By Nicole Lewis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 15, 1999; Page C05
"Music gave me hope--it was a beam of light," says Haza of the difficult years following his father's death. "With music I saw life could be beautiful." For the past 15 years he has been passing on the power of music to students in the American Youth Philharmonic, which he conducts.
Although his students do not necessarily cling to music as an emotional escape as Haza once did, the conductor believes that music has an important role in the development of young people. "We live in a very advanced technological era with so much concrete all around us," says Haza. "However, that doesn't go hand in hand with matters of the soul. Music provides food for the soul."
Haza selects pieces for his students that are taxing both musically and emotionally. "Sometimes I have to put in a tremendous amount of energy to extract music from them," he says with a wry smile.
In addition to stressing the importance of passion and discipline, Haza hopes he brings a measure of fun to the young musicians. He would like the students to see him as the somewhat wacky Robin Williams character in the movie "Dead Poets Society."
At a recent rehearsal of the Philharmonic at Langley High School in McLean, Haza is forever on the move on the podium, standing on tiptoes to emphasize a crescendo, crouching low to bring the sound down, then waving his arms with gusto. His endless supply of stories (some funny, some not) and his effusive personality are part of what appeals to the young musicians who auditioned to spend 2 1/2 hours with him most Monday nights of the year. In return, the students' attention is what Haza craves, and their devotion to music. "It is the most rewarding artistic experience that one could have," says Haza, a longtime first violinist with the National Symphony Orchestra and a guest conductor with the London Symphony Orchestra.
Haza, who keeps busy guest-conducting when he's not playing with the NSO, says he never intended to become an integral part of classical music education in Washington. But 15 years ago he agreed to conduct one performance of the American Youth Philharmonic, and he was hooked. Now he's the music director of that orchestra as well as of the Virginia Youth Symphony Association, which programs and oversees three other orchestras for young people.
Haza jumped into his leadership role. "Everything I do in my life, I try to somehow link it to the strengthening of my orchestra," he says. Haza has persuaded many NSO colleagues to perform with the orchestra (this Saturday's concert features flutist Toshiko Kohno) and serve as private instructors for the students. Like all other artistic administrators, he uses his connections to fund-raise and to publicize his group.
Now in his forties and childless, Haza calls the orchestra "my baby." Each year he passes on his passion for music to 100 students; this will be his legacy. "I'm just in love with music," says Haza.
Under Haza's tenure, the American Youth Philharmonic has grown from 36 students to more than 100. Last year, more than 700 young people, ranging from age 14 to 21, from the Washington area auditioned for a spot. His days and nights are packed with phone calls, practice, lessons, rehearsals and performances. Haza also devotes time to working with human rights organizations and has demonstrated against Fidel Castro and his regime in Cuba.
Thirty-two years after immigrating to the United States, Haza says he still gets a lump in his throat when he hears "The Star-Spangled Banner." Yet he would also like to return to Cuba someday. He works with music from both countries, using it as his grounding force, something he can take with him wherever he goes.
The American Youth Philharmonic will perform Sunday at 3 p.m. at Fairfax High School, 3500 Old Lee Hwy., Fairfax. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors. 703-642-8051.
Eleven local artists will open their studios to the public on Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m. with food, art activities and a jazz band. The event takes place at Bethesda Artspace, 6831 Wisconsin Ave. . . . Wesleyan art history professor John Paoletti will offer a half-day seminar on Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper" on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. as part of the Smithsonian Associates programs. Tickets are $40. For information call 202-357-3030.
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