Ménage à quatre

By Lawrence Cosentino

Symphony hosts star soloists

A shaggy, brooding cellist from Israel and a brainy, balding violinist from Russia bond in a rental car in Maui. They become musical soul partners and have a timetraveling ménage à quatre with two Italian beauties from the 17th century.

It’s a Hollywood story pitch, only real. The friendship, the music and the four-way action will be on vivid display at the Lansing Symphony Saturday.

Cellist Amit Peled and violinist Ilya Kaler have already done solo turns in Lansing under maestro Tim Muffitt. They return Saturday for a joint command performance to delve into a rarely performed gem, Brahms’ Double Concerto.

The concerto is no big-fiddle-little-fiddle chase, but a tight, late-period-Brahms clinch, “the closest a concerto could be to a symphony,” Peled said.

Where do the Italian beauties come in? Peled’s cello was crafted in 1689 by Andrea Guarneri, a contemporary of Stradivari. Guarneri’s grandson, Guarneri del Jesu, made Kaler’s violin.

The instruments, worth millions, are on loan to Kaler and Peled. Or rather they, being mere flesh and bone, are on loan to the instruments.

“It’s very rare to hear them together,” Peled said.

The Guarneri violin and cello stepped out together with their human escorts for the first time in Baton Rouge in October 2009, when Peled and Kaler played the Brahms double concerto, with Muffitt conducting.

Muffitt called the experience “absolutely extraordinary.”

It’s tricky to balance the violin with the darker-sounding cello, especially with an orchestra pumping away behind both, but Muffitt isn’t worried.

“Amit plays with a huge sound to begin with,” Muffitt said. “Put it on that magnificent instrument and it will fill every nook and cranny of the Wharton Center.”

Peled said venerable axes like his and Kaler’s have a “body and soul” new hardware can’t match.

“It sounds spiritual, but it’s not,” he averred. “You hear it in the physics of the sound. We can look for colors a modern instrument can’t produce.”

Peled met Kaler at a chamber music festival six years ago in Maui. They lived in the same complex and tooled around in the same rental car, chatting about music, their families and the usual career problems.

“You have to do pieces you don’t like, play dates you don’t want to play,” Peled said.

Peled suggested he and Kaler form a trio with Israeli Alon Goldstein on piano.

“I told him, ‘Let’s really do it, without the bullshit,’” Peled said. “Let’s just play because we like to play together.”

For busy teacher-performer-dads Peled and Kaler, the trio stands in for backyard beer and barbecue. “The only time I can see my friends these days is to be with them on stage,” Peled said.

Muffitt said the two soloists play “as one entity.” Peled had a blunter compliment for the maestro. “There’s no bullshit with him,” Peled said. “Less talking, more playing. We understand each other by just doing it, looking at each other and feeling the music.”

Lansing Symphony

8 p.m. Saturday Jan. 23 Wharton Center Cobb Great Hall $12-45 (800) Wharton www.whartoncenter.com