PLAYING A DIFFERENT TUNE

THE BALTIMORE SUN

"The foundation of my life is three things -- my children, love of fellow human beings -- sometimes even your conductor -- and music"

MIHALY VIRIZLAY, principal cellist

A popular fixture in the BSO for 37 years and a longtime Peabody Conservatory teacher, principal cellist Mihaly Virizlay can often be found in the well-used kitchen of his Mediterranean-style home near Johns Hopkins University. Virizlay - universally known as "Misi" (pronounced "Mee-Shee") - spends hours preparing dishes from his native Hungary, among them 12-spice cherry soup with sour cream, chicken paprikM-as, gulyM-as and, for dessert, poppy seed noodles.

"Why Hungarian? Because that's the only food I know how to make," says Misi, sporting a tie covered with scenes from "I Love Lucy" and an apron covered with musical notes. Then, breaking into one of his sly, irresistible grins, he adds, "Hungarians like firm women and soft food."

The cellist, who is in his 60s, also likes the effort that goes into getting a meal onto a table. "There is a relationship between music and cooking," he says. "Without great preparation, you will never have a great performance or great food."

Misi, who has been divorced and remarried over the years, reserves the largest corner of his heart for his three children - 12-year-old Lianna, businessman Stefan and rock musician David. "They are my life," he says. David recently laid down a multitrack electronic composition and then recorded his dad improvising wildly to it. "I'm as proud of that as anything I've done," Misi says.

Another sizable dose of Misi's affection is given to his two dogs, but that still leaves plenty of room left over for music, especially his five favorite composers. "The Bible was written by Bach," Misi says. "The foundation for classical culture was laid by Haydn. Mozart opened the door to heaven. Beethoven opened the door to everybody on this big planet of ours. And Schubert was sitting on God's lap when he composed.

"I feel so sorry for people who were born before Bach and never had a chance to know the B minor Mass or the cello suites or ..." Misi's voice trails off, but from the tender look on his face, it's obvious he's hearing an example of Bach's genius in his head.

The cellist, who also composes (the BSO performed his Cello Concerto 12 years ago, and some violin/cello duos he wrote this summer will be premiered at the Second Presbyterian Church in Baltimore this season), enjoys other forms of music, too. "I'm crazy about rock and roll," he says, "but the earlier kind, like they used in 'Back to the Future.' And I like jazz and big band. Good music is good music, no matter who wrote it. Some classical music is boring as hell."

"We owe it to ourselves to be a lot healthier and to make this environment beter"

EMILY SKALA, principal flutist

Emily Skala relishes the role of unpaid promoter for the Honda Insight, a hybrid automobile that uses gasoline and electric power.

"This car represents the intelligence of the human race," she says. "I've been waiting since the '70s for a car like this. I just snatched it up. It's so sharp looking. And as people see it on the streets, it will help spread the word about what we can do to help the environment.

For Skala, a 12-year BSO veteran in her 30s, environmental issues are a passionate concern. They prompted a move from the Mount Vernon neighborhood in Baltimore out to Pikesville, where she lives with her husband, David, and their 4-year-old daughter, Sophia. "I couldn't take the constant noise pollution," she says, "and the bus fumes seeped right through the walls. I just couldn't breathe downtown. I actually tried to suppress my breathing when I was on the street."

Breathing well is obviously a concern for any wind instrument player - Skala is the BSO's principal flutist - but it also matters to her simply as an inhabitant of the planet, and as a mother.

"I'm a purist down to the core," she says. "I had my baby at home, with two midwives, my husband and my daughter's godmother. I tried to have a water birth. That didn't work out, but there were still no intrusive procedures or harsh noises. I wanted the most kind and loving atmosphere possible."

The amiable Vermont-born Skala learned quickly. She was principal flutist with the North Carolina Symphony and co-principal with the Pittsburgh Symphony before joining the BSO. When she isn't practicing or performing, she is apt to tune into some nonclassical sounds. "I love ethnic music, world beat," she says. "And La Bouche (a German R&B-flavored; pop duo) really gets me working."

The flutist is an avid gardener ("It's a way to connect to the earth"), an avid reader ("I usually have 12 books going all at once, always in pursuit of the higher self - better parenting, self-healing"), and an avid teacher.

"I've always been interested in helping people," says Skala, a Peabody faculty member. "That's why I'm interested in the environment and with teaching - being of service, fulfilling a basic human need."

