Getting in the mood
Vladimir Feltsman has no idea how he will be feeling six months or a year from now, nor what world events or personal preoccupation he will be responding to. But Feltsman, one of the most notable pianists of his time, knows to a good extent what music he will be performing in a year’s time, and thus what kind of emotional expression will be expected of him.For a classical musician of the caliber of Feltsman, artistic spontaneity is not an option. Feltsman’s schedule for the rest of 2005 is basically set: There are performances of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in Seattle; conducting engagements, featuring the music of Feltsman’s native Russia, with Michael Tilson Thomas’ New World Symphony in Miami; and performances of Beethoven’s “Emperor” concerto in Japan. There are two programs, a concert of chamber music and a recital of works by Haydn, Beethoven and Mussorgsky, scheduled for the Aspen Music Festival this summer. His schedules for 2006 and 2007 are largely filled in to the same extent.
The program for Feltsman’s recital at Harris Hall (Saturday, Feb. 19, as part of the Music Festival’s Winter Music Artist Recital series) is all- Beethoven, and includes two of the composer’s most significant piano sonatas. The minor-key “Pathétique” is, as the name suggests, full of melancholy, reflecting Beethoven’s worsening sense of hearing. “It’s powerful, heartbreaking to play,” said Feltsman. The “Appassionata” is tempestuous and chaotic. So what if Feltsman arrives at Harris Hall feeling chipper and calm? (Not likely; Feltsman’s personality tends toward prickliness and impatience.) He’ll shrug it off, reach down into his technical skill and appreciation of the piece, and find the mood to match the music.”It has nothing to do with spontaneity. It has to do with being a professional,” said Feltsman from his upstate New York home. “If you need just three or four weeks to be inspired for a certain piece, that won’t work. It comes, the inspiration, from inside of you, and from nowhere else.”For the resolute Feltsman, getting in the mood is not an issue. Far more difficult are the technical demands of maintaining an expansive repertoire, and a schedule that can have him performing recitals of Haydn and Chopin one week, Mussorgsky the next, and Beethoven the following.”It’s a problem when you play more than two or three recitals – it overloads the head with music,” said the 52-year-old Feltsman. “It’s not easy to play three different recital programs in a short amount of time.”
The intensity of the performance schedule might be the only thing Feltsman misses of the Soviet Union. A native of Moscow who made his debut with the Moscow Philharmonic at the age of 11 and studied both piano and conducting in Soviet-run schools, Feltsman said there was, in one sense, a greater freedom before he emigrated to the United States in 1987.”The repertoire of music I play here is so much more intense, much more variety of music than it was in Russia,” said Feltsman, whose original request for an exit visa, in 1979, led to a ban on his performing in public. Feltsman added that, despite the restrictions on playing certain composers, like Messiaen, and on music that was too modern, he never felt particularly limited in his choice of material.If there is a place that has welcomed the musician with completely open arms, it is Aspen. Soon after Feltsman came to the States, the late Robert Harth took over as president of the Aspen Music Festival. Harth immediately gave Feltsman a home here. In August 1993, Feltsman played Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” in the first concert at the then new Harris Hall; the following summer, he played Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier” as the season-opening concert at Harris Hall. The day after Harth’s death last year, Feltsman happened to be the substitute performer at Carnegie Hall, which Harth then served as president. In one of his rare moments of artistic spontaneity, the pianist played Chopin’s wistful Waltz in C-sharp minor in the memory of “a dear friend.””It’s wonderful,” said Feltsman of his relationship with Aspen, “and I’m grateful to Robert, who brought me in for the first time. It works well and it’s a privilege to be at this festival the way I am. Being in Aspen, that’s one of the concerts I’m actually looking forward to.”
Feltsman actually has plenty to look forward to. After this week’s recital, Feltsman returns to Aspen for two appearances this summer. On June 23, he will play an evening of Brahms chamber music at Harris Hall. He will perform the Clarinet Sonata in F minor with Joaquin Valdepeñas – “one of the miracle players of clarinet,” said Feltsman – and a selection of songs with mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer, a partner he has wanted to team with in Aspen for several years.Feltsman will return Aug. 18 to perform a recital, including Haydn’s Piano Sonata in E-flat major, Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” and a return of Beethoven’s “Pathétique” sonata. In recent years, Feltsman has made an annual tradition of appearing in the last days of the summer season, and performing some of the great works of piano literature. Last year’s program included Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time”; in 2003, he played Bach’s “Goldberg Variations; in 2002, it was Bach’s Overture in the French Manner and Chopin Ballades. The concerts, billed as special events, have drawn such crowds that this year’s installment moves to the bigger Benedict Music Tent.”It became a fixture,” said Feltsman of the annual concert, “and I’m glad to be that fixture.” Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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