Geoffrey Long
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Andy's a paragon!

Andy Rozsa, composer in concert

One of my oldest, bestest friends Andy Rozsa just got a serious writeup in The Alberquerque Tribune: Key of Gee: No Dumbed-Down Music or Long-Dead Master Will Headline This High School Concert. The piece is awesome. Some excerpts:

When Ruth Klein told her orchestra students at Eldorado and Sandia high schools she wanted them to have an opportunity to play the music of someone other than "dead German men," they weren't sure what they were going to end up with.

But they probably didn't imagine it would be an original work composed by a 26-year-old trombonist and computer geek from Chicago who - with his baggy jeans, untucked shirt and black backpack - looks more like a peer than a paragon.

Andy Rozsa (pronounced "rosha") arrived in Albuquerque this week to rehearse with both orchestras, which will combine for the world premiere of his "Fantasia on a Theme by Amy Beach," at the La Cueva High School Performing Arts Center on Tuesday night.

The commission - Rozsa's first - was made possible by a "Classroom Innovations" grant of $2,700 awarded by the Public Service Company of New Mexico. Klein applied for the grant because she was determined to offer her students something outside "the canon of works deemed appropriate for high schoolers."

...Klein gave Rozsa free rein in his direction but was firm that, whatever he wrote, it was not to be "dumbed down" for students.

"And I agreed because I know when I was that age I hated playing flea market swag," said Rozsa, who became serious about his trombone studies relatively late, at the age of 17. "They want steak, and they're being fed baby food."

But as Rozsa worked with each orchestra separately this week, Klein wondered nervously if perhaps hamburger might have been a better compromise.

"I'm scared that we may have been a little too ambitious," she said. "Some of it is more technically difficult than they've done before. But they've done a good job of taking it on."

Rozsa, who viewed the trip to Albuquerque in part as a belated honeymoon with his bride of two months, Anne-Marie, appeared to have fewer reservations. Standing before the Sandia High School group at 6:45 a.m. Thursday, he did more encouraging than critiquing.

"Overdo it!" he urged the 32 orchestra members. "I want to see that rosin fly! Play this stuff with confidence. If you make a mistake, I want to hear it at the back of the hall!"

Asked later if the wrong notes and faulty timings were trying his patience, Rozsa - pushing his glasses up on his nose and running his hand through his boyish haircut - just laughed. Not nearly as much as his day job as a computer systems analyst, he said - a job he hopes to leave soon to perform full time.

"I had an undergraduate professor who said: `A good performance is a clear exposition of the score,' " Rozsa said. "That's all I want. I'd like to see them play with the confidence of a professional, even if the technique is not there."

...Rozsa - once a Grateful Dead and Phish fan, who admits he often finds Mozart "boring" - said there is a better chance of high schoolers enjoying classical works if the music they play is closer in time and reference to their own lives.

"I hope they realize there is music in the orchestral realm they can relate to," he said. "Something that's not Britney Spears with a snake but is also not as scary as everyone believes it to be."

And did Klein think the students were cowed by their first interaction with a living composer?

"Not at all," she said, laughing. "They're still not paying attention."

My friends rule. I was just remembering the cold evening Andy and I spent sitting in a cafe in Coventry near his old apartment, chatting about women and art and old friends and everything.

Life is great.

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