First there were the Three Bears, who made porridge famous. Then came the Three Musketeers, who made swords sexy, and after them the Three Tenors, who simply made millions.
Now we have the Three Violinists - Emil Chudnovsky, Florin Croitoru and Andrew Haveron, a charming trio of virtuosos whose unofficial logo is three crossed violin bows instead of three rapier-sharp blades.
Chudnovsky & Co. are striving mightily to do for their instrument what Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras did for the tenor voice a decade ago.
If the idea seems like a gimmick, well, it is, sort of. But what's a violinist to do when he's young, unknown and loaded with talent, except form a trio and hope for fame and fortune to follow?
Last spring, the trio's quixotic quest surprised and delighted audiences in Baltimore and Washington during a tour sponsored by the Yale Gordon Trust.
The result was some of the merriest music-making of the season, a wholly satisfying concoction of the serious, the sensuous and the sublime offered up in a spirit of great fun among good friends.
Now a recording of those concerts is available on compact disc in area record shops. Titled "The Three Violinists in Concert," the recording was produced by the Education for Peace Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit that promotes world peace through education.
"We want to do the same kind of thing the Three Tenors have done for popularizing the instrument, but the whole thing for us is the music," says Chudnovsky, a 28-year-old Russian-born Columbia resident and Curci International Violin Competition winner, who is the group's unofficial instigator and spokesman.
The Three Violinists are themselves an international collaboration. Croitoru, a 29-year-old Romanian, won the Fritz Kreisler Competition in Vienna in 1992 and was a laureate in 10 other competitions over the last decade.
English-born Haveron, 23, has won plaudits at the Paganini Competition in Italy, the Queen Elizabeth Competition in Brussels and the Indianapolis Competition.
"What've we've tried to do is have an advertising sell that is not contingent on sex or album covers with naked women," Chudnovsky says. "We want to make good music but not in the stuffy, purist sense, which really hasn't done classical music any favors. In fact, sometimes the strongest advocates of serious music are unwittingly classical music's worst enemies."
There's certainly plenty of fun on the Three Violinists' new CD. The numbers range from frothy virtuoso bonbons like Paganini's "La Campanella" to the haunting "Shadows of the World Appear" by a prodigiously gifted young Russian-born composer, Inessa Zaretsky, who does double duty on the album as the group's piano accompanist.
There's also a spirited fantasy on themes from Bizet's "Carmen" by the young English composer Marcus Barcham-Stevens and wonderfully mellow performances of such creamy classics as Tchaikovsky's "Melodie in E flat major" and Debussy's "Clair de Lune."
In years past, such pieces were much-anticipated encores to the solo recital programs of players like Heifetz and Oistrakh, who were famous for their masterful command of the musical summits represented by Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.
With the decline of the solo recital - the enormous costs of presenting live performance today almost guarantees that famous soloists will be matched with orchestras - the kinds of crowd-pleasers that spice the Three Violinists' album are more rarely heard but no less beloved.
"Though I got the idea from the Three Tenors album, it was really a way of letting us, as younger musicians, make our contribution," says Chudnovsky.
"Just look at what the Three Tenors accomplished in terms of concert tickets, recordings, videos. They brought a whole new audience of people to opera that hadn't been there before."
Of course, Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras were already world-famous singers when they undertook their wildly successful collaboration. Chudnovsky, Croitoru and Haveron are not household names.
"The good thing is, we're affordable," says Chudnovsky, determinedly focusing on the bright side. "No producer is ever likely to get Itzhak Perlman, Pinkas Zuckerman and Isaac Stern to do something like this. It would cost millions to put on.
"But we could do it regularly, we are young, and maybe we could also break through some of the stereotypes of classical music as stuff for middle-aged men in bow ties. We want to show people that classical music can be fun."
Pub Date: 12/06/98