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A different drummer boy 

Wolfgang Laufer offers chamber music alternative

The season of the "holiday family concert" is now upon us.

You know them well -- those countless choral concerts and orchestra performances, all enticing us to bring the kids with promises of punch and cookies, sing-alongs and even visits from St. Nick.

And while they can be a highly anticipated and hugely enjoyable part of the Atlanta holiday scene, there are times when one longs for something just a little bit different.

This December, cellist Wolfgang Laufer is providing a welcome alternative. His "New Generation Concert: For the Young and Young at Heart" -- part of the Great Jewish Musicians and Music series of concerts that Laufer is directing for the William Bremen Jewish Heritage museum -- offers a bouquet of musical surprises. The audience will be treated to a Sousa march for four cellos, Gershwin's "Embraceable You" for string quartet, some tango music and a chamber arrangement of the "Nutcracker Suite," along with other goodies.

In a recent interview from Germany -- where he was touring with the Fine Arts Quartet, one of the world's most-recorded and best-respected chamber music groups -- Laufer talked about his upcoming program. "This concert is on the light side," Laufer says. "It encourages families -- children, parents, and grandparents -- to come. It's only an hour and a half, without intermission, and there's a reception where you can meet the artists afterwards."

Laufer is well-accustomed to presenting family musical programs. He heads up a youth-oriented performing arts series, "New Generation," in Milwaukee, where he is professor-in-residence of cello and chamber music at the University of Wisconsin. This is in addition to a career that has included stints as principle cellist of orchestras such as the Hamburg Philharmonic and the Bayreuth Festspiele, as well as directorships of music festivals from Grenoble to Fort Lauderdale. But perhaps his greatest claim to fame is his 18 years as cellist with the Fine Arts Quartet.

Even though Laufer's talents and teaching have taken him all over the world, his ties to Atlanta are strong. Not only does he live here with his wife, a former ballet dancer, but his son Daniel is assistant principal cellist of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. The two often perform and record together, and will be doing so throughout the Bremen Museum concert series.

For his "New Generation" concert in Atlanta, Laufer will combine his decades of experience with contributions from music students from the Georgia Academy and Westminster Schools. "This puts them onstage with professionals and helps them understand what it takes to perform in a real concert," Laufer says. "By playing chamber music, children learn that unless you compromise you cannot get along with other people, and you have to respect other people because they are an integral part of what you're trying to create. That goes in every part of life."

Throughout the concert Laufer plans to talk about not only the pieces being performed but music in terms of individual response -- both emotional and intellectual. "I want people to know how it feels as a musician to perform music. And I'll talk about how we all see music individually and visually -- visually, because you have all kinds of colors. We experience music with the eyes, ears and heart."

In May, the series will feature the Fine Arts Quartet for a more pensive program dedicated to Holocaust victims. "We'll be performing a duet by Gideon Klein," Laufer says. "It stops in the middle of the piece, because that's when Klein was taken off to Auschwitz, where he died."

When asked about the future outlook for the survival of chamber music in the United States, Laufer is realistic. "The commercial recording market today is deflated, and not that many quartets even have a recording contract. Today we market to the lowest common denominator of intelligence. I've been here for 22 years and I've seen the chamber music scene grow in terms of level of performance, but a lot of my colleagues see the future as bleak.

"We don't give kids music in school. We pump them up with sports to the exclusion of music and it creates an entirely different human being. But I'm an optimist by nature, and I know classical music will continue to exist because I keep seeing people of all ages come to concerts. We're exposing my grandchild to classical music and he loves it. It's up to parents to take their children to concerts, because classical music has to be learned to be appreciated."

Laufer is passionately committed to his "New Generation" concerts, and hopeful that not only children but also adults are being turned on to the beauties -- and the fun -- of chamber music.

"After all," Laufer says, "we're all children, bottom line."

The "New Generation Concert: For the Young and Young at Heart" takes place Sun., Dec 10, at 3 p.m. at the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum, 1440 Spring St. For tickets and more information, call 404-870-7684.

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