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Niel Immelman joins the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra in concert

| Friday, April 20, 2001


'Majestic Masterpieces'
  • Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra, featuring pianist Niel Immelman.
  • 8 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday.
  • Palace Theatre, Greensburg.
  • $9 to $34.
  • (724) 837-1850.

  • Pianist Niel Immelman fits well in the plans of Kypros Markou, the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra music director.

    Not only is the British educator and soloist a decades-long colleague of the orchestra leader, he also suggested playing a work that neatly met Markou's agenda.

    'This concert is right at the heart of classical music,' Markou says. 'We have done a few new works this year, and I wanted this program to be all beautiful works. When Niel suggested the Mozart, I loved the idea.'

    Immelman will be performing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 in a program that also includes Johannes Brahms Symphony No. 2 and Samuel Barber's 'Adagio for Strings.'

    'I just love Mozart,' says Immelman, professor of piano at the Royal College of Music in London. 'All the concertos are gorgeous, and I happen to like best any one I'm playing at any time.'

    Markou is well aware of Immelman's ability with Mozart. In 1967, when both were students at the Royal College, Immelman was one of the soloists in Mozart's double concerto in a program Markou conducted.

    'He's a talented guy, and I always enjoy performing with him,' the pianist says.

    He and Markou also did Edvard Grieg's piano concerto with the Westmoreland orchestra in 1980.

    That was a while ago, and the gap reflects the pianist-educator's schedule.

    He says he hasn't performed in America for about five years because he has been so tied up with his teaching and other appearances.

    'It's about 50-50,' says Immelan, 56, of the blend between the two aspects of his work. 'It's busy, but I really wouldn't have it any other way. I really enjoy my work with students.'

    This trip to the United States also will include appearances in Chicago and Detroit, and then it's back to London - but only for 24 hours. He's then off to Bulgaria for concerts and master classes.

    Immelman has taught at the college for 21 years and has been performing professionally since 1969. He recently finished a four-CD project of the complete solo piano works of contemporary Czech composer Josef Suk, born in 1929. The discs have been released separately with the final one to come out in about two months.

    Immelman says he is thrilled the company for which he is recording was interested in taking on the Suk collection. After all, he points out, many music projects are tackled with marketing, not music, in mind. If a work is not well known with a proven audience, it probably won't be recorded, he says.

    'But after I recorded one disc, they liked it,' he says. 'It's like they said, 'That's genius stuff. Is there any more?''

    Bob Karlovits can be reached at (412) 320-7852 or bkarlovits@tribweb.com .

    Getting a visa the action

    For a second straight concert, the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra has dodged a bullet that could have wounded an appearance by a scheduled soloist.

    'We don't want to set a series of unreliable soloists,' says Niel Immelman, an English pianist appearing this weekend. 'That's bad for morale.'

    But plans for the guest's visit went to a logistical deadline April 12 when Immelman got a work visa approved the day before the U.S. embassy in London closed for the Easter holiday.

    Morrie Brand, the Westmoreland orchestra's executive director, says the confusion arose because he was unfamiliar with the process the Immigration and Naturalization Service demands for bringing in foreign artists.

    Orchestra music director Kypros Markou says the federal group demands a sponsoring organization to justify the worth of an appearance by a visitor from another country.

    Markou says that prevents groups from bringing in inexpensive and unworthy performers, and taking away jobs from members of the American Federation of Musicians.

    When he reminded Brand about the paperwork that had to be completed several weeks ago, the executive director realized the deadline was tight.

    Brand says he had trouble getting through to the immigration bureau and sought help from the office of Sen. Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania Republican.

    'Rick Santorum's people were amazing,' Brand says. 'They were able to get through when all I could get was a busy signal.'

    He adds they were able to convince embassy officials to process the application in one day, when five usually are required. That would have been after Immelman was scheduled to arrive here.

    The averted snafu is reminiscent of problems surrounding the appearance of Polish violinist Pyotr Kwasny in March. He came close to canceling his appearance because of medical problems that sapped his energy to the point that he couldn't perform the planned work. He and Markou agreed on another composition, and the show went on.

    The visa effort was a learning experience.

    'The procedure was followed, and it worked out,' Brand says. 'Next time, we'll know better.'

    - Bob Karlovits

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