View of devastation pulls at heart strings

Violinist: During concerts for earthquake victims, Columbia's Emil Chudnovsky rediscovers music's healing power.

February 24, 2000|By Jill Hudson Neal | Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

In the wake of tragedy, Emil Chudnovsky gave what he could.

While on a concert tour in Israel last month, the 29-year-old Columbia violinist was asked to make a last-minute detour to Turkey to play several charity concerts with an Israeli chamber orchestra.

The musicians' audience: tens of thousands of Turks living in enormous, semipermanent tent cities nearly six months after two powerful earthquakes hit the northeastern part of their nation.

Thousands of people were killed, and the survivors are still coming to grips with the devastation.

When Chudnovsky and the nine musicians of the King David String Ensemble played before thousands of cheering tent-city residents, it gave the self-assured young violinist a renewed sense of optimism.

"I'm a bit of a professional cynic," he says. "It's very easy for me to forget what I have. But I wouldn't like to think I've become so cynical as to become oblivious.

"The people there have to work day-to-day just to subsist," Chudnovsky adds. "But I came away thinking that the reason for which this music was created was to get to people's emotions, and that still holds true."

Hundreds of enthusiastic people attended the concerts by the ensemble, one of the foremost chamber music groups in Israel.

At a concert in the tent city of Adapazara, Chudnovsky was introduced to an orphaned teen-ager who presented him with a small, painted porcelain doll. A translator explained that the delicate figurine was the only thing left of the girl's home when she returned to dig through the rubble.

The doll now sits on a shelf near Chudnovsky's collection of classical music compact discs in his small Columbia apartment. It's not the most beautiful item he owns, he says, "but the emotional value is beyond dispute."

The concerts also gave Chudnovsky, on his first visit to Turkey, the opportunity to witness collaboration among the most unlikely partners.

On his way to the tent cities of Golchuk and Adapazara, Chudnovsky saw the three flags of the International Red Cross, the Turkish Red Crescent and the Red Jewish Star flying side by side. The three relief organizations had banded together to help the homeless residents, and Chudnovsky recalls thinking that it was "optimism-inducing."

"In spite of all the politicking and posturing, to see an Israeli group playing for a crowd of Turkish people in an Islamic state, it was an impressive thing. It was a testament to the fact that civilization isn't a veneer that falls away when the first hardship turns up," he says.

Veteran of benefits

The charity concerts were not the violinist's first benefit shows. Chudnovsky often performs for community groups and nursing homes in the Baltimore area.

His touring schedule keeps him on the road most of the year, traveling to international competitions and concerts around the world. He estimates that he was home in his Columbia apartment for 11 weeks in 1998.

Traveling is nothing new to Chudnovsky. He and his mother, Nina Beilina, also a respected violinist, emigrated from Russia to the United States when Emil was 7.

His conductor father, Israel Chudnovsky, died when Emil was 18 months old.

`The Three Violinists'

Chudnovsky has won many international classical music awards, including the Curci International Violin Competition. Last year, he launched the Three Violinists, a takeoff of the popular opera trio, the Three Tenors.

A CD by the Three Violinists is available at music stores and has sold modestly.

The three friends -- Chudnovsky, Florin Croitoru and Andrew Haveron-- continue to perform together.

The CD, "The Three Violinists in Concert," was produced by the Education for Peace Foundation, a Washington nonprofit that promotes world peace. The three musicians met a few years ago at a competition.

Being a soloist has its advantages, too, says Chudnovsky.

"In a lot of ways, this is a dream job," he says of touring solo. "You're your own boss. If I want to go to Turkey on a moment's notice and play a charity concert, I can."

The future apparently holds a return trip to Turkey.

"I thought if this will move them, then I will go," he says. "I was very, very pleased to see that I did entertain them."

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