Members of the Northern Virginia Jewish Community Center toasted the National Symphony String Quartet Saturday at a reception following a special concert at Temple Rodef Shalon in Falls Church.
The reception, which honored concert master Miran Kojian, the two violinists, Virginia Harpan and Richard Parnas, and cellist John Martin, was for patrons of the community center. The patrons, center officials noted, had made special contributions so students and senior citizens could attend the concert at reduced prices.
Judy Bernanke, cultural arts chairman of the center, explained that the concert was part of the centers efforts to further cultural enrichment of the community.
"We're trying to bring these benefits to an area reaching all the way down to Dale City and out to Reston," she said. "We estimate that there are about 40,000 Jewish residents in the Northern Virginia area."
Guests at the reception applauded the performance of the string quartet. "It was just beautiful, just beautiful," said Edith Abramson, a Falls Church patron.
Violist Parnas told guests the quartet had chosen String Quartet No. 2 by American composer Ernest Bloch especially for the concert. "We wanted a piece by a Jewish composer," he said, "and I had always loved that particular quartet, since I had a recording of it when I was a kid."
Parnas entranced guests with his description of the quartet's instruments. All are by Stradivarius, he said, and they belong to the Corcoran Art Gallery, which allows the symphony quartet to keep them for their personal use.
"The Library of Congress lets the Juilliard String Quartet use their Strads, but they aren't allowed to take them home. We get to keep ours," he said proudly.
The viola, Parnas said, once was owned by the legendary Italian violinist Nicolai Paganini, who begged the French composer Hector Berlioz to compose a work for it.
"Berlioz finally did -- the first movement of 'Harold en Italie.' Of course, by the time he finished the piece Paganini had lost interest. I played 'Harold in Italy' on the instrument and I've often wondered if it was the first time the piece was played on the very viola it was written for."
Several guests expressed regret that Ruth Checknoff, a staff member who helped arrange for the concert, was not at the reception.
"Ruth fell and broke her shoulder," explained her husband Carl Checknoff. "Of course, she's so sorry not to be here."
As guests visited with the musicians, arts director Bernanke described some of the expansion plans for the community center. "We're acquiring a former school in Annandale, with four buildings, a tennis court and a swimming pool," said Bernanke, who added that the center now has about 3,000 members.
Bennett Finkelstein, president of the center, said negotiations on the Annandale property seem nearly complete, and the center hopes for an April dedication. "We will have a funding campaign of about $800,000," he said
Adele Greenspon, director of the center, said the organization also hopes to begin a summer camp, classes in Yiddish and Israeli folk dancing and a disco coffee lounge for teen-agers.
"We already offer a Hannukah marathon, a ski trip and a white-water rapids trip for teen-agers," she said. "We also hope to have a music program with young people -- a youth orchestra."