Yosif Feigelson is recognized as one of the foremost cellists of his time. From his studies under the renowned Mstislav Rostropovich at the Moscow Conservatory to his role as a teacher at Marywood University in Pennsylvania, he has helped define a daring role for the cello in contemporary classical music. “The Latvian-born cellist… plays with enormous sound, vivid character and resourceful technique,” wrote Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times. Others have noted the richness of Feigelson’s tone, his flamboyant style, and his embodiment of Russian classical traditions. His eclectic choice of pieces ranges from Russian master Prokofiev’s Sonata, opus 119, to George Gershwin’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” He has performed throughout the United States and Europe, and he has been featured as a solo player and as a guest with a number of orchestras.
Feigelson was born into a musical family in Riga, Latvia. His father was a tenor in a Riga opera house and his mother played violin. He began cello lessons with Don Yaffe at the Darzin Special School of Music at the age of six. While cello had long been a common choice in classical studies, it was seldom used as a lead instrument before the late eighteenth century. When nineteenth-century composers such as Johannes Brahms and Antonin Dvorak began writing more complicated pieces for the cello, the instrument became more attractive for advanced performers. Feigelson debuted with a Schumann Cello Concerto at age 12 and won first prize at the Concertino-Prague International Competition when he was 16. Feigelson’s biggest opportunity arrived when a family friend set up an audition with Rostropovich, renowned cello player and composer. The composer agreed to give him lessons the following year at the Moscow Conservatory. “I had regular lessons with him twice a week,” Feigelson told Paul Tseng of the Internet Cello Society, “which was more than I could have ever hoped for.”
Feigelson studied with the master between 1971 and 1974, learning a characteristically Russian method of playing the cello. “The Russian technique basically teaches you not to be stiff,” Feigelson explained to Tseng. “This is one of the biggest dangers of the cello, to get cramped. If you are fully aware of such things you can learn how to find those moments of complete relaxation even in the middle of the most difficult passage.” Rostropovich’s association with the writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, however, made him controversial with the Soviet government. In 1974, Rostropovich left Russia for England, and many believed that Feigelson and his family would follow. Feigelson did not follow his teacher, but upon returning to the school, he found that many blamed him for Rostropovich’s departure. “When I came back to Moscow the local authorities, bureaucrats, and conservatory officials were just furious; they didn’t want to see me,” Feigelson told Tseng. He remained at the Moscow Conservatory and began studying under Natasha Gutman, a renowned cellist who also had difficulties with Soviet authorities. “When I graduated in 1976,” he joked with Tseng, “she left immediately. I was the last student both of them had at the conservatory.” Remnants of both teachers’ styles helped shape Feigelson’s distinctive approach to the cello.
When Feigelson graduated from the Moscow Conservatory, he was assigned a teaching job in the Latvian town of Dougavpils. Because this limited his career as a musician, his father persuaded a military officer in the Moscow district to enlist his son’s talents as a cello player. After his stint in the army, Feigelson was allowed to live anywhere in Russia. In the mid-1970s he toured Eastern Europe. He performed at the Dvorak Hall in Prague, the Staatsoper in Berlin, and at the Great Hall of the Conservatory in Moscow. His renditions were recorded by the Panton, Olympia, and Melodiya labels. Life in the Soviet Union, however, continued to be difficult. His father and mother emigrated to Israel in 1979, and two years later, Feigelson decided to leave Russia.
Feigelson moved to the United States in 1981 and became an American citizen in 1987. He opened his first New York recital at the 92nd Street Y in 1988 and received good reviews. “[E]ven the most stressful moments of this program did not overtax Mr. Feigelson’s musical sense of direction or his beauty of tone,” wrote Bernard Holland of the New York Times. “The solo cello field is crowded with first-rate talent these days, but its present occupants are going to have to
Born on June 14, 1954, in Riga, Latvia; son of Israel (an opera singer) and Dina Singer Feigelson (a violinist).
Began cello lessons with Don Yaffe, Darzin Special School of Music, age six; debuted as public performer, performing the Schumann Cello Concerto, age 12; won first prize in Concertino-Prague International Competition, 1970; invited to study with Mstislav Rostropovich at Moscow Conservatory, 1971–74; studied with Natasha Gutman and toured Eastern Europe, mid-1970s; moved to U.S., 1981; opened New York City recital at the 92nd Street Y. 1988; received Avery Fisher Career Grant, 1990; performed with Knoxville and Seattle Symphonies, recorded for Olympia label, 1990s; instructor, Marywood University, Scranton, PA.
Addresses: Record company —Olympia CD, The Courtyard, Evelyn Road, London W4 5JL, England, phone: +44 (0)181 995 8080, website: http://www.olympia-cd.com.
make some room for this talented emigre from the Soviet Union.” Two months after the recital, Feigelson successfully debuted at the New York Chamber Symphony.
In 1990 Feigelson received the Avery Fisher Career Grant. Named for the philanthropist who helped remodel the Philharmonic Hall in New York City, the award represents excellence in the work of a solo performer. Like many working musicians, Feigelson expressed a desire for greater exposure. He explained his goals to Steve Schneider of Newsday: “Expansion of my role as a musician in this country and abroad both as a performer and an educator.” He spent time traveling throughout the United States, appearing as a solo performer and as a featured guest in a number of orchestra settings. In 1991 he made a solo appearance with the Seattle Symphony, performing the Concerto for Cello by Stephen Albert. “Feigelson grasped every opportunity for contrast,” wrote Karen Mathieson of the Seattle Times. “His initial statement was a cry from the heart, setting the mood for the entire performance.” During the mid-1990s he appeared at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and the Temple Israel in Charleston, South Carolina.
Feigelson teaches at Marywood University in Pennsylvania. In the late 1990s he made a number of recordings featuring the work of Mieczyslav Vainberg, commemorating the composer’s eightieth birthday. He returned to New York’s 92nd Street Y with singer Barbara Hendricks in 1999, and his performance with the Detroit Symphony was broadcast in the United States and Europe. He has appeared as a guest with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and in a small ensemble in Falls Village in Connecticut. “Mr. Feigelson has been noted for the powerful, dark tone that the Soviet school of instrumental playing likes to turn out,” wrote Bernard Holland of the New York Times, “but also for his exceptional control over the instrument.” These qualities and an active touring schedule have led critics to recognize Feigelson as a distinct and influential cellist.
Vainberg: Works for Solo Cello, Olympia, 1997.
Vainberg, Vol. 14, Olympia, 1999.
Discover Vainberg, Olympia, 2001.
Newsday, November 3, 1992, p. 26.
New York Times, November 6, 1988, p. 76; February 1, 1991, p. C18; December 9, 1995, p. 18.
Seattle Times, March 12, 1991, p. B5.
“Conversation with Yosif Feigelson,” Internet Cello Society, http://www.cello.org/Newsletter/Articles/feigel.htm (November 28, 2001).
—Ronnie D. Lankford Jr.
"Feigelson, Yosif." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 18, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/feigelson-yosif
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