COREY CEROVSEK was a precocious child growing up in Vancouver, B.C., in the 1970s. He began studying the violin at age five and won a national competition four years later, beating out more than 3,000 other competitors. He finished the University of Toronto's Royal Conservatory program for strings at the age of 12 and moved with his family to Bloomington, Ind., so he could study with famed string teacher Josef Gingold at Indiana University. Soon, he was taking classes at the university in both math and music. He completed bachelor degrees in both subjects at age 15, master's degrees in both by age 16, and finished the coursework for doctorates in both by age 18. Then he began in earnest his career as a concert violinist, traveling the world to perform with orchestras from New York to New Zealand. But none of this was planned when he picked up that first tiny violin as a child.
"We had no idea of a classical music career at the beginning," he says. "I really fell into it rather accidentally." He does not come from an intensely musical family, although there was always music in the air. Cerovsek's father is a structural engineer, but his mother is an avid amateur singer. "She was doing community opera when I was a kid, so there was always a lot of music around the house. The main thing I remember is all of us lounging around the piano at home."
Cerovsek comes to Spokane on Friday to perform the "Violin Concerto No. 1" of Nicolo Paganini with the Spokane Symphony, under the baton of Associate Conductor Fabio Costa. Paganini was one of the most acclaimed violinists of all time and a master showman besides. Rumors of an other-worldly source for his magnificent ability circulated throughout Europe during his lifetime and continued even after his death. In fact, the Catholic church initially refused to allow Paganini's body to be buried in consecrated ground because of persistent stories that he had sold his soul to the devil in return for his musical virtuosity.
Such a reputation in a composer might give a young violinist pause, and Cerovsek admits that the concerto was bit daunting to tackle as a student. "Learning that piece forced me to get into shape technically," he says. "It was a great thing to be made to learn it and play it. Now that I know it, though, it's a lot of fun to play." Even now, he says that brushing up on the piece is a good technical review for him. "I haven't played it for a while, so it's good for me to pull it out again."
Paganini, being the consummate performer that he was, composed the concerto to show off not only his technical prowess, but the emotional expression of his playing as well. Cerovsek says the concerto falls squarely in the middle of the composer's style, with a lyrical tune and plenty of chances for pyrotechnics on the part of the soloist. "It has a slightly show-offy aspect to it," he explains. "There's lots of crashing and banging. It's fun, kind of goofy music. It's not going to show the audience a soloist's full range of musicality, but it's very entertaining."
In contrast to the composer's style, Cerovsek strives to make his performances look effortless. "Like a lot of solo violinists, I've got that side of me that likes to show off," he says. "But for me, it's more of a compliment if someone says you make it look easy." With a chuckle, he tosses off a gentle jibe at some of his more dramatic colleagues: "You're not going to see me frowning and making faces at the audience. I try to keep it under my wig."
After achieving so much at such a young age, some might think Cerovsek would have a hard time focusing on new goals, but he manages to maintain a balanced perspective. "It makes me happy to play well, but I think it's important to keep up with the rest of life," he says, reflecting on his choices. "I live in Indiana in order to avoid a certain kind of myopia, that narrow window to focus on just one thing and being the best. I love making music, and the music-making is much more important to me than the career."
With all the public attention going to his music-making, it's easy to forget that Cerovsek is equally accomplished in the field of mathematics. Although linked in being languages understandable to all people, the two subjects also seem to be polar opposites in many ways. He doesn't waste a lot of time trying to explain the connection between the two. "Both are expressions of the human intellect and soul, but I just happen to like them both," he says. "The pairing is very comfortable. For me, they work as complements. Musicians tend to be kind of crazy people. Math was an island of rationality. It's nice to go back and forth and to have both aspects in my life."
In light of recent events, Cerovsek's sense of balance helps give meaning to his art. "Classical music is such a small niche," he says. "Remembering that puts things in perspective. It puts music in its place."
