SAN RAMON -- In a shining example of endurance and irrepressible devotion to the art of music, pianist Gregory Taboloff will join the California Symphony at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center for the Arts on Sunday.
The Skyline High School graduate hailed from Southern California, took Oakland and most of the West Coast by storm during his teenage competition-winning years, established himself as a performer and composer, and now lives with his wife of three years, Ann Marie, in San Ramon.
He has been waiting 26 years for the opportunity to sit under the baton of guest conductor Robert Moody, and perform the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2.
"Patience works out," he joked. He called the opportunity of his California Symphony debut "a dream come true."
Two years ago, a phone call accelerated what had been a deliberate courtship by the symphony's board of directors.
"They've gone to my concerts for many years, and finally the date was set up," he said.
Six months ago, the Rachmaninoff concerto was agreed upon, and since then he has been practicing four hours a day.
"There are repeated, five- and six-note chords, which means you have to split your fingers and play right on the cracks," he said, identifying one of the greatest challenges. "I usually try to stay away from pieces like that, but I love the long cantabile lines and getting the rubato going."
Cantabile, the melodic lines Taboloff will extend so that they
"I've been able to watch and learn the way he conducts and leads," he said. "He calls out various sections of the orchestra and gets them to emote. He brings in every nuance and keeps the ensemble so tight. I don't think we'll have difficulty."
It helps that Taboloff has a natural inclination for his instrument.
"For me, the piano is something I could not live without," he said. "I've tried other instruments -- the viola and clarinet -- and they opened up doors for me. At Skyline, I got to do a lot of music, which wouldn't have happened with just the piano."
One experience, playing viola in the musical "South Pacific," ranks low on his musical satisfaction scale, but high on the experience of a brush with a celebrity classmate.
"I didn't get to know Tom Hanks, but our paths crossed in the musical," he said. "I remember the guffaws when he came out dressed as a transvestite in one scene. At our high school reunions, everybody talks about him, but he's never come up for a concert. Maybe he will someday."
He said having a contemplative approach to life is a good temperament for a pianist.
"Stepping back, looking at the work, tackling one small section at a time: you have to be brave, intrepid," he said.
That doesn't mean he has always been hopeful.
"My dad was very pessimistic about my ever making a living and I had a pianist friend who was so frustrated he committed suicide ... so I was discouraged at times," he said. "But it also made me work all the harder to be the exception."
To relieve the tension in his fingers and forearms, Taboloff visits an acupressure massage therapist. To release the stress from performing, he engages in long distance bicycling and plays tennis with his wife.
"That's where we met -- on the tennis courts in Lafayette, and it was on Valentine's Day," he said.
Beyond the technical demands of his profession, Taboloff said that maturity comes from delving deep into the soul of a composer and the spirit of a composition. With that in mind, he is spending time with the score, reading biographies about Rachmaninoff and listening to recordings of the concerto.
"The Van Cliburn recording is gorgeous," he said. "I like the tempos."
WHAT: "Moody Conducts Rachmaninoff" featuring the California Symphony, conductor Robert Moody and pianist Gregory Taboloff
WHERE: Lesher Center for the Arts, Hofmann Theatre, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek
WHEN: 4 p.m. Sunday
TICKETS: $65 for adults, $20 for students; call the Lesher Center ticket office at 925-943-7469 or go to http://purchase.tickets.com/buy/TicketPurchase?orgid=23939&event_val=CAL1.