He does a wonderful job with the strings

MOS's Leonid Shushansky has been a violinist since age 7

MOS's Leonid Shushansky has been a violinist since age 7

January 16, 2003|by KEVIN CLAPP

Leonid Sushansky can do many things. Singing is not one of them.

He performs chamber music. He travels the country with his violin to sit in with various orchestras. And for three years he has established roots as concertmaster for the Maryland Symphony Orchestra.

But he can't sing, which is why, in addition to having a concert violinist mother, the instrument first appealed to him.

"The violin is very closely related to the human voice," Sushansky says. "I really loved the sound of the singing voice, and since I don't have a good singing voice, the violin gave me a voice."


This weekend, Sushansky steps front and center as soloist in the third of five MSO MasterWorks series concerts. Featured in Khachaturian's "Concerto for Violin," the Russian-born musician welcomes the opportunity to front his home orchestra.

"Honestly, I haven't been as excited about learning a piece in a long time. And that's due to the fact that I just love this concerto," Sushansky says. "Technically, it's very brilliant. It's a difficult work and it's written in a way that gives the solo instrument a lot to do."

Saturday, Jan. 18, and Sunday, Jan. 19, the orchestra will back Sushansky while also performing two other works, Overture from "Russlan and Ludmilla" by Glinka, and "Sinfonietta" by Janacek.

Dubbed Winter Warmth, MSO Music Director Elizabeth Schulze says the trio of pieces are examples of classical roots music.

"There's this rise of national pride or national identity brought to each of these works," she says. "(They're) simple and straightforward in experience but very artfully composed, arranged. I think that's something very attractive to the listener."

Containing a balance of lyricism and romanticism, the Khachaturian work also provides the entire orchestra with opportunities to shine, another plus for Sushansky.

The music, he says, has a rhythmic drive - much like a heartbeat - propelling it. After a few months of rehearsal to master the piece, its intricacy and beauty continue to captivate him.

"Sometimes when I play it, or right now, even, listen to a recording of it, I get a feeling of 'God, I'm so lucky to play this piece,'" he says. "Because there are parts that still excite me - not excite me but move me, almost like a kid when you're on a very fast, exciting ride in an amusement park."

Sushansky picked up a violin at age 7. His mother, now based in London, was his first violin teacher.

At 13, he entered the famed Juilliard School; for seven years he studied with Dorothy DeLay. After pursuing graduate studies at University of Maryland under David Heifetz, Sushansky settled in Virginia and embarked on a diverse career path ranging from teaching to solo engagements to small chamber music ensembles.

This is his third season with MSO.

"I enjoy the different types of music making," he says. "When you're a soloist there's really more responsibility on your back because you have to show your talent. When you're in an orchestra, it's more about teamwork and blending with a big group of people to create a unified sound."

Sushansky came to Schulze's attention through a CD of his work submitted for consideration as a soloist. When the concertmaster position became available, she took a chance he might be interested.

He was, and the symphony gained a valuable addition Schulze praises as much for his playing as for the intangibles he brings to the table.

"He's done a wonderful job with the strings," she says. "Besides a very even temperament, he brings a beauteous sound and an approach to the instrument that is at a very high level of playing that is inspirational and even instructional."

Sushansky wants listeners who are moved by his playing to discover something new as they listen to it.

Not every performer has that ability. There are so many performers who play beautifully, he says, yet lack the ability to affect the listener.

"I consider my role to be that of a musical storyteller," he says, "not just in creating beautiful sounds but using the sounds to draw a picture or tell a story, make the listener hear the music as they haven't heard it before."

This weekend, his task is to convey to audiences the passion with which Khachaturian approached his music.

Aware that every interpretation is different, Sushansky is eager to put his stamp on the concerto.

"Through his music, you can get a picture of the kind of person he was, which was a person who really loved life, wine, romance," he says. "It's instantly visible through the music. It's a very bright picture. You can, right away when you hear the work, you can say a hot-blooded person wrote this piece. I hope I'm hot-blooded enough to perform the music."

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