Thursday, November 09, 2000

Violinist takes on extra string work

CSO musician Paul Patterson branches out with jazz improv and bluegrass banjo

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It all started when he saw a 9-year-old banjo player on TV's most famous talent show, Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour.

        Paul Patterson was 12. He had been taking piano and violin lessons. But when he heard the banjo, he thought he had never heard anything so beautiful.

        “I said, I'm going to get a banjo,” he recalls. Then, it all began to snowball: he had to try the mandolin, guitar, bouzouki, electric violin.

[photo] Paul Patterson
(Gary Landers photo)
        Today, when Mr. Patterson, 43, is not playing Brahms symphonies in the second violin section of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, you might find him playing the electric violin in a jazz club, the viola in a chamber music group — or strumming bluegrass banjo with the Pops.

        Mr. Patterson and CSO violist Paul Frankenfeld will perform Arthur Benjamin's Romantic Fantasy for Violin and Viola, in a Music Hall concert spotlighting CSO musicians this weekend.

        “I don't think there's anybody else in the CSO who does this extra string stuff,” Mr. Patterson says. “The things that I'm most interested in are jazz improvisations and composing on the guitar. I do some recording, and try to compose music that's my own.”

        His discography is diverse: everything from “Dueling Banjos” with the Cincinnati Pops to Secret Door, an album with the alternative jazz group Fabien, of which he is a member.

        His eclectic musical taste also applies to classical music. Take, for instance, Arthur Benjamin (1893-1960), whose music he and Mr. Frankenfeld will perform.

        Arthur who?

    What: The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Jesus Lopez-Cobos, conductor; Paul Patterson, violin; Paul Frankenfeld, viola; Kyril Magg, flute; Mauricio Aguiar, violin; Lon Bussell, oboe; Boris Astafiev, bass.
    When: 11 a.m. Friday; 8 p.m. Saturday.
    Where: Music Hall.
    Tickets: $12-$49; $10 students. 381-3300 or
    Classical conversations: CSO bassoonist Martin James, one hour before each performance.
    The program: Jonathan Kramer, Rewind: A Semi-Suite (world premiere); Frank Martin, Ballade for Flute, Piano and Strings; Giovanni Bottesini, Concerto No. 2 in B Minor for Double Bass (movements 2 & 3); Arthur Benjamin, Romantic Fantasy for Violin and Viola (movements 1 & 2); Eugene Goossens, Oboe Concerto, Op. 45; Ravel, Tzigane; Corigliano, Gazebo Dances.

        “He was a native Australian, who at age 18 went to the Royal Academy in London, and became one of the very first film composers. He was right there on the cutting edge, writing music for talkies,” Mr. Patterson says. Besides composing four operas, symphonies and a popular two-piano piece called “Jamaican Rumba,” Mr. Benjamin wrote the original score to the film The Man Who Knew Too Much.

        Mr. Patterson was born and raised in Clifton. It's where he still lives with his wife, Sylvia Mitchell, CSO first violinist, and their daughter. He is a graduate of Walnut Hills High School and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

        “My parents put a high priority on music education,” he says. He and each of his five siblings took piano lessons, then graduated to violin, viola or cello.

        Mr. Patterson's violin teacher, Peter Kamnitzer, violist in the LaSalle Quartet, “would come to our house for four lessons at a time and then stay for dinner. It was very friendly,” he says.

        The young musician benefited from the support of his mother, Ingeborg, now a retired physician, who is “a very fine pianist and can sing quite well.” But it was his father William, a chemical engineer (now deceased), who piqued his curiosity. “He played beautiful polkas and waltzes on the accordion” — something that made his children wince as teen-agers, but they appreciated later.

        Perhaps his biggest influence came when he was 15 and heard some early be-bop jazz violin on a recording by Jean-Luc Ponty, a jazz fusion violinist.

        “Back in the '60s he was a hard-boppin', fine be-bop jazz violin player. I don't think there's any violinist who's come close to him,” he says.

        Mr. Ponty's technique, style and energy inspired Mr. Patterson to try his hand at improvising on the violin.

        “I beat my head against the wall for about three years. Then I started to push through some of those walls,” he says. “I'm still pushing through them.”

        He does not find it hard to switch from classical to jazz, or vice-versa. To prepare for a CSO performance “you have to concentrate on projection, on filling Music Hall,” he says. “That is not necessarily what you do when you play jazz. Jazz is not so intense.”

        Mr. Patterson joined the CSO in 1985. One of his favorite memories is an evening that started classically — and ended at the Promontory, a jazz club in Mount Adams.

        “The last time (violinist) Nigel Kennedy came, he sat in with the band (Fabien) Saturday night. He played until the wee hours of the morning. I stayed until 3 a.m., and he was still there. He's an animal, a fabulous guy,” he says.

        “The way he played that Elgar (Violin Concerto), I was stupefied. I didn't know somebody could put out for that long, that much.”

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