FAIRFIELD — Franklyn D’Antonio studied violin as a teen with the legendary Jascha Heifetz.
But it wasn’t until he won an audition with the Detroit Symphony that he realized his passion for the instrument.
“I was exposed to other violinists who had a love for the instrument,” he said. “They were supportive of me, my playing and the technical abilities I had.”
Lessons with Heifetz were educational, yet challenging. Keeping his students off-balance was Heifetz’s teaching style, D’Antonio said.
“Looking back, as a teacher of many decades now, you need to know you are on solid ground,” D’Antonio said. “When you are always walking on thin ice, it’s difficult to trust the ice.”
He recalled one session with Heifetz that went into overtime. After it was over, D’Antonio sat next to another student, one in her 20s, and whispered to her that he felt the lesson went terribly. Her reply was that it was a great lesson since Heifetz had spent so much time with him, showing D’Antonio many corrections.
D’Antonio is the guest artist at the Feb. 23 Vallejo Symphony recital. Among the pieces he will play are the “West Side Story Symphonic Dances” (for violin and piano) and Bach’s “Chaconne.”
The Bach piece is the first really serious violin work he learned. D’Antonio guessed he was 11 or 12 at the time.
“The enormity of this work can’t be overstated,” he said. “The technical demands. The musical demands. The emotional height and depth are exhausting.”
While he played it many times in his teens, D’Antonio said at the time he felt he didn’t understand the piece. Time and wisdom have taken care of that feeling. He now has a far greater appreciation than when he “essentially played the notes.”
Concertgoers will also hear a composition based on the songs from “West Side Story” that were composed by David Newman, whose father Alfred Newman was a music composer in Hollywood’s heyday.
“It’s at the level of a concerto,” D’Antonio said. “It’s difficult to master but extremely gratifying to play.”
He’s pleased with his program choices and said they represent a vast emotional range and challenge. As he prepared it, D’Antonio imagined himself performing it.
“When I’m done with the performance, I want to look back and feel I’ve taken the audience someplace they have not been before,” he said. “(I want to) act as a conduit to take them someplace they are not able to take themselves.”
D’Antonio has played with the Chicago Symphony and Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestras. He’s also performed music for movies and worked with artists such as Bette Midler and Neil Diamond.
He’s in his ninth season as the concertmaster of the Berkeley Symphony, which involves a lot of behind-the-scenes work. For each minute of music performed on stage, there’s three to four minutes spent preparing it, he said.
The job also involves being the first to play a new piece, work out the tempo and come to the first rehearsal ready to perform it.
During performances, other players in the string section take his lead.
The other musicians can usually take a break during intermission. As concertmaster, D’Antonio is often talking with the conductor at that time.
There’s more discussion after the show. It’s not unusual for the stage manager to turn off the lights to get him out the building, D’Antonio said.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.