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Remembering Cliburn-Winning Pianist Jose Feghali

by Gila Espinoza 26 Jan 2015 12:42 PM

Award-winning pianist Adam Golka performs at memorial concert for Jose Feghali. Photo: Selene Alba

Musicians and music lovers paid tribute Sunday to José Feghali. The Brazilian-born pianist, who moved to Fort Worth after winning the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, apparently committed suicide last month. KERA’s Doualy Xaykaothao reports on the memorial concert at TCU, where Feghali was artist-in-residence.

Award-winning pianist Adam Golka performed some of José Feghali’s favorite pieces by composers Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms to honor the man he calls his “beloved teacher” and “best friend.”

“José was the most pivotal figure in my life,” he said, “and as a musician.”

Golka, now 27, was a student of Feghali’s from the age of 13 to 20, driving up every weekend from Houston to Fort Worth to study with Feghali at Texas Christian University.

“Every note I play, everything I express with an instrument, every sound I make,” he said, “somehow has something to do with him. He’s such a deep part of who I am.”

That’s why Golka came down from New York, where he now lives and performs, to pay tribute to Feghali, who was found dead in his Fort Worth home last month. Police ruled it a suicide.

“I was one of the lucky people who got to hear him in a small room, for me, in my private lessons,” Golka said. “I’m so sorry for all those people who didn’t get to hear that because that was magic.”

The auditorium at TCU’s School of Music was packed with admirers of Feghali, including music lover Debbie Vernon, who met Feghali while volunteering at a chamber music festival event. Vernon said the 1985 Cliburn Gold Medalist was full of life, but “to counter the electricity and the energy in our lives, we all have darker, quieter sides, and it’s just tragic that side could overpower all that was wonderful about him, and all of the gifts he had to bring.”

She says he was a wonderful, joyous, voraciously curious individual who loved all things beautiful in life — especially the arts.

“All arts,” Vernon said. “It wasn’t unusual for me to see him in the Kimbell or the Modern Art Museum enjoying that wine. He was just a joyous experience.”

Throughout the remembrance, friends and colleagues described Feghali as a man of rare gifts, a practical visionary, a magnificent human being and a  masterful teacher.

“He was extremely funny, and witty, and very bright,” said Greg Davis, former board member of the Van Cliburn Foundation. “And would go from right brain to left brain.”

Davis said many people didn’t know that the internationally acclaimed pianist was an expert in internet technologies — and a storm chaser.

“He loved being in Texas because of the great weather we have, tornadoes and such,” Davis said. “He was just a complicated artist, multi-layered and that infectious smile.”

Days before his death, Feghali was still talking to colleagues about upcoming concerts and projects, including a CD of his works for his 30th anniversary season.

The concert closed with a video of José Feghali performing.