Diligence pays off for Peabody's new conductor

March 29, 1991|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,Evening Sun Staff

WHEN HAJIME Teri Murai came to the Peabody in December to guest conduct the Peabody Symphony Orchestra, he packed in nine rehearsals in just over a week, and his results in the Hadyn and Shostakovich concert showed. Peabody director Robert Pierce called his appearance "electrifying," and others agreed.

Three months later, Murai's diligence and impressive record at the College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati, paid off in a bigger way. The 37-year-old San Francisco native and third generation Japanese-American yesterday was named the new music director of the Peabody orchestra and director of Peabody orchestral activities.

Murai begins his new job in September. He hopes for a nine-rehearsal schedule for each of eight concerts by the 90-member ensemble next season. He also plans to continue his interest in opera by directing one his first season here.

While noted for leading much contemporary music, the former percussionist who goes by the name Teri likes "music that communicates" from all the major schools and periods. Asked for his own favorite composer, he said "Mahler . . . Shostakovich . . . Beethoven . . . Mozart . . . Verdi . . . Wagner . . . Puccini . . . ." He could have gone on.

"At the moment we play anything, it's the greatest piece of music there is. We don't have the luxury of criticizing it. Maybe later we have our own ideas. The first year at Peabody, we won't play intricate French impressionistic pieces, but as the season goes on we'll play more and more demanding works. I think the orchestra will get better and better.

"All the time you must be responsible to the composer, and no matter how well you know the music, you have to give it energy and purpose. That's the magic of it. Each performer's perception is different, but what brings it all together is the music. And the conductor has to get the best out of everyone," he said.

When here in December, Murai heard the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra twice and loved what he heard. "The string ensemble was superb, the entire orchestra was very impressive. And that was with guest conductors. Under David Zinman, the orchestra probably goes up a notch."

Murai is the first to sit in the Ruth Blaustein Rosenberg Music Director Chair. He said he was happy "to be part of a pretty exciting school with such a long-standing tradition. I think the orchestra is in a strong position to take off."

Since 1976 he has been associate professor of orchestra and conducting and music director of the concert orchestra at the Cincinnati conservatory. He also has led the Cincinnati Youth Symphony Orchestra since 1979 and been a guest conductor with more than 15 other orchestras, mostly in the West and Midwest. Known among other things for his premieres, Murai has won numerous ASCAP awards for "adventurous programming of contemporary music."

A baseball and football fan and a golfer, Murai retains warm feelings for the San Francisco Giants but also admires Orioles manager Frank Robinson and can't wait to see the Orioles and become a Bird fan. "I didn't like the way the Giants released Frank; for three years I remembered that." Murai said he'd love to lead the Peabody orchestra at an Oriole game.

The former percussionist is married to violinist Carol Hubler Murai, who was a graduate student at Cincinnati when they met. They have two children, Alicia, 4, and Nicholas, 11 months. Murai has teaching commitments through the end of July in Cincinnati, and the family will move here in August.

Murai caught the music bug at Lowell High School in San Francisco where he studied percussion and conducting under Jack Pereira from 1968 to 1971. He received a B.A. in music with emphasis on conducting in 1974 and a conducting M.A. in 1976, both at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The music director chair was established last summer as a result of a $3-million gift to Peabody's endowment from the Blaustein-Rosenberg-Thalheimer Family Group. Mrs. Rosenberg, 91, is a well-known local philanthropist and alumna of the school.

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