Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, April 8, 1999

Happy to be a middleman

By Tim Ryan


Conductor-pianist Vladimir Feltsman answers most questions before they're completed.

Perhaps it's because Feltsman, an internationally recognized pianist, has been performing for more than 30 years and knows most of the questions already.

Until recently, his concert schedule numbered more than 100 performances a year; this year he's cut it in half.

But trying to remember his age takes a while. "'Well, honestly I don't think of it much," Feltsman said during an interview at the Halekulani. "Oh yes, I think 47, yes 47!

"And this is my fifth performance in Honolulu in 10 years."

Feltsman, who performs Sunday and Tuesday with the Honolulu Symphony at the Blaisdell Concert Hall, is a multifaceted musician both at ease in front of the podium as conductor, or behind it as a top solo pianist. Performing solo is far more work since "I'm on stage for two hours," he said. "And conducting is fun, really.

"It's new music you're doing so you expand your repertoire and on a purely physical level it feels great," he said. "Your cardiovascular gets a good work out."

What about having to make that important connection to the orchestra?

"I never try to make then feel like I'm superior to them, because of course, I'm not," said the upstate New York resident. "But, you know this connection happens automatically and immediately. It needs to begin before rehearsal or before you put one finger on the piano. It either clicks or it doesn't and if it doesn't you can kill yourself."

Born in Moscow in 1952, Feltsman made his public debut at the age of 12 as a soloist with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra. He is known particularly as a Bach interpreter, and an unapologetic proponent of Bach played on modern instruments. He's been praised for having "a joyous freedom of interpretation," but he clearly has his own ideas about performance tradition and says Bach is only one part of his repertoire.

"I have done many projects on Bach but it doesn't mean I play only Bach," he said, sounding a bit annoyed. "I make a living playing the piano and I couldn't make a living playing one composer."

With the Honolulu Symphony, he will perform Mozart and Tchaikovsky, a program he and symphony music director Sam Wong spent "maybe 5 minutes" selecting.

Feltsman quickly declares he belongs to that group of musicians who do not interpret music to reflect their own prejudices, emotions or personalities.

"I let the music speak for itself," he said. "Great music like Mozart stays forever, but musicians like a Feltsman come and go. Expressing your personality into it is basically quite irrelevant.

"For the music to be heard it has to be played so it's necessary to have certain middlemen," he said. "That's me."

Feltsman also suggests diplomatically that music critics may be irrelevant, other than their own need to earn a living, to sell newspapers, or provide information for those unable to attend a concert.

"I haven't read reviews for years," he said. "What will it tell me that I don't already know? If I believe the good, then I have to believe the bad.

"Then you can become vulnerable and defective ... who needs it."

He says in San Francisco, where he performs frequently, awful reviews by one of the city's three major critics have had no effect on audience numbers or invitations to play.

"I finally had to realize that this review was so critical that it was fun to read, that this guy really hates my guts. I was touched by it in a strange way."

What will Feltsman do with his one day free in Honolulu?

"I do not need to do anything specifically," he said. "Life is to be enjoyed as it happens."



Bullet  What: Vladimir Feltsman, guest conductor and soloist with the Honolulu Symphony
Bullet When: 4 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Bullet Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
Bullet Cost: $15-$50
Bullet Call: 538-8863
Bullet Program: Mozart's Marriage of Figaro Overture, K. 494; and Piano Concerto No. 24 in c minor, K. 491; and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 in e minor, Op. 64

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