Corey Cerovsek joins the Spokane Symphony at the Opera House on Friday, Oct. 12, at 8 pm. Tickets: $15-$33. The program repeats at Schuler Auditorium at North Idaho College in Coeur d'Alene on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 8 pm. Tickets: $16-$22. Call: 624-1200.
A Handel on Baroque
The 16th season for ALLEGRO, the region's period music ensemble, opens with a presentation of "Handel's London" at the Met on Friday, October 19. For the concert, Artistic Directors Beverly Biggs and David Dutton have chosen a selection of music by George Frederic Handel and his contemporaries in 1700 London. Handel, perhaps best known for "The Messiah," was German by birth. He moved to Italy and finally settled in London, where he composed many of his most famous works. Selecting the pieces to be included in this program presented a pleasant problem for Biggs and Dutton.
"It was a dilemma, because we could play a Handel's London concert every week and not run out of pieces to play," Biggs says. The final selection of works for the program had to wait until Biggs and Dutton had lined up the guest performers. "Then, with this instrumentation, we looked at, 'how do we narrow it down.' "
Biggs will play her replica 1769 double manual French harpsichord for this concert, with Dutton on oboe. Guest artists for the concert include baroque soprano Janet Youngdahl, local cellist Cheryl Carney and David Dolata playing the theorbo. The what?
"The theorbo is a member of the lute family," Biggs explains. "It's a bass lute. It is not primarily a solo instrument, but it's generally used for continuo." Dolata, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., who currently directs the music history program at Eastern Washington University, will perform a short unmeasured prelude by composer Robert De Visee as a theorbo solo, and he and Youngdahl have planned a song group for theorbo and voice. The neck of the theorbo extends out six feet from the body, making it an amazing instrument to see as well as hear.
Youngdahl is a resident of Calgary, where she performs with the Calgary Bach Society and teaches at the University of Calgary. She has traveled extensively throughout North America and Europe, singing baroque music and recording seven albums with the German ensemble, Sequentia.
"Janet specializes in singing baroque and pre-baroque music," says Biggs. "She comes to us recommended most highly by David Dolata. I think we're going to have a really amazing concert."
Unlike later composers, Baroque period masters like Handel didn't specify the instruments they wanted to use in their scores because everyone performing the pieces already knew what was expected. This allows period performers today some flexibility in determining which instruments to use for a given piece. When Allegro's artistic directors put this program together, they began with the idea of doing a concert based on Handel's time in London. Works by Handel dominate the program, but other composers active in London during the first half of the 18th century have made the grade as well. Dutton will perform one of Handel's oboe sonatas with basso continuo, a piece that Biggs calls outgoing and cheerful. Youngdahl plans to sing a Handel cantata, "Mi Palpita Il Cor," supported by the entire ensemble. The program also includes three arias from the English edition of "The Triumph of Time," a Handel work based on Italian words of Cardinal Panfili, which was later transformed into an allegorical play.
In addition to the song group with the theorbo, Youngdahl will also sing the short cantata, "Miranda," by one of Handel's colleagues, Pepusch. Biggs says, "This is a pleasant, light piece. Not profound, but enjoyable."
Before the concert, public radio host and Whitworth College professor Leonard Oakland will give a half-hour talk about the program. And if you want to get a close-up look at the theorbo -- or the double manual harpsichord -- gather around the stage after the show is over. "We do a show-and-tell after the show," Biggs explains.
As many other arts organizations have done, both locally and nationally, Allegro dedicates this first concert of the season to those who suffered in the recent national tragedies. A couple of special selections have been added to the program as part of the tribute.
"Classical music has historically provided solace and refuge to the human spirit in times of need," says Biggs. "Musicians are privileged to spend their careers in a field of endeavor with such uplifting qualities."
"Handel's London" takes place at the Met on Friday, Oct. 19, at 8 pm. Tickets: $8-$18. Call: 325-SEAT.