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Heller steps down as LACA artistic director

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Rosalie Heller intends to leave after next year’s program has been arranged

By Roger Snodgrass

She doesn’t need any more laurels. She has been gathering wreathes full of honors and ovations for nearly 50 years.

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As a performer, piano teacher, founder and mainstay of multiple Los Alamos cultural institutions, Rosalie Heller is giving up one of her most influential roles.

“She’s been the heart and soul of the concert association for a long time,” said Ann McLaughlin, who was elected to succeed Heller as artistic director of the Los Alamos Concert Association.  “She’s just an incredibly dedicated and hardworking person. I’ve been stunned at how many different balls she juggles and manages to keep in the air.”

“She has great organizational skills, that’s not something that a lot of musicians have, quite frankly,” said violinist Kay Newnam, one of Heller’s partners in the Los Alamos Coffeehouse series that began in 1979 and came to an end last year.

“She has good people skills and a deeply caring nature,” Newnam said. “Those two things together helped make her successful as an artistic director, the ability to follow through so things don’t fall through the cracks and the ability to deal with a variety of personalities and artists.”

One of the community’s earliest and most respected artistic organizations, the concert association

began its first season in 1946. Many people helped build its reputation, but Heller has left her signature on the current era.

A list of leading presenters of chamber music and recitals in North America by the prominent talent agency Seldy Cramer in 2004 includes Heller and the Los Alamos Concert Association among the top 22 venues, along with the Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Museum Concerts.

Among the association’s most memorable performances in Los Alamos have been cellist Yo-Yo Ma and his trio, the Vienna Choir Boys, Canadia Brass, Guarneri String Quartet, last year’s concluding concert with violinist Julia Fischer and the association’s most recent presentation earlier this month, the Stradivari Quartet.

“She’s been associated with the concert association in some form or another for decades,” said the president of the association’s board, Jim Knudson. “It’s a real labor of love for her, combining her musical background and her love of music and being able to present really good music to the community.”

She became artistic director in 1996 carrying on the work of Kay Richardson, whom Heller credits for her deep commitment to classical music and for “getting the concert association going.”

The thought of Heller’s departure after next year’s program has been arranged is met with a stiff upper lip.

“The reason it is going to work is that Rosalie has been so generous with her time in bringing me along,” McLaughlin said. “She’s a wonderful mentor. She has years of experience in negotiating contracts. We shall survive because she has been so generous.”

“It’s taking all 15 of us to do what she did herself,” Katy Korkos said, one of the 15 concert association board member.

So, why has Heller decided to step away?

“It’s very stressful to put together a distinguished series of five concerts year after year,” she said. “It wasn’t so stressful while I was younger, but now there are lots of things I would like to do.”

Married to Los Alamos National Laboratory physicist Leon Heller, with three grown children, she came to a realization last year while on vacation in the Gila Wilderness. Because of a pressing deadline, she had to carry along a laptop computer to finish a brochure in time to be printed and into the hands of the members by the end of the season last year.

Now, she would like to spend more time with her current stable of 16 students.

“I was involved in music when I was four,” she said. “Music has always been my life. Sound has always been among the most important things in my life, along with my family and community.”

She started teaching when she was 16 and has never stopped learning.

“I always knew I was a teacher. I was born to be a teacher,” she said. As a teacher she believes in a “non-competitive” philosophy.

“We don’t make music against each other, especially not children,” she said. She prefers to give her students a hobby they will enjoy all of their lives and help them become a good audience, to know what goes into a performance.

Heller will be remembered for research on behalf of women composers and a series of performances called “Something completely different,” that included a tour in Australia and readings and playlets about nearly forgotten women like the American composer Amy Beach.

Of her work of building a prestigious musical program in a small, out-of-the way town in the provinces, she said this week, “I loved every minute of it.”