Family's concert turns into challenge of varied instruments, relationships Unusual performance 'great fun,' but with stress

May 18, 1998|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Yesterday's concert at Second Presbyterian Church in Baltimore was a family affair.

Robert Sirota, director of the Peabody Institute, his wife, Victoria, their son, Jonah, and daughter, Nadia, performed with an unusual combination of violas, piano and organ at a presentation in the church's concert series.

The parents said they were especially pleased with how well the children played.

"If I hadn't been playing, I would have cried," Mrs. Sirota said.

While it would seem natural for this musically gifted family to perform together, their mastery of seemingly incompatible instruments made yesterday's performance a challenge to the musical repertoire and family relations.

"If no one had asked us, it wouldn't have occurred to us," said Mr. Sirota.

Finding music that could employ his piano, her organ and the children's violas was the first hurdle. He arranged the final piece, "Festival Prelude on Now Thank We All Our God," so that they could play together. For the other selections in the concert, they played individually and in groups of two and three.

They had been working on the performance for almost a year while the children juggled school schedules, Mrs. Sirota kept up her duties as vicar at Episcopal Church of the Holy Nativity in Northwest Baltimore, and her husband composed, taught and oversaw Peabody Institute.

When they began to practice for yesterday's concert, each had strong ideas about how the pieces should be performed, Jonah Sirota said. Disagreements at times turned on family relationships as much as musical interpretations.

"It's been great fun, but there are stresses and tensions," Mr. Sirota said.

Music has long been a part of their lives. He became entranced by the musical "My Fair Lady" when he was 7. His wife began piano lessons when she was 4 and fell in love with the music. Both studied music at Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio, where they met.

Jonah Sirota, 21, began playing the violin at 5 or 6. He is a recent graduate of Rice University and plans to begin study at the Juilliard School this fall. He eventually hopes to become a concert musician and a teacher.

PTC Nadia, 15, a sophomore at the Baltimore School for the Arts, began playing the piano at 4 or 5. She soon switched to violin and for the past two years has played the viola, which she describes as a "more soulful instrument." Like her brother, she intends to become a professional musician.

While the Sirotas say they never pushed the children into music, they are happy, if somewhat surprised, at their interest.

Black dresses and white shirts hang in the closets at the Sirotas' home in Baltimore's Ambassador Apartments. A piano stands in the alcove where Mr. Sirota, 48, composes.

The children play their violas in their rooms. When their mother, 48, wants to play the organ, she seeks out a church.

Music often reverberates through the rooms, but the Sirotas don't spend their evenings sitting around playing music together, Mr. Sirota said. The concert presented that occasion.

"This was meant to show that if the Sirotas were the ideal family, this is what they would play," he joked.

Pub Date: 5/18/98

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