"How you look reflects how you feel mentally."

JAMES OSTRYNIEC, assistant principal oboist.

For most of his 30 years in the orchestra, Jim Ostryniec did not attract much attention for his physique. Today, having gone from a slender 160 to a muscular 185 pounds, he would no doubt win a Best-Developed Body in the BSO contest. The oboist has been working out four or five times a week since the early '90s, splitting his sessions between gyms in Washington, his main residence, and Baltimore, where he keeps an apartment.

"I've always been very concerned about fitness," Ostryniec says. "I used to swim a lot, but I got a bad ear infection, so I switched over to weight-lifting. I wanted something you can do at your own schedule, and something you didn't need a partner for. You have no boss in body-building; you do it as a reward for yourself. It works regardless of age. And it's contagious. If you skip a workout, you feel you've cheated yourself."

Just to make sure he couldn't cheat himself, the oboist stopped teaching on the side. "I'd rather go to the gym," he says with a hearty laugh. "This really is my avocation."

Ostryniec, 56, a divorced father of two, has other interests besides the oboe and the bench press. These include modern art ("I have a small, but good, collection of Andy Warhol serigraphs"), American furniture and decorative arts. But nothing gets him going like a set of barbells. And he finds a direct benefit to his oboe playing.

"There's something Zen-like about lifting weights," he says. "You're looking at 180, 200 pounds and you tell yourself to lift it. And you do it. This relates to the orchestra a little bit, like when there's a difficult passage coming up, and you just have to do it. I know I'm a stronger player. I don't have to worry about playing two rehearsals and a concert in one day."

The Pennsylvania native started his musical career with the Honolulu Symphony ("When you're 22 and someone offers you a chance to go to Honolulu, you're going to go"), then headed to the BSO, which he has always found a very comfortable fit, musically and personally.

Ostryniec has his sights on an accomplishment when he's older. And it doesn't involve the oboe at all.

"It would be fun to be Mr. Senior Maryland when I'm 60," he says. "That would be the ultimate goal."

"When we left Russia, people saw us as traitors, but I think we did the right thing."

GENIA SLUTSKY, violist

This year's strange summer weather has not been kind to the garden behind Genia Slutsky's Pikesville home. The soft-spoken, gracious violist usually has lots of flowers and a nice crop of tomatoes growing there. But she takes the weeds in stride. The important thing to her is that she still has the garden and the house. There were times during their 20-year tenure with the BSO when she and her husband of 43 years, Leri, a violinist in the orchestra, thought they would lose everything.

"We bought this house 18 years ago, and then the orchestra went on strike - twice," Genia says. "It was horrible, a disaster. We had not saved enough money. We had no relatives here. We had to borrow from friends.

Today, things are decidedly rosier for the Slutskys, who spend their spare time traveling. In addition to taking in a good deal of the contiguous United States, they've visited Australia and, this summer, Alaska. The couple has also returned twice to their homeland, the former Soviet Union, where they played in major orchestras for many years. They emigrated in 1977.

"When we went back to Russia with the orchestra in 1987," says Genia, who is in her 50s, "it was a big shock. There were so many problems. We found it better in some ways when we went three years ago. But we realized that while some people had become very, very rich, most people, especially doctors and teachers, had become very poor."

Baltimore was not where the Slutskys expected to make a home. After emigrating, they lived and worked as freelancers in New York. But in short succession in 1980, the BSO's violin and viola sections had openings.

"It is very difficult for married musicians to get into the same orchestra," Genia says, "so it was good for us.

The Baltimore area is also home for daughter Dina and son Boris, a noted pianist who teaches at Peabody.

Genia, whose musical tastes extend to jazz ("Especially Ella Fitzgerald; I got her autograph when she sang with the orchestra in '85"), shares her husband's enthusiasm for fellow countryman Yuri Temirkanov, the BSO's new music director. "I knew him before he got famous," Leri says, "and he was already very talented. He finds something new in music, not artificially new, but naturally new. He gets it from inside of the music."

"Because I play classical music all day, I usually leave that at work."

ELLEN PENDLETON TROYER, violinist

The CD collection tells the tale.

"Music is like food," says violinist Ellen Pendleton Troyer. "What are you in the mood for?"

