Violinist makes up for his late start

Ronald Mutchnik knows he's no Jascha Heifetz.

Mutchnik, who will play Saint-Saens' dazzling Introduction and Rondo for violin and orchestra tomorrow evening at Goucher College with the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, is talking about the famous Jascha Heifetz performance of the piece:


"Such incredible ease and awesome stability," Mutchnik says. "He was so perfect that people listened for his mistakes just to see if there would be any. I don't think I'd ever want to be in his shoes, but then, I don't think I'll ever have to worry about it!"

Mutchnik, the BCO's 32-year-old assistant concertmaster, is this year's winner of the orchestra's concerto competition and that means he gets to play a solo -- two, actually, because he will also play Massenet's "Meditation" -- with the ensemble and its music director, Anne Harrigan. It's a prize that Mutchnik, who has been a member of the orchestra since the days when its members got paid $2 a concert, has been working hard for.


"This is pushing me harder and farther than I've ever been pushed before," says Mutchnik, a self-described "local fellow" who grew up in Northwest Baltimore and went to Polytechnic High School and to the University of Maryland Baltimore County and for whom playing the violin has always been an "uphill battle."

He says he didn't receive good teaching until he encountered UMBC's Robert Gerle at the age of 18 -- an age at which it is usually too late to salvage any string player, no matter how much potential he has. But the Hungarian-born Gerle retrained Mutchnik and encouraged him to drop a predental program for a music major.

"Every musician should be exposed to a Hungarian influence," Mutchnik says. "They have a very fluid yet technically precise approach to making music."

He became good enough to be accepted for graduate work at New England Conservatory with Matsuko Ushioda and Josef Gingold. He finished his education at the Rubin Academy in Israel.

But he's learned almost as much from playing alongside some of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians who moonlight in the BCO.

"I don't think I would be as happy or as musically satisfied if it weren't for the strong direction of BSO members like [violinist] Craig Richmond, [violist] Noah Chaves and [hornist] David Bakkegard," he says. "Sitting next to someone like Craig [the BCO's concertmaster] has a way of making you feel committed and pulling your own playing up."

The Baltimore Chamber Orchestra will perform tomorrow at 8 p.m. at Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium. Tickets are $14, $9 for seniors. For more information, call (410) 887-2259.