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Romanian-born pianist makes her way to Hagerstown

November 06, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

Romanian-born pianist Gabriela Imreh will perform the second concert of the Hagerstown Community Concert Association's 45th season at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 7, at The Maryland Theatre.

Her program will include a Johann Sebastian Bach toccata and fugue written for organ and a Sergei Rachmaninoff piece originally composed for the violin.

"It's a wonderful recital of transcriptions," she says.

When someone takes the pain of transcribing music for another instrument, the work is a reflection of two composers, Imreh says.

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She also will play an "infamous - almost impossible" piece by Franz Liszt, which she describes as kind of dark. On the lighter side, she will perform selections from the George Gershwin songbook, the composer's arrangements for the piano.

Born in Transylvania, Romania, Imreh began studying music when she was 5 years old. Her talent was recognized by the time she was 8, and her teachers encouraged her parents - engineers with no formal musical training - to move so their daughter could pursue her studies at the Performing Arts School and later attend Gheorge Dima Academy of Music.

Imreh says her training was "exquisite," but she describes being a musician in Communist-ruled Romania as a double-edged sword.

The education system was brilliant - entirely based on merit, Imreh says. Musicians and athletes were protected by the government. Imreh had a lot of high-level opportunities to perform and says the audiences were wonderful. People escaped in music and art.

But she wasn't allowed to leave the country.

The system fostered a hopelessness, Imreh says. "No matter how good you were, you were restricted by politics," she explains.

She met her Kansas-born husband, Daniel Spalding, when he came to Romania to further his conducting studies in the late 1980s, during the last days of the communist regime of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, a time that was very restrictive.

Spalding had to return to the United States, so the couple secretly married. A friend who was an Orthodox priest risked a lot by performing the marriage, Imreh says.

She came to the United States in 1989. The couple lives near the Delaware River in New Jersey, between New York and Philadelphia, a good distance from airports, Imreh says.

"It's quite beautiful," she adds.

Spalding is music director and conductor of the Philadelphia Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra, an ensemble of which Imreh is principal soloist.

Imreh says she had to make a significant adjustment when she came to perform in the United States.

The environment is tougher - artists seem to have to struggle more here. Audiences for classical music are aging and there do not appear to be new audiences to replace them.

She is preparing to record her third album, which will include the music she will perform in Hagerstown.

The not-too-distant future will include work with contemporary dance choreographer Doug Varone, with whom she worked last July in a "very, very innovative production" at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Western Massachusetts.

The piece was choreographed around the piano. "I actually had to get up," she says. Her hands were "yanked" from the piano.

"After that, just playing was a dream," she laughs.

Imreh says she enjoys her community concert performances across the United States.

"It's a wonderful experience to see the country," she says.

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