Interview with Emmanuel Feldman
Hailed by John Williams as “an outstanding cellist and truly dedicated artist,” Emmanuel Feldman has commissioned over 60 works by composers such as Harbison, Schuller and Kernis. Described by Gramophone as “an artist who combines communicative urgency with tonal splendor,” Feldman’s recent release Our American Roots (Delos) includes Pulitzer Prize winning composer George Walker’s cello sonata.
Feldman has performed in the U.S. and internationally as a soloist and chamber musician. An enthusiastic collaborator, he has partnered in a wide range of creative projects with Bobby McFerrin, the Mark Morris Dance Group, and Verona String Quartet. Awarded grants from the Argosy and Thomson Foundations, Feldman released two world premiere recordings, one of which earned a Grammy nomination for producer Blanton Alspaugh.
As a composer, Feldman’s world premier composition “Standing Tall” a Cello Concerto was performed in the 2022 season and received the Silver Medal as part of the 2022 Global Music Awards. Standing Tall was performed using Emmanuel’s patented TekStand™ that in a revolutionary new development, allows him to stand while performing on the cello. His compositions have been presented at the Granoff Music Center, Jordan Hall, and Brown University and have been performed by ensembles including the New England String Ensemble, Duo Cello e Basso, The City of Tomorrow Woodwind Quintet, Commonwealth Choral and the Warebrook Contemporary Music Festival. His “Enigma #1” written for Duo Cello e Basso was performed at the Boston Celebrity Series to critical acclaim by The Boston Globe.
Feldman’s recital credits include performances at Carnegie Hall, Salle Gaveau Paris, and Franz Liszt Academy in Hungary. As a concerto soloist, Mr. Feldman has performed with the Boston Pops, Nashville Chamber Orchestra and Boston Philharmonic. He has also performed with Gilbert Kalish, Elmar Oliveira and Paul Neubauer and in chamber music with the Jupiter and Borromeo String Quartets. Committed to expanding the cello repertoire, Feldman has premiered concertos written for him by composers Charles Fussell and Andrew List and sonatas and solo works by John McDonald and Pamela Marshall.
With over a dozen CDs to his credit, his critically acclaimed recordings and performances have featured music by American composers including Steve Mackey, Richard Danielpour and David Diamond and recordings with pianist Joy Cline Phinney on the Albany and Delos labels. His “Rider on The Plains” CD featuring Virgil Thomson’s Cello Concerto was described as “sounding exhilarating in this bracing and confident performance” (N.Y. Times).
A sought-after educator and clinician, Feldman’s cello students have gone on to be accepted to most major music schools and conservatories in the U.S. and abroad and have won competitions including the gold medal at the Tchaikovsky International Competition and prizes at the Brahms International, Irving Kline, and Stulberg Competitions.
Born in New York City to a large musical family, Feldman first studied the violin, piano and French horn and then chose the cello at age 12, later studying at the Curtis Institute of Music. He is the inventor of the innovative TekPin™ cello endpin and TekStand™ cello stand. He has taught at New England Conservatory and Brown University, is on the performance faculty of Tufts University and has given master classes at the University of Taipei, Manhattan School of Music and Peabody Institute. He has also taught at the International Cello Institute, VCU Global Summer Institute of Music and Heifetz International Music Institute
Interview with Emmanuel Feldman, Cello and Composer
You have become a renowned cellist in the music world. Tell us about your beginnings as a musician. When did you start playing, and why the cello?
I come from a musical family and everyone played an instrument, so I had many choices and started first with the piano, learned to play the violin and French horn but settled on the cello. I started late at age 12 but with previous experience on violin, I learned to play cello very quickly and within one year had performed the Saint-Saens cello concerto at my teacher’s recital. The real spark was hearing the Rostropovich recording of the Saint-Saens concerto; he had the energy, expression and beauty of sound that inspired me. I felt like the cello and its repertoire were expressing the kind of emotions and musical journeys that appealed to the artistic qualities inside me. The cello is an extremely sensitive and expressive instrument, it can be dark and deep, or bright and expansive and the repertoire is so rich, so I did everything I could to get the best training and teachers to help me master the instrument.
You’ve played in many different music group genres and styles, including classical, jazz, and the Boston Pops. Do you have any particular favorite, or favorites among these genres?
Let me say first that my first love was the music of Bach. I listened to most of his works nonstop from a young age. Then I expanded out into a big classical orchestral repertoire and concertos and also jazz with Oscar Peterson. But soon after, my radio was on and I started listening to popular music and never turned it off all the way through college and became a fan of the Eagles, The Police and Queen, to name a few. My dad took us all to “Star Wars” which in addition to being so life changing in its message, John William’s music simply blew my mind–I knew it was the future of orchestral sound to come. When I was chosen to be the principal cellist in the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, it was a dream come true. I guess I don’t have a favorite, but I always go back to listening to classic rock and jazz in addition to classical.
In addition to playing, you’ve also been an instructor. What is it that you like best about helping students to develop and showcase their talents?
There is nothing better than helping players find their own particular voice and unique qualities on the cello. My aim is to help them develop the skills to teach themselves and be advocates for their playing. The ultimate goal is to help them enjoy music, which, depending on their plans, can be playing in a local orchestra, playing with a chamber group, or pursuing a career in music. It has been great to see some of my students go out and start chamber music series, become principal cellists in orchestras, and have international solo careers, I am very proud of their accomplishments.
At the WPO’s May 21st concert, “Music in Bloom,” you’ll be playing your own composition, “Standing Tall.” Please tell us about this special piece, and the fact that you use your own invention, the TekStand™, to play it.
Standing Tall is essentially an autobiographical story of my life in music and is dedicated to my wife Pascale. The whole piece is based on three notes, E, B and F which are my initials; I found all kinds of fun ways to make those notes into melodies, chords and sequences. Bach and Shostakovich, two of my favorite composers, did this with their initials. One moment early in the piece depicts when I was a little kid, wondering why I was here on earth. It comes right after the first solo cello entrance. There is a quiet section asking that same question musically, and the solo flutes are the “angels” speaking softly, saying everything will be all right and that all will be known in time. When the invasion of Ukraine happened, I rewrote the 2nd movement choral and dedicated the movement to the Ukrainian people and to democracy around the world. Standing Tall was completely written with the TekStand in mind. The TekStand, which was patented last January, completes my vision of being a cello soloist of the future. The TekStand liberates the cello from being rested down on the ground and lets the audience really see the player. It makes the cello soloist project and move like a violin or vocal soloist and gives me a physical advantage to write music for the highest register of the cello to play some very exciting passage work!
The WPO is thrilled to have you perform with us. How do you feel about playing with the WPO and Music Director Michael Korn?
I am so happy to work again as a soloist with Maestro Korn with whom I have collaborated in many concerts together. Each time he inspires and brings out the best in all the musicians performing, whether in chamber music, or as music director and conductor. Preparing for this performance of Standing Tall has been particularly great in that I have been interacting and speaking with all the WPO musicians, asking for their feedback about the individual parts that, along with Maestro Korn’s input, has helped me improve the piece. To bring this new American music to the local community with the WPO is a great pleasure and thrill!