JWR Articles: Interview - Till Fellner (Source: S. James Wegg) - April 6, 2008
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Till Fellner

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As globalization permeates the arts, it’s not unusual for performers to cross borders, oceans and continents all in the space of a month. Just on the heels of reviewing Till Fellner’s Bach CD, JWR was in London coincidental to Fellner’s appearance with the Philharmonia Orchestra (cross-references below) and—owing to the tight travel schedules of both—sat down backstage with the pianist following his performance. As concert days are days like no other, Fellner’s affable agreement to the interview was as appreciated as it was unusual.

JWR: Thanks for taking the time today. Let’s go back to the beginning. Was there a particular piece that turned your path towards music?

TF: When I was five or six, my parents took me to a concert in Vienna [Fellner’s home]. On the program was Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto. As soon as it began, I said to myself ‘I know this.’ I’d heard much music already. Now, I’m about to begin recording the complete cycle of Beethoven concerti with Kent Nagano and the Montréal Symphony. Beginning at the end of May (with No.5 “The Emperor”) we’ll take the best moments from the performances and a ‘patch’ session to put the recordings together.

JWR: Making a career in music can be risky and is most demanding. When did you realize that was your destiny?

TF: Winning first prize in the Clara Haskil International Competition [1993] was the turning point. I’d played a lot of music in the various stages [culminating in a recording that includes Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat Major]. Two years earlier I played for Alfred Brendel and he began coaching me right away. Since then I work with him twice a year and I’m also in a trio with his son Adrian [cello] and Lisa Batiashvili [violin]. In honour of his father’s seventy-fifth birthday, I premièred [August 9, 2006] Harrison Birtwistle’s Lied with Adrian. Birtwistle is also completing a cycle of five movements: two for baritone; three for cello [and piano] that I will première. I’m also working on song cycles including Schubert’s Winterreise with Mark Padmore [tenor], so chamber music features a lot in my work.

JWR: How do you manage to “stay in shape” with so many tours and trips?

TF: I love travelling. When I’m on the road, I’m quite disciplined and practise all the time. After performances I do relax but make sure I’m not too crazy [laughs]. Of course, the constantly changing pianos I have to use can be a challenge. Here [Royal Festival Hall], I had the choice of three—each with a different colour. I work very hard with the tuner; I know exactly what I want and can be very precise.

JWR: With so much repertoire that you could play, have you developed a master plan?

TF:  Yes.  For the next two years, Beethoven is the focus.  Aside from the concerti, I plan to perform [and hopefully record] the complete set of Beethoven sonatas.  As is often the case, I won’t play them in chronological order.  So far, I’ve decided to try using Brendel’s sequence for his last complete set.  Over the next two years, I’ll be playing them in New York, London, Paris and Vienna.  In December [2008] I’ll also bring one program to Waterloo [Ontario, Canada as part of the ever-interesting Kitchener Waterloo Chamber Music Society’s season].

JWR:  With apparently aging audiences [but hasn’t that always been true?] and marginalization in many educational systems, what is your view as to the future of concert music?

TF:  I’m optimistic.  I’m from Vienna—a paradise for music.  I think it’s important to bring interesting programs.  It’s always nice to have a contemporary work, whether I’m playing myself or attending other concerts.  Especially when I’m performing, I can feel when the audience is involved with the music.

JWR:  That was obvious in your performance today, especially the final movement where you were able to set the tempo yourself.

TF:  [smiling broadly] Yes, it’s a pleasure to play before such a wonderful audience. JWR

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