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Baltimore cellist comes to rescue

Just before noon on Thursday, Albany Symphony Orchestra Music Director Claire Fox Hillard no doubt breathed a sigh of great relief.

He had his cellist after all -- Amit Peled, a world-class Israeli cellist and professor at the Peabody Conservatory.

It had been a tense week for Albany orchestra officials. The symphony is wrapping up its 2009-10 subscription season on Saturday with a performance titled "Classical Vienna." After taking concertgoers on a journey around the world musically, the symphony was returning to its roots by performing works by Beethoven, Haydn and Schubert.

Integral to the concert is a performance of Beethoven's Triple Concerto for Piano, Violin, Cello and Orchestra. The symphony was to bring in three world-class soloists -- violinist Moonkyung Lee, pianist Kyung Eun Kim and cellist Kirill Rodin, a professor at the Moscow Conservatory -- for that part of the concert.

But symphony officials were scrambling over the past few days because Rodin had run into a problem with getting a visa that would allow him to enter the United States.

"I think the last thing he told us was, 'I can be there by 9 o'clock on Friday night and be there for one rehearsal on Saturday morning'," Hillard said.

But that would have resulted in Rodin missing today's rehearsal with the symphony, and it would have had to depend on no problems with flight connections. With many northern American/Europe routes already being delayed, rerouted or canceled because of volcanic activity in Iceland, that was anything but a sure bet.

Lynne Sawyer, the symphony's artistic coordinator and a member of the first violin section, said Rodin's visa problem was unusual.

"If all the paperwork's done six months ahead of time, then it's great," she said. "But he didn't realize he had to have a visa. He hasn't been here since before 9/11, and a lot of rules have changed. Actually what I found out through the whole process is that with the Russians in particular and a couple of other countries, they're really having to look at them a little harder than most people when they come here. And I have a feeling that's what a lot of the hold-up was."

The result was there was serious concern that Rodin wouldn't be able to make it to Albany for the performance.

"We said for your sake and for our sake, just don't come. It's too risky," Hillard said. "It was never to the point where he had an actual ticket or a visa."

That led to numerous phone calls and inquiries to music managers around the country -- and quickly to Peled.

Peled is a professor at the Peabody Conservatory of Music of the Johns Hopkins University and plays a rare Andrea Guarneri cello circa 1689. He's gaining a strong reputation and is also intimately familiar with the Triple Concerto.

"It so happens he's free this weekend, and he's going to be playing the exact same piece with the Baltimore Symphony next month," Hillard said. "You couldn't have asked for a better solution.

"I told him how much I appreciated his willingness to do this and to help us and literally to save the day. We've got tickets sold, people showing up, publicity done, and we have to deliver."

Not only does the show here go on, there's an added benefit for the Baltimore orchestra.

"I always like helping the Baltimore Symphony get their people ready for them," Hillard quipped.