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From tickling the funny bone to tickling the ivories


Vladimir Horowitz once said there were three kinds of pianists: Jewish pianists, homosexual pianists and bad pianists.

"He forgot a fourth kind -- very short pianists," Dudley Moore says.

Moore should know. He's very short (5-foot-2) and he's very good. Long before the British-born comedian became famous as a movie actor ("Bedazzled," "10" and "Arthur"), he was a successful professional musician. Aficionados considered him one of the most promising jazz pianists in Europe in the late '50s and early '60s. And when he plays in Los Angeles' small jazz clubs today, he earns the kind of reviews that regularly compare him to such giants as the late Errol Garner.

But jazz seems a long way from the classics that Moore will play this Sunday evening at 7 in Meyerhoff Hall when he joins David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in popular concertos by Mozart (K.467) and Gershwin ("The Rhapsody in Blue"). The concert will be the first in a series showcasing Moore that has been sponsored by Martell Cognac to help increase audiences and to raise money for symphony orchestras. The proceeds of the concert will go to the BSO's pension fund.

"There is a real crisis in classical music," Moore says. "When I go to concerts today and look around at the audience, it makes me feel pretty good because it makes me feel young -- and I was born in 1935!"

Sunday's concert is already almost sold out, but Moore is realistic about why people will come to hear him.

"It's not entirely a musical sort of event," he says. "People are coming to see me for a variety of reasons -- not the least of which is that they know me. They don't come to hear a great Mozart interpreter. I can only hope that there are a few people who will come back, but I don't expect miracles."

Although he made his musical name in jazz, Moore is classically trained. As a young man he was equally proficient as a pianist, a violinist (he probably could have joined one of England's premier orchestras), an organist (he attended Oxford University on a scholarship that required him to accompany and to lead some of Oxford's famous choirs) and a composer (he's written the scores for several movies and several of his jazz tunes are considered classics).

When he entered Oxford in 1953, the future romantic lead for Nastassia Kinski, Bo Derek and Darryl Hannah intended to become a church choir director. Instead, his talents for comedy and improvisation (verbal as well as musical) allied him with a group of other brilliant English undergraduates -- including Jonathan Miller and Peter Cook -- in an improv group called "Beyond the Fringe." Its irreverent, off-the-wall and sophisticated comedy made it one of the most influential and imitated groups of the '60s. It is impossible to imagine the hijinks of Monty Python and the early Saturday Night Live crew without the example of "Beyond the Fringe."

A starring role in the stylish British comedy, "Bedazzled," set the groundwork for Moore becoming a film star. A supporting role in "Foul Play" -- he stole the show from Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn -- and then starring roles in "10" and "Arthur" made the diminutive Moore (for a while at least) a hugely popular, if unlikely, romantic leading man.

But Moore hasn't had a hit since 1981's "Arthur," which was followed by a string of unfortunate films, including last spring's abysmal "Crazy People."

That may explain why he's been playing so much piano of late. He had been playing jazz in small clubs ever since he arrived in Hollywood in the early '70s, but his classical career started up again about seven years ago when the violinist Robert Mann asked Moore to accompany him in a New York recital. He slipped into the classical limelight once more when he played the piano part in Beethoven's Triple Concerto with violinist Itzhak Perlman and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Then, two years ago he did a TV series about classical music with Sir Georg Solti in which the comedian played straight man to the great conductor.

"It's really peculiar what makes a hit film," Moore says. "When I made '10,' I was depressed and ashamed. I thought it was awful, and I was astounded that it was so successful. 'Arthur' had a really wonderful script, but I don't think that I'll ever have a film as successful as either of those. But the nice thing is that I've been successful enough so that I don't have to do what I don't really want to do and I can do things -- like music -- that I really care about."

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