The striking redhead rattles off the sounds she periodically is in the mood for - Pat Metheney, Stan Getz, Goo Goo Dolls, Sarah McLachlan, James Taylor ("I'm probably the only one in the orchestra who has every album he ever made"), Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Jean-Luc Ponty.

"I'm into fusion, jazz and more on the fringe end of rock," says the Florida-born Troyer, who joined the BSO a decade ago direct from the Juilliard School of Music. "And I recently got into Quebec folk songs; they're really cool. About the only thing I haven't found a taste for is rap, but I like to keep up on everything. They say you're officially old when you don't know what's on the radio."

There are classical CDs, too, in Troyer's grandly scaled Towson home ("Every once in a while you need deep, depressing Mahler"), but when the violinist is not bowing her way through the classics with the BSO, she usually craves "a break for my ears." And not just a passive, listening break. She's inclined to do some wailing on an electric violin or, especially, down-home country fiddling.

"One side of the family is from Kentucky," she says, "so with them, it's 'Juilliard-Schmuilliard, let's hear you fiddle.' I got turned on to fiddling when Mark O'Connor played with the BSO a few years ago. When I heard him, it just blew my mind. He has the technical facility of the best violinists I've ever seen. I got to do a duet with him one time and jammed with him after a concert until 3 in the morning. I kept thinking, 'I am not worthy.' The relatives are really impressed now."

The violinist, 34, who got married a month ago to Baltimore scientist John Troyer (a BSO subscriber, he had admired her from afar for a long time), has an almost equal passion for cooking, especially central Italian cuisine. "I make a helluva osso bucco," she says. "That's one reason why I Rollerblade and run - I hate diets. I've been Rollerblading for five years now.

"There are four or five of us in the orchestra who keep our blades in the car. Sometimes after rehearsal, we'll run down to the trail to let off steam. When you sit all day moving little muscles a lot, it's a great tension-reliever. We all went blading with James Taylor after his concert with us. That was so cool."

Troyer has also tried sky-diving and is eager to do it again. "My husband and I made a deal: If he goes sky-diving with me, I'll go scuba-diving with him."

"I love trying to do things I don't know one damn thing about."

LANGSTON J. FITZGERALD III, trumpeter

A 30-year BSO veteran, trumpeter Langston J. Fitzgerald III - "Fitz" to everyone - makes perhaps the most dramatic arrival for concerts at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. He's the one on the gleaming, state-of-the-art BMW K 1200 LT motorcycle.

"I've been riding bikes since '76," Fitz says. "One of my neighbors rode, and that got me interested. This is my fifth BMW motorcycle. When I went for a test drive, I was afraid of it at first - and I'm not afraid of anything. But I love it now. This bike even has reverse."

Not to mention a CD player and enough speakers to compete successfully with the roar of the road. It also provides a nice way of forgetting about his previous bike, which was totaled in an accident last November in Washington, where Fitz teaches at Catholic University (in addition to Peabody). Luckily, he was wearing his full leather riding gear at the time - "Leather is a lot better for sliding than my skin," he says, letting out the hearty laugh that is as much a part of him as his nickname.

The riding is just one pastime for Fitz, who is in his 50s. The sprawling home he makes in Owings Mills with his wife and violinist son is another. He tackles projects around the house with the same enthusiasm he shows for playing trumpet. He completely rebuilt a spacious kitchen and tile floor, along with two bathrooms and an outside deck. "I get gratification from learning how to do things like that," he says. "I just got gratification the other day from fixing my tractor so that I could start cutting my grass again."

Fitz, whose roots are in Washington and Prince George's County, studied at Howard University and played trumpet in several university orchestras in the area. Before joining the BSO, he was in the U.S. Navy Band for four years ("That kept me out of the rice paddies"). He likes picking up extra work, such as the Millennium Concert in Washington and the national TV specials, presidential inaugurations, the occasional Broadway musical and wedding gig. "It's a great way to get away from the confines of orchestral playing," says Fitz, who's in his 50s.

One musical pursuit not on his list is jazz. "I would just be kidding somebody," Fitz says. "I'm not really a jazz player."

This summer, the trumpeter started expanding on his interest in electronic communications. The giant antenna on his house speaks to his passion for what he calls "sophisticated CB radio"; inside, Fitz is busy catching up on the computer craze.

"It's kind of fun," he says. "I sent my first international e-mail the other day. It's just the beginning. Better late than never."

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