If classical music does not begin to overcome its tangle of mounting deficits, falling audiences and growing disconnection from the general public, violinist Pinchas Zukerman believes the consequences could go far beyond a few bankrupt orchestras and out-of-work violinists.

"If it's not synonymous with our existence, or at least 5 to 6 percent of the population, then society will become a jungle," he said. "And we don't want to see riots as we saw them in the '60s, because that was chaos."

Zukerman, one of the best-known classical musicians in the world, returns to the Colorado Symphony this weekend to conduct and join his wife, cellist Amanda Forsyth, as a soloist in double concertos by Antonio Vivaldi and Johannes Brahms.

The acclaimed violinist and conductor has never been busier, performing 22 concerts in January alone, but he realizes that his success stands in contrast to a field that is in many ways in crisis.

"Our expenses have gone through the roof," he said. "Our deficits are growing per annum, and ticket prices have gone through the roof. It has changed so fast over the last, oh, 15 years."

Recitals that used to be guaranteed sell-outs now generate only half-full halls. Potential ticket buyers are financially stressed just trying to earn enough money to cover everyday household expenses.

"You walk down Broadway (in New York City) and Tower Records is gone," Zukerman said. "It's gone. CDs and DVDs are nonexistent. There is no store. That's worrisome."

While he can easily enumerate the enormity of the problems, he freely admits that he doesn't have any ready answers.

"One will say it's education," he said of various experts. "The other one will say it's generational. It's to do with the technology. Now we have the iPod. We have the computer. People don't want to be here, they don't what to be there.

"You know what, everybody is right, but, at the same time, we're really not doing anything cohesive, and it's very hard."

He believes the classical-music world needs to hold a kind of summit with leaders from all facets of society to try to find some kind of an integrated approach to the challenges facing the field.

But he realizes that such a gathering would be nearly impossible to organize, and he knows that solutions of any kind will be anything but easy. But he has not given up hope.

In the 20th century, Zukerman said, such musical giants as conductors Eugene Ormandy and George Szell and violinist Isaac Stern, many of them immigrants, helped build this country's classical establishment.

"It's my responsibility to continue that tradition any way I can," he said.

Born in Tel Aviv in 1948, Zukerman quickly emerged as a musical talent. With the guidance of Stern and cellist Pablo Casals, he came to the United States in 1962 for studies under famed teacher Ivan Galamian at the Juilliard School in New York City.

In 1967, he won first prize in the Leventritt International Competition, propelling him to become one of the most esteemed classical

musicians of his generation, regularly criss-crossing the globe to perform in major concert halls from Vienna to Singapore.

In addition to playing both violin and viola, Zukerman is also a major conductor, who served as music director of the St. Paul (Minn.) Chamber Orchestra in 1980-87 and has held the same position with the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, Ontario, since 1998.

"I think this season - and I don't how it happened - I'm busier than ever," he said. "I think I had my blinders on or something. It seems like I'm playing and conducting nonstop."

During the past couple of decades, Zukerman has put an increasing emphasis on education, from his teaching at the Manhattan School of Music in New York to a range of outreach efforts at the National Arts Centre, including an annual roundtable on music and medicine.

More than just training future performers, the violinist wants to reach youngsters who might ultimately go into some other profession but will be musically aware, cultivated members of society.

"If you can just touch a little bit of the psyche of a young person who wants to play or is playing an instrument, just a little bit - I'm talking literally 20 minutes - you've done what you're supposed to do as a musician and a person on this Earth," he said. "It's that simple."

Just as Zukerman tries to open the eyes of those young people and provoke a "Wow," he wants to do the same thing in the concert hall.

"If I can give that to 1 percent, 4 percent, of an audience of a thousand that come, if 40 people go away and say, 'Geez, I feel great,' you've touched them," he said. "That's good. That's really what it's about in the end."

Kyle MacMillan: 303-954-1675 or kmacmillan@denverpost.com

Pinchas Zukerman, violin; Amanda Forsyth, cello

Classical music Boettcher Concert Hall, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis streets. This husband-and-wife pair of soloists joins the Colorado Symphony for double concertos by Vivaldi and Brahms.

7:30 p.m. today and Saturday. $15-$69.50. 303-623-7876 or coloradosymphony.org.

Concert lauding Israel Philharmonic to air

In December, famed violinist Pinchas Zukerman joined conductor Zubin Mehta, pianist Daniel Barenboim and a host of other classical luminaries in celebrating the 70th anniversary of the acclaimed Israel Philharmonic.

Founded in 1936, the ensemble, originally known as the Palestine Orchestra, offered a haven to Jewish musicians fleeing the Holocaust. Legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini led its debut concert.

One of the main anniversary events, a concert on Dec. 26 in Tel Aviv's Mann Auditorium, was taped and will be broadcast as the opening of the 35th season of the public television series, "Great Perfomances." It will air in Denver at 8 p.m. Wednesday on KRMA-TV Channel 6.

"It's just an incredible feeling for me to have grown up with an orchestra like that in my own country, to be part of a celebration of an orchestra that has now completely changed, as you can imagine," said Zukerman, an Israeli native.

"I remember that orchestra from way back. So, it's nice for me. It's an incredible feeling to be part of history." Kyle MacMillan