Sisters Mihaela Oancea-Frusina (left) and Rodica Weber (right) perform their Carnegie Hall repertoire this Sunday for the Fredericksburg Music Club concert. The sisters defected from their native Romania as teenagers in order to pursue their music career. Ilonka Rus (center) will accompany them on piano.
From Communism to Carnegie Hall
by Phil Houseal
The politics and culture that drove two young artists to violin virtuosity ended up driving them from their native land.
Rodica Weber and her sister Mihaela Oancea-Frusina perform Brahms at this Sunday's concert of the Fredericksburg Music Club. But you can't separate the music from the milieu.
The girls grew up in a Romania controlled by Nicolae Ceausescu, the increasingly erratic and unstable despot who was finally deposed in the revolution of 1989. Weber did not wait that long; in 1987 the 20-year-old and her younger sister had the chance to defect and they seized it.
Performing internationally since they were barely teenagers, the pair was never allowed to travel together, as government officials knew that would make it easier to defect. When the girls both received a scholarship to attend a music festival in Aspen, they decided to make their move. According to Weber, their motivation was simply to seek better opportunities for advancing their careers.
"We were lucky to get this scholarship," she recounted. "We just wanted to get out of Romania, and go somewhere in the west."
It was not easy.
"Under communism so we did not have any freedom," Weber said, recounting how their phone calls were listened to, their mail opened. "Once we defected, my mother lost her job, and my father was interviewed and threatened."
Still, they recognize how those cultural differences of growing up in a communist state made them the performers they have become.
"It is different there," said Weber, who had the opportunity to go to special music schools. "Education is free in Romania. Because of that, you have to start early and the competition is very intense. In first grade you would study music and take private lessons two or three times each week. There was nothing like this in the United States."
It is an intensity not many Americans would tolerate. Weber tells of being beaten by her teacher with a violin bow when she didn't practice.
"Rarely do you find a four-year-old able to practice on her own," said Weber, who stayed in her room every day for one hour of practice before her parents allowed her out. "But today I am grateful to parents that made me practice."
The sisters retain fond memories of their Romanian upbringing.
"Every time we hear a Romanian composer, we definitely have an affinity for Eastern European music. That comes from just growing up with that kind of music in our ears for 20 years."
Weber notes that in Romania it is hard to avoid exposure to music, as folk and gypsy music is played everywhere, in the streets, in restaurants, at weddings, and in the countryside.
This weekend's audience can audience can expect to hear the repertoire they recently performed at Carnegie Hall. It includes pieces by Brahms, Moszkowki, and Franck. Ilonka Rus will accompany them on piano.
"We decided to find a repertoire for two violins, to show how being sisters makes it easy to play together," Weber explained. "We can breathe together; we hold the same feeling to music since we grew up together; we spent 20 years in the same room, practicing and studying together. It is not easy to find a partner to play that well together.
"We are not just blood sisters, but sisters in performing and feeling the music."