@credit:Margaret Kaye People: Camilla Kolchinsky: life on the stand
Publication Date: Wednesday Feb 1, 1995

People: Camilla Kolchinsky: life on the stand

"I never saw the beach."

Five years in Santa Barbara, and Camilla Kolchinsky never saw the beach, the mission, the courthouse, Solvang--or much of anything that was outside a concert hall or classroom.

The same goes for her life here. Since she was appointed conductor and music director of the El Camino Youth Symphony in Palo Alto, Kolchinsky has seen more cellos than cappuccinos, more music stands than movies.

"I don't have weekends," she said, rummaging through her heavily annotated datebook. "I'm always busy."

Music has dominated her life since childhood. A native of Moscow, Kolchinsky could sing before she could talk. By 6, she was studying violin at one of the Soviet Union's most prestigious private music schools. By 13 she was on her way to a performing career--until the Soviet government cancelled her performances outside the Soviet Union. "They wanted to stop my career. They didn't like the idea of this little Jewish girl going to the outside world and doing good."

Although familiar with anti-Semitism--her father lost his job as a highly placed scientist under Stalin because of his Judaism--Kolchinsky had to fight a second battle against sexism. "When I told the school I wanted to be a conductor, they said it was nonsense," she said. "I went to the class with the boy students and they told me to go away."

Instead, she just kept going back. "It did not make me angry, it made fight stronger," she said. Eventually, Kolchinsky became one of two women conductors in the Soviet Union.

But in 1976, after the government forbid her to tour as a conductor, she emigrated to Israel. She later moved to Scandinavia, then came to the United States in 1990 to direct the Santa Barbara Grand Opera Association and teach conducting at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

She has traveled in classical music's most sparkling circles. She was Leonard Bernstein's student and has shared the stage with Mstislav Rostropovich, Bella Davidovich and Vladimir Ashkenazy, among others.

It was the prospect of working with youthful energy that drew her to the El Camino Youth Symphony, a training program for young musicians from San Franciso to Santa Cruz. "Youth keep a very fresh feeling of music. With professionals, you have the technique, but not the freshness," she said.

After two decades of intercontinental wandering, she suspects she may have found her niche. "There is so much interest in culture here, so much music, so much life," said Kolchinsky, who lives with her husband in Mountain View.

Not that her itinerant life is over. As permanent guest conductor of the Austrian Chamber Orchestra in Vienna, and as a master teacher at the Juilliard School in New York, she still spends too much time viewing the world from inside planes and cars.

She wouldn't have it any other way. "Music is my fun. If I am still able to conduct when I am 80, and if someone wants me, I will conduct," she said.

It's the best transport system she knows. "When I conduct, I am not a woman. I am not thinking about what I am going to do later, or who is coming for dinner. I think about the construction of the music, and how to open such beauty for the human soul. When I see people leaving with their eyes shining, then I am happy."

--Diane Sussman
"They wanted to stop my career. They didn't like the idea of this little Jewish girl going to the outside world and doing good."



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