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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Feltsman returns to top after detour

Travis Rivers Correspondent

Vladimir Feltsman appeared to be on the road to the kind of phenomenal career almost guaranteed brilliant young Russian pianists. But in 1979, that road took a startling turn into a muddy, eight-year detour.

Feltsman’s story has a happy ending worthy of a fairy tale. The Moscow-born pianist now lives in upstate New York and has long since resumed an international career. He will play Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 on Friday with the Spokane Symphony at the Opera House.

The concert will also include two orchestral works based on fairy-tale subjects: Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Sadko” and Zemlinsky’s “The Mermaid.” Eckart Preu, the orchestra’s music director, will conduct.

Feltsman began piano lessons with his mother when he was 6.

“Music was all over me when I was growing up,” he says. “My mother was a pianist, and my father, who is still living, is a composer of light music – popular songs and for movies. We had two pianos on either end of our apartment, and we tried not to bother each other.”

When he was 11, Feltsman made his orchestral debut as soloist with the Moscow Philharmonic. He had already entered the Moscow Central Music School and went on to complete his studies with Yakov Flier at the Moscow Conservatory.

While still a teenager, Feltsman had won international piano competitions in Prague and in Paris. He later completed conducting studies at the Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) Conservatory with Ilya Musin in same the class with Valery Gergyev and Yuri Temirkanov. Still in his 20s, Feltsman had a flourishing concert career.

Then, in 1979, dissatisfied with the rigidity of the Soviet regime, he applied for a visa that would have permitted him and his wife to emigrate to Israel. Permission was denied. And Feltsman found himself booked into concerts in only the most remote villages and towns in the Soviet Union.

His case came to the attention of Arthur A. Hartman, the U. S. ambassador, who arranged for Feltsman to give private recitals at the ambassador’s residence in Moscow. A 1984 performance there was secretly recorded and issued commercially in the United States by CBS.

Feltsman had became a major embarrassment to the Soviets, and in the spring of 1987 he was allowed to perform publicly in Moscow again. Later that year he was allowed to emigrate to the U.S. After a recital at the White House and a spectacular Carnegie Hall debut, Feltsman’s international career was back on track.

Twenty years later, he remains busy as one of the world’s leading pianists, as a highly regarded conductor and as successful and innovative teacher at the State University of New York at New Paltz and at the Mannes School in New York City.

Feltsman has appeared as soloist with the Spokane Symphony twice, once playing Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3 with Bruce Ferden conducting in 1991, and in 1998 as a last-minute replacement for Horacio Gutierrez performing Beethoven’s Concerto No. 4 with Fabio Mechetti.

For his return to the Opera House on Friday, Feltsman will play what is surely the most famous – and the most frequently performed – piano concerto ever written, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

Like most concert pianists, Feltsman learned Tchaikovsky’s First as a student and has played it often.

“It’s a marvelous piece,” he says, “very well loved, and justly so, with its beautiful tunes, very emotional moods and a lot of virtuosity. I have played this piece over 100 times – how many more than 100, I don’t know.”

Shortly after he moved to the U.S., Feltsman recorded Tchaikovsky’s First and Third Concertos for the Sony label with Mstislav Rostropovich conducting the National Symphony. He has since made more than 20 other CDs of concertos and solo works, a repertoire that extends from Bach through the romantics to unusual modern works by composers such as the Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov.

“Lately I have taken to producing my own recordings,” Feltsman says, “I got fed up by the record business and how it works – I didn’t want anyone telling me what to play, what not to play. Quite a bit of my recent recording is available on Musical Heritage Society, some on Urtext Classical, a small Mexican label, and now some on Camerata Tokyo from Japan.”

In addition to his work as a concert pianist and conductor, Feltsman is proud of his work as a teacher.

“My ideal is to make my students self-sufficient so they can teach themselves to practice and, most of all, to listen,” he says. “If you’re lucky enough to find some good students who can take something from you, then keep that going by giving it to someone else – that makes it all worthwhile.”

Feltsman will appear at the symphony’s Classical Chats pre-performance conversation today at 12:15 p.m. in the Council Chambers at Spokane City Hall, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. The 30-minute program, hosted by public radio’s Verne Windham, will be televised on City Channel 5.

Conductor Preu will discuss the music on Friday’s concert as a part of the Gladys Brooks Pre-Concert Talks series in the Opera House auditorium at 7 p.m.

In addition to its place in the symphony’s regular classics series, Friday’s performance is the second in the Symphony’s YES! series. That provides young people ages 8 to 14 and their parents with an opportunity to hear the concert and visit backstage with the conductor and musicians, as well as hear a special pre-concert talk by associate conductor Morihiko Nakahara.

Parents interested in Symphony YES! can get further information by calling the symphony ticket office at 624-1200.