Classical music and all that jazz

With his love for music, young Israeli pianist Andy Feldbau is constantly widening his repertoire as he performs at this week’s Pianos Festival in Jerusalem.

Pianist Andy Feldbau  (photo credit: LEON LE)
Pianist Andy Feldbau
(photo credit: LEON LE)
Fans of piano music are in for a treat in Jerusalem December 23-25, when the Jerusalem Theater hosts the Pesanterim (Pianos) Festival. As the festival brochure introduction notes, “Pesanterim is a multidisciplinary event which brings different worlds together on the same stage.” They could say that again. The festival roster, indeed, includes pianists of practically every musical stripe going.
The three-dayer kicks off with a tribute to 84-year-old Alexander Tamir and the late Bracha Eden, who for over half a century comprised one of the most famous piano duos in the world. Eden passed away in 2006 at the age of 78, but hale and hearty Tamir continues to present a wide variety of classical concerts at his center in Ein Kerem, and is still on the teaching staff of the Hebrew University’s Rubin Academy of Music and Dance. The Eden-Tamir slot features a slew of top pianists, including Misha Zerzekel, Tom Zalmanov and Alon Mamo, and Jerusalemite sibling twosome of Shir and Dror Semmel. The repertoire for the festival opener includes arrangements for piano duets, trios and quartets of works by Schubert, Mozart, Bach and Mendelssohn. There will also be some sonic fare from around this neck of the woods, when 87-year-old Algerian-born pianist Maurice El-Mediouni joins forces with thirtysomething pianist Omri Mor, bassist Hagai Belitzky and percussionist Hillel Amsalem.
Another intriguing blend features evergreen and ever-popular 66-year-old pop-rock pianist and vocalist Shlomo Gronich, who will do keyboard battle with 32-year-old Andy Feldbau. The December 25 shows goes by the neatly alliterative title of “From Gershwin to Gronich” and will include works by the great 20th century American composer, as well as some of Gronich’s compositions and various other pieces for solo or duo piano.
Feldbau spent several years in the United States, where he studied at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York, and performed extensively. Although he had been cognizant of the works of George Gershwin for quite some time, and had even played some of them in public, it took some senior encouragement for the young Israeli to take a more in-depth look at Gershwin’s work.
“I had played ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ and several of Gershwin’s preludes before I got to America,” recalls Feldbau. “My teacher at Juilliard suggested to me that I play arrangements by [virtuoso 20th-century American pianist] Earl Wild of Gershwin songs.”
The Israeli was open to the idea, although he didn’t know exactly what he was letting himself in for.
“I didn’t know there was a whole set of songs. I thought it was just a few numbers. But I discovered that Wild had written arrangements for a lot of Gershwin songs, and also material by Rachmaninoff – lots of good things.”
It was love at first hearing.
“I really liked what I heard from Wild,” continues Feldbau. “The arrangements are written so well, and it is very virtuosic. He wrote variations and he wrote a fantasy on [Gershwin opera] Porgy & Bess. There are some fantastic things in there, and they don’t get performed in Israel. I thought that Israeli audiences like this [original Gershwin] material, so it would be good to play some at the festival in Jerusalem.”
Gershwin had at least one foot in several worlds, including classical music and jazz. While he says he is not overly enamored with playing jazz himself, Feldbau is drawn to the confluence of the two disciplines.
“I really like the combination of the two but, as a performer, classical music will [always] be number one for me.”
Feldbau may not be into adding his insight to the works of such jazz master pianists as Thelonious Monk or Duke Ellington, but he is more than happy to weave some freer-flowing departures into his classically-based offerings. As composer he has created pieces for choir and piano, various solo instruments, chamber music, orchestrations and numerous solo piano virtuoso arrangements for Broadway and Disney songs. He has also composed and performed cadenzas to classical piano concertos.
“I have written cadenzas to concerti by Rachmaninoff, Beethoven and Haydn,” he notes. “That is the place where you can really express yourself. I’d say I like classical music with just a touch of jazz.”
Now in his early 30s, Feldbau did not get the earliest of starts to his musical path.
“I started playing piano really, really late – at the age of 13,” he says, adding that, tardy keyboard encounter notwithstanding, he received a good musical upbringing.
“My parents exposed me to music and my older brother played. I loved Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.”
But Feldbau soon made up for lost time.
“I started on organ and then went on to piano. It all went very quickly and a year later I was already a student at Thelma Yellin [High School of the Arts in Givatayim], as a pianist.”
At school, Feldbau also got to grips with the French horn and has entertained thoughts of taking up the baton at some stage.
“Playing the French horn gave me a better of idea of how to write and arrange for wind instruments,” he says, although adding that he is very focused on his keyboard work for now.
“I may try conducting. I don’t know. But, to tell you the truth, the thing that interests me right now is to play the piano as much as I can.”
For tickets and more information about the Pesanterim Festival: (02) 560-5755 and