Arts & Entertainment

Pianist plans night filled with music, laughter

Ask renowned classical pianist Rudolf Budginas the correct way to pronounce his last name and he'll keep it simple.

"Just remember two favorite beers," he said in a recent telephone interview. "Bud and Guinness. Very easy. Now you have no excuse to forget how to pronounce Budginas."

To say there's a bit of Victor Borge-type humor in this Lithuanian-born pianist would be an understatement.

Budginas, 40, brings his engaging, entertaining and classical music savvy to the Tri-Cities on Sept. 23 for a performance in the auditorium at Richland High School.

The concert is the first in the Community Concerts of Tri-Cities 2009-10 season.

Budginas is often likened to Borge, a popular Danish pianist and conductor famous for mixing humor with his musicianship.

That humor and talent combination is one of the reasons the Tri-City Community Concerts organization wanted him for its season.

"We chose him not only because he is a virtuoso pianist," said Loren Schmid with Community Concerts. "But also because he ineracts well with the audience and is funny."

Budginas' talent also came to fruition at a young age. As a child prodigy -- his piano debut at age 9 was with the Lithuanian National Symphony -- his musical training took up much of his childhood. There wasn't a lot of toys to play with or time outside with friends, he said.

"It's not that I didn't have a choice to be a normal kid because I did," Budginas said. "But I went to a special school for gifted children and it was there I was inspired by my peers to excel. It was truly a fun time for me. I have always loved people, interacting with them and performing for them."

Though he does not compose, Budginas has an appreciation for all types of music, which he likes to blend into his classical pieces from time to time.

"It's fun to boogie a little with classical music. Like adding some Latin sounds to Carmen or blues to Chopin," he said. Keeps people from falling asleep, he added with a chuckle.

Budginas has performed in concert halls around the U.S. and the world -- Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, Budapest, Salzburg, Copenhagen and Tokyo -- and now the Tri-Cities.

He studied at the Moscow Conservatory of Music in Russia and has won several competitions in the past two decades, including the International Franz Liszt Piano Competition, Vitols Int'national Piano Competition and the Yamaha of Europe Award. He obtained his doctorate in music from the University of Southern California and has remained a resident of California ever since.

When he isn't touring, he's a professor of music at Cuesta College near San Luis Obispo, Calif. He also is the conductor of the chamber orchestra at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif.

Budginas concert tours are something he hopes will entice young people to attend classical music performances.

"After performing strictly classical recitals for so long, I realized I wanted to give audiences something more," he said. "A concert is a very formal thing and I wanted to make it a bit more relaxing for people. I like to keep my audiences guessing what will come next and I find that humor mixed with music relaxes the atmosphere a bit."

◗ Dori O'Neal: 582-1514;