Classical concert bolsters scholars

Published February 2, 2007

If the only time you hear classical music is when your 5-year-old watches Little Einsteins, you may want to consider this weekend's Franz Mantini University of South Florida Scholarship Concert.

If you think the disco version of Beethoven's Fifth is great art, perhaps you should make your way to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center to help Mantini raise funds for USF engineering and piano students.

This will be the 11th annual scholarship concert staged by Mantini, a prominent pianist and USF alumnus, and classical music fans know Mantini produces beautiful performances. It's the novice listeners, however, who have struck a chord with Mantini.

"One of my favorite things about this concert is, because it's for scholarships, these aren't necessarily classical music audiences," Mantini explained. "I've had people come up and say I never liked classical music, but I really loved this show.

"People understand more about music than they give themselves credit for."

Mantini says the key is understanding the phrasing and character of the music, whether it's the organization and precision of Mozart or the long expansive lines of Brahms.

You know those are his words, not mine.

Mantini, however, said his attention to expression and emotion comes directly from being tutored by the late Jacques Abram. He pursued engineering as a USF student and eventually earned bachelor's and master's degrees. However, he also auditioned for Abram, the university's artist-in-residence, and Abram agreed to take him into his studio.

Although Mantini had played the piano since age 6, Abram helped him take his performances to the next level. With Abram, it wasn't about technical expertise, it was about the emotion of the music.

"He taught me that to express music to someone else, you had to understand what each piece meant before you could figure out how to get it across to the audience.

"A good performance is the expression of the music, in my opinion."

Abram's influence eventually led Mantini to create two scholarship funds. He started with the Mantini Scholarship for engineering students, and then added the Abram Scholarship for piano students as a tribute to his teacher, who died in 1998.

This year, Mantini teams with violinist and Florida Orchestra concertmaster Jeffrey Multer for a show that will feature works from Mozart, Brahms, Liszt and Fritz Kreisler.

In 10 years, the scholarship concerts have generated $34,500 for 32 students. With the help of primary sponsor Batson-Cook Construction, the scholarship is moving toward a full endowment.

"For some of these students, I know this scholarship was just a nice pat on the back for working hard," Mantini said. "For others, I know that I lifted a serious financial burden. It makes me feel awesome either way."

While he loves helping students, he admits the effort is a little self-serving because he relishes the chance to express his musical ability in a first-class venue.

Of course, when you can convert your passion into something that benefits others, everyone is a winner.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper can be reached at hooper@sptimes.com or 813 226-3406.