of Ivan Khandoshkin has received
international acclaim. Visit Anastasia
online at http://www.anastasiakhitruk.com.