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Violinist returning to musical roots

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When Bryan Hernandez-Luch joins Keith Lockhart and the Utah Symphony on Wednesday to open this year's Midsummer Mozart Festival, he'll be playing for some familiar faces.

Born in Provo, Hernandez-Luch grew up in Salt Lake City. He attended Skyline High School and Brigham Young University.

"I studied with Igor Gruppman at BYU for two years before I transferred to the Manhattan School of Music," the 25-year-old violinist said. Hernandez-Luch plans to graduate from the school in one or two years. How long he needs to finish his studies actually depends on whether he can find the time to study between concert appearances.

"Right now I'm looking at taking a leave of absence because of all the performances I've got coming up," Hernandez-Luch said.

The young artist has been caught up in a whirlwind of concert activity since the beginning of the year, thanks in large part to his placing first in the senior division at the Sphinx Competition in Michigan last February.

The Sphinx Organization, which sponsors the competition, was founded in 1996 to kindle a love of classical music among black and Latino youngsters. It encourages minority youth to overcome cultural stereotypes, and supports those who are eager to pursue music as a career.

"This is a pretty wonderful program," said Hernandez-Luch, who qualified for the competition because of his Peruvian heritage. "And it's fairly unique, too. There are no others like it that I know of."

The Sphinx Competition is limited to string players in the junior high school-to-college level. The competition takes place over several rounds. "You tape your performance for the preliminary round and send the tape in." Hernandez-Luch explained. "From that they choose 16 to 18 semifinalists, who travel to Detroit and spend about a week there."

The semifinal round is conducted in front of a panel of judges who select the finalists. In past years, the finalists have performed with an orchestra made up of African-American and Latino professionals, many of whom are Sphinx alumni. This year, however, they played with the Detroit Symphony. "I was fortunate enough to solo with the Detroit Symphony," Hernandez-Luch said. "It was a wonderful experience."

Because of the way in which it promotes classical music among minorities, Hernandez-Luch is an ardent supporter of the Sphinx Organization. "It

brings to the front page minority issues and tries to find solutions. Generally, minorities are on the lower end of the spectrum as far as classical music is concerned. A lot of families don't have the money to spend on their kids, and they feel that classical music isn't important to them. But the Sphinx Organization is trying to make a difference. It makes us aware of other minority musicians and what the're accomplishing."

Hernandez-Luch is the eldest of four siblings but the only musician in the family. He and his brother and two sisters were raised by their mother, who works as a schoolteacher in Murray. His grandparents helped out in his upbringing, and it was from them that Hernandez-Luch developed his love for classical music and the arts.

"My grandparents lived right around the corner from us, and at their house I was surrounded by art," he said. "My grandfather also had season tickets to the Utah Symphony, and I remember going to concerts with him and sitting in the third tier in Abravanel Hall."

One of his earliest experiences was seeing violinist Elmar Oliveira with the Utah Symphony. "I fell in love with his playing, and I wanted to play the violin like he did."

Hernandez-Luch started playing the violin when he was 6. He won top honors in the Utah Symphony Youth Guild Competition and placed first for three consecutive years in the Utah State Fair Music Competition. In 1993, the then 15-year-old musician was selected to be one of the soloists on the Utah Symphony's Salute to Youth concert. "(Joseph) Silverstein conducted that concert, and I played (Sarasate's) 'Zigeunerweisen.' "

As it turned out, Hernandez-Luch's future brother-in-law was also a soloist at the same concert. "Last August, I married Desirae Brown — and her brother Gregory, who was about 9 at the time, was also on that same Salute to Youth concert." (The Browns, from Alpine, made headlines a few years ago when the family's five children were all accepted as piano students at Juilliard.)

Hernandez-Luch said that his wife has just graduated from Juilliard with a degree in piano performance, and the two plan to perform several recitals, both locally and around the country. "We've been invited to perform on the 'Music in the Loft' series in Chicago next year."

And there are quite a few concert engagements coming up in the near future, including an appearance with the Cleveland Orchestra in January 2004. "That's the big one. We're negotiating right now what I'll be playing there. I sent them my repertoire list, and they'll pick the concerto they want me to do from that."

As to his future, Hernandez-Luch isn't certain what path to follow. "Initially, I started out wanting to be a concertmaster for a major orchestra, and that's still my goal." But he added that being a soloist also appeals to him. "I could get used to being a concert artist. I really could."

Hernandez-Luch looks forward to pursuing a varied career that can include solo engagements as well as chamber music and recitals. "Hopefully it will be wrapped up in one as a concertmaster."

For next week's Utah Symphony concert, he will play Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K. 218. Also on the program is Mozart's overture to "Idomeneo" and Schubert's Symphony No. 5 in B flat major.

If you go . . .

What: Bryan Hernandez-Luch, Utah Symphony

Where: Libby Gardner Concert Hall

When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

How much: $12-$15, $8 students

Phone: 355-2787 or 1-888-451-2787


E-mail: ereichel@desnews.com