BWW Interview: Master Musician Hershey Felder LOVEs STORYtelling
Musician extraordinaire Hershey Felder will be presenting HERSHEY FELDER: A PARIS LOVE STORY - the latest in his series of renown composers he embodies and musically explores - at the Wallis Annenberg beginning May 24, 2019. A PARIS LOVE STORY will focus on Impressionist composer Claude Debussy, known for his masterpieces La Mer, Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, of course, Claire de lune. I had the wonderful opportunity ask Hershey a few inquiries in the midst of his world premiering in Mountain View.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Hershey!
How are you enjoying your world premiere at TheatreWorks in Mountain View?
Premieres are always complicated affairs in that there is so much that is unknown. Up until the arrival of the audience, the material can be learned and infused with ideas and crafted to what seems like it would make sense to a crowd. But it is only when the crowd arrives that the very demanding work of shaping the piece begins. I always give a thousand percent to audiences - and the music.
Well, the music has had a long time to prove itself, so it doesn't need my help. But the storytelling always gains more clarity with each audience. This is true, of course, of the preview process with any new play, but - given that I have no other characters or actors to play off of - the audience is a most welcomed partner in the process. To that end, I am having a great deal of artistic satisfaction presenting a piece to a willing audience and we are having a lovely time with discovery.
A PARIS LOVE STORY featuring the music of Claude Debussy will be your final installment of your "Composer Sonata" series. What criteria did you devise to pick Debussy and the other composers (Beethoven, Berlin, Bernstein, Chopin, Gershwin, Liszt, Tchaikovsky) you chose to include in this concert series?
Well, apparently the boy has cried "wolf" once again - there is one more piece that opens next season called "Anna and Sergei" about Sergei Rachmaninoff. Several theatres asked me "What's next?" I said, "A little sleep." They said, "Sleep when you are dead. The patrons would like more, and we could use your contributions.""Ok, then...so Rachmaninoff is it." ("Wolf" again. Or maybe not... We'll see.) As for Debussy - it was my mother's favorite music, and she introduced me to it leading to a lifelong love and fascination.
How do you select which city to world premiere one of your shows in?
By never repeating where a world premiere will take place. As mentioned above, shows develop with audiences, and it is only fair to bring an audience something entirely new only once.
From all the places you've played worldwide, which are your favorite venues for the best acoustics and technical elements?
I love the Wallis as it is both intimate and grand at the same time. It's a space that is warm to the spoken voice and to the instrument as well - which is extremely rare. Usually, if the instrument feels lush, the acoustic is too resonant for the spoken voice. If the acoustics allow for warmth but clarity for the spoken voice, then it is too dry for the instrument. The Wallis has a lovely balance. In terms of the favorite acoustics I ever played in the world, it would be the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago - a turn-of-the-last-century, 3800-seat, perfectly-acoustic space. One breathes on the stage and one is heard to perfection in every crevice of the auditorium with a warm supported cushion of air. It's rather miraculous, actually.
You are a Steinway Artist. For the caliber of venues that you play, have you found requiring a Steinway piano for you to play on, a deal-breaker or a non-issue?
Steinway is a tremendously supportive company, and everyone works to make certain that wherever I am, the best piano available is sent and looked after. A shout-out to Vivian Chiu at Steinway in New York, Ben in L.A., Seromi in Northern California, and everyone else throughout the country who works miracles to make this happen.
Which city's audience has been the most boisterous for you? Most respectful? Most surprising?
Boisterous? That's a funny way to think of the audience. I like that! My experience is that audiences throughout the country are made up of real people who react to real feelings and ideas in the same way. It is less the general audience than it is which city reacts to certain ideas specifically. For instance, in the Irving Berlin play, the lyric quote "You can't get a man with a gun" from ANNIE GET YOUR GUN gets a different response in each city. In certain cities, uproarious laughter; in other cities, titters; and in one or two cities, no reaction at all. I suppose this relates to a city's general feeling about gun laws, gun control and so on. I can't know for sure - but it is interesting to see.
When do you seek to use another director, rather than direct yourself, as you've occasionally done?
How did you originally connect with prolific television director Joel Zwick to direct your stage productions?
We met through a mutual friend who thought that we had similar sensibilities. Then we discovered about a year later that we were actually third cousins. Go figure.
I see your bountiful credits listed under "pianist, actor, playwright, composer, producer, and director." What profession did you want to be as a child?
Always a musician and storyteller - which, in a way, is one and the same - but you know how life goes...
What were the first lessons you took? Piano?
How fun was it for you, a classical musician, to be included in the pop culture phenomenon Jeopardy earlier this year?
I was quite touched to be asked. But recently, far more moved by learning of Mr. Trebek's health challenge with his cancer diagnosis and his battle that he is determined to fight. He is a kind and generous man, and was generous to me. It moved me greatly to think how, only a few months ago, I met him at the theatre in a perfectly healthy state it seemed, and now he is fighting for his life.
What does your pre-show warm-up include (vocalization, breathing exercises, piano fingering, mental visualizations)?
All study and practice all the time. The matter of import is not what I do in the last minutes before a show. Those minutes are taken in reflecting on the notion that I have done my homework and am properly prepared, and now it is time to use the homework to tell a story.
After all your years of mastering your piano technique, how regularly do you still practice?
Always and every day.
What advice would you give a budding, young music student who's debating whether to stay with his or her piano lessons?
Stay. It's hard. It feels like an uphill battle that one never wins - until something clicks, and the music is there, and somehow music-making suddenly becomes free. Where all the elements - the thinking, the physicality, the emotional effort, the structure - it all comes together. Stay committed to the process - the joy on the other end is supreme.
Any particular composer's piece you relax to?
I relax with feet in the warm sand on the ocean front. (And not nearly enough...) With music, the joy comes in the listening, the analyzing, the thinking and creating.
Any particular music lifts your spirits up when you're down?
Good music. It reminds me how important art is in general.
What feelings would you love the Wallis audience to leave with after your curtain call?
That I've given as honest a portrait that I can of the subjects and materials presented.
Thank you again, Hershey! I look forward to listening to and experiencing your musical artistry once again.
For ticket availability and show schedule through June 9, 2019 at the Wallis visit thewallis.org