Playing A Different Tune

Think of these as snapshots from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's family album, where the ensemble image becomes a mosaic of personal passions and histories.

September 10, 2000|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

"The foundation of my life is three things -- my children, love of fellow human beings -- sometimes even your conductor -- and music"

MIHALY VIRIZLAY, principal cellist

A popular fixture in the BSO for 37 years and a longtime Peabody Conservatory teacher, principal cellist Mihaly Virizlay can often be found in the well-used kitchen of his Mediterranean-style home near Johns Hopkins University. Virizlay - universally known as "Misi" (pronounced "Mee-Shee") - spends hours preparing dishes from his native Hungary, among them 12-spice cherry soup with sour cream, chicken paprikM-as, gulyM-as and, for dessert, poppy seed noodles.

"Why Hungarian? Because that's the only food I know how to make," says Misi, sporting a tie covered with scenes from "I Love Lucy" and an apron covered with musical notes. Then, breaking into one of his sly, irresistible grins, he adds, "Hungarians like firm women and soft food."

The cellist, who is in his 60s, also likes the effort that goes into getting a meal onto a table. "There is a relationship between music and cooking," he says. "Without great preparation, you will never have a great performance or great food."

Misi, who has been divorced and remarried over the years, reserves the largest corner of his heart for his three children - 12-year-old Lianna, businessman Stefan and rock musician David. "They are my life," he says. David recently laid down a multitrack electronic composition and then recorded his dad improvising wildly to it. "I'm as proud of that as anything I've done," Misi says.

Another sizable dose of Misi's affection is given to his two dogs, but that still leaves plenty of room left over for music, especially his five favorite composers. "The Bible was written by Bach," Misi says. "The foundation for classical culture was laid by Haydn. Mozart opened the door to heaven. Beethoven opened the door to everybody on this big planet of ours. And Schubert was sitting on God's lap when he composed.

"I feel so sorry for people who were born before Bach and never had a chance to know the B minor Mass or the cello suites or ..." Misi's voice trails off, but from the tender look on his face, it's obvious he's hearing an example of Bach's genius in his head.

The cellist, who also composes (the BSO performed his Cello Concerto 12 years ago, and some violin/cello duos he wrote this summer will be premiered at the Second Presbyterian Church in Baltimore this season), enjoys other forms of music, too. "I'm crazy about rock and roll," he says, "but the earlier kind, like they used in `Back to the Future.' And I like jazz and big band. Good music is good music, no matter who wrote it. Some classical music is boring as hell."

"We owe it to ourselves to be a lot healthier and to make this environment beter"

EMILY SKALA, principal flutist

Emily Skala relishes the role of unpaid promoter for the Honda Insight, a hybrid automobile that uses gasoline and electric power.

"This car represents the intelligence of the human race," she says. "I've been waiting since the '70s for a car like this. I just snatched it up. It's so sharp looking. And as people see it on the streets, it will help spread the word about what we can do to help the environment.

For Skala, a 12-year BSO veteran in her 30s, environmental issues are a passionate concern. They prompted a move from the Mount Vernon neighborhood in Baltimore out to Pikesville, where she lives with her husband, David, and their 4-year-old daughter, Sophia. "I couldn't take the constant noise pollution," she says, "and the bus fumes seeped right through the walls. I just couldn't breathe downtown. I actually tried to suppress my breathing when I was on the street."

Breathing well is obviously a concern for any wind instrument player - Skala is the BSO's principal flutist - but it also matters to her simply as an inhabitant of the planet, and as a mother.

"I'm a purist down to the core," she says. "I had my baby at home, with two midwives, my husband and my daughter's godmother. I tried to have a water birth. That didn't work out, but there were still no intrusive procedures or harsh noises. I wanted the most kind and loving atmosphere possible."

The amiable Vermont-born Skala learned quickly. She was principal flutist with the North Carolina Symphony and co-principal with the Pittsburgh Symphony before joining the BSO. When she isn't practicing or performing, she is apt to tune into some nonclassical sounds. "I love ethnic music, world beat," she says. "And La Bouche (a German R&B-flavored pop duo) really gets me working."

The flutist is an avid gardener ("It's a way to connect to the earth"), an avid reader ("I usually have 12 books going all at once, always in pursuit of the higher self - better parenting, self-healing"), and an avid teacher.

"I've always been interested in helping people," says Skala, a Peabody faculty member. "That's why I'm interested in the environment and with teaching - being of service, fulfilling a basic human need."

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