MUSICAL ALTERNATIVE: Can't tell a Cowboy from a Steeler? A fourth down from do-it-again? A beer bikini team from a cheesy cheerleader?

Me either. But there's an alternative to the Super Bowl on Sunday. The Arizona Friends of Chamber Music is sponsoring a concert that does more than give the football-impaired an excuse to get out of the house. It's also been crafted to help those ignorant of classical music get a small taste of its quiet pleasures.

"Piano and Friends," in its inaugural series this year, features young, relatively unknown musicians who play the kind of music that gets neglected in a scene that favors the big symphony.

Sunday's concert, at the Leo Rich Theater, will have Bernadene Blaha, a young Canadian pianist, and Peter Rejto, a cellist formerly at the UA and now at Oberlin, playing a variety of duets and solos by Bach, Shostakovitch, Chopin and Brahms.

"This is a type of concert that's tremendously neglected all over the country," says Jean-Paul Bierny, a Tucson physician who is president of Arizona Friends of Chamber Music. "We're trying to change that."

For years the Friends have hosted evening chamber music performances by some of the most famous groups in classical music. For the new, lower-key series, their strategy is to ferret out talented young musicians who have not yet broken into the big-time scene, or whose playing, perhaps, is not of the flashy style favored in the prestigious competitions. They contacted well-known piano teachers around the country for recommendations. So far, the strategy has paid off, Bierny says.

For the first concert in November, Chinese pianist Tian Ying came billed by legendary piano teacher Russell Sherman as "being not one of those keyboard bangers." He turned out, Bierny says, to be "one of the best pianists we ever heard." Critics and sparse audience alike were spellbound, and the Friends are now working with Tian Ying to make a CD reprisal.

For the upcoming performance, the Friends relied on the word of the cellist Rejto, a former Friends board member, who declared that Blaha is a superb musician. The selections they'll play, a variety of duets and solos, Bierny says, will help to prove his point that "the repertoire of the piano is vast and magnificent."

Besides reviving neglected piano music, Bierny is hoping the concerts will attract those elusive younger people on whom all graying arts groups are now pinning their hopes.

"These concerts--with young musicians, on a Sunday afternoon, with a high-quality wine and cheese tasting afterward--tend to be of more interest...There's eye contact with the musicians. You really feel like you're a part of it. It's electrifying, very exciting."

Maybe even more exciting than all that head-banging going on in that stadium to the North.

Tickets for Sunday's 2 p.m. concert at the TCC Leo Rich Theater, 260 S. Church Ave., are $10, $3 for students with ID. Call 298-5806 for information. TW

--Margaret Regan
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