The Dogged Dudley Moore Rolls Out a Class Act with a Carnegie Hall Debut

UPDATED 06/06/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 06/06/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT

When Dudley Moore sat down at the piano, they laughed. In the 1962 satirical revue Beyond the Fringe, he fractured Broadway audiences by performing intricate Beethovenesque variations on the Colonel Bogey March theme, then desperately trying to arrive at a finale. In the 1979 film "10," between bouts with Bo Derek, he played breezy pop tunes. Two years ago, as the besotted Arthur, he spiked a stuffy party with a flashy rendition of Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town. But when Moore, 48, steps up to the Steinway at Carnegie Hall on June 6, the stage won't be set for smirks. Joined by two leading classical soloists—violinist Robert Mann and cellist Nathaniel Rosen—and backed by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Moore will perform Beethoven's Triple Concerto in C (opus 56)—straight.

Even though he has been an accomplished violinist and pianist since childhood and played jazz and slapstick-classical stuff in public for years, Moore kept his serious side closeted. I "I was terrified," he confesses, in his unpretentious beachfront house in Marina Del Rey, near Los Angeles. "I had the same anxiety attacks when I was a kid at the prospect of exams."

When Moore finally went public, he did so close to home: In 1981 he performed Rhapsody in Blue with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. After a more serious concert—a Weber trio—for the Los Angeles Chamber Society, a local critic gave him a "6" (on a "10" scale, naturally). The rating infuriated Moore, but it obviously didn't stop him.

Moore took a giant step in 1982 when he joined Mann at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art for a concert of Bach, Mozart, Bartók and Delius. A New York Times critic wrote that "Mr. Moore neither advanced the cause of music nor caused himself one moment of disgrace. All in all, he fought the concert stage to a draw."

Moore's concert "tour" (besides Carnegie Hall, he's performing June 3 in St. Paul and on June 9 in a benefit for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra) follows four decades of hard work and practice. Growing up in Dagenham, a London suburb, Moore says his teachers' obsessions with perfection destroyed his confidence: "I developed a terror of playing a wrong note." He titled his first musical composition Anxiety. At 16, Moore discovered jazz. After graduation from Oxford (he went on a music scholarship), he toured as a jazz pianist.

Even while honing his skills as an improvisational comedian, Moore never really gave up playing classical music. He traces this perseverance to a chance introduction to Mann, a founder of the Juilliard String Quartet, in 1959. When Moore played for him, Mann was astonished. "He was the most amazing sight reader I had ever come across," Mann recalls. "I could stick any piece of music in front of him and he would read it note-perfect."

For years Mann tried to get Moore to perform in public. Although it took two decades, Moore is now dead serious. For the past month he's been working four to five hours a day on the Triple Concerto on the Yamaha grand in his living room. Right now he has no movie plans but is weighing offers to be guest artist with several symphonies. Soon he'll open a restaurant in L.A. tentatively called 72 Market Street. Specialty of the house? "I intend to play piano at the bar."

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