Cliburn winner dies, aged 53

Cliburn winner dies, aged 53


norman lebrecht

December 10, 2014

The Cliburn organisation has announced the sad death of Jose Feghali, the Brazilian pianist who won in 1985.

His death appears to be a suicide.

Feghali never achieved a great international career in the manner of other competition winners. He received dates at major orchestras but did not become a seasonal fixture, nor a record star. He gave around 1,000 concerts in 30 years.

He was artist in residence at Texas Christian University, where he was much loved.

jose feghali

UPDATE: Cause of death here.


  • Evan Solomon says:

    He just died today. Was it necessary to say he did not achieve a great international career?

    • Abram kreeger says:

      Evan – I completely agree … Not only was it unnecessary, it was taking a shot at him on his deathbed. Unfortunately tact and consideration at times are lacking in this blog, despite its strong impact on the classical music world. And this is but one example, but perhaps his worst. Amazing how when British artists deaths are reported by him that this type of rude expression never shows its ugly face.

      • sdReader says:

        It’s a bit cold. The two sentences of the third paragraph might have been switched, to stress the positive. But this is not an obit, and it is right to point out that the prizewinner career was not a great international one, i.e. the two don’t necessarily go together.

  • 110 says:

    What a tragedy!

  • Nicholas A says:

    This is extremely sad news. Jose developed an extraordinarily distinguished career as a performer and teacher. In addition to this – and it might not be known widely – he was one of the first to make it possible for uncompressed audio to be used in relay (he found a glitch in ConferenceXP), thus massively enhancing the usefulness of the technology for musicians.

  • Janice says:

    “Feghali never achieved a great international career”?! Cold-hearted, calloused, and untrue.

  • AJ says:

    Please, please, have some tact and consideration when reporting this kind of news! Why do you put a phrase ‘Feghali never achieved a great international career’ in an obituary? He played with the Berlin Philharmonic, Amsterdam Concertgebow, among others…what do you consider a great international career?
    Besides, he traveled the world giving recitals and influencing tons of people. I had the fortune to study chamber music with him and I got to know both the man and the artist, I bet you didn’t even know him.
    If you want this blog to be informative and useful to the music world you need to stop gossiping and star thinking differently.
    I am sorry but this is not appreciated!

  • Brinton Smith says:

    I’m sure I speak for many of my fellow musicians who had the chance to play with Jose, when I say that I much preferred playing with him than with many who did achieve a ‘great international career’. Musicians understand that true success in music is defined on a higher plane than ticket sales or engagements. Jose’s death is a tragic loss…

  • Prewartreasure says:

    Anymore for the ‘Let’s kick Normi’ band wagon?

  • Ernst Kraetke Elstermann says:

    I rarely comment on things like this but in defence of Norman I would say that it reads to me as though the author of this is suggesting that he SHOULD have had all those things that being a competition winner normally brings.The subtext is that here is a brilliant pianist who was overlooked.I would say that that it’s the classical music industry that is cold and lacks tact and respect not Norman Lebrecht who is simply stating the facts.The subtext is also that as a suicide he was as miserable as hell and that possibly being sidelined in this revolting shallow industry didn’t help his condition.I have never heard of this pianist and will now certainly seek his recordings.To those of you who did know him and miss him I would say don’t shoot the messenger!!

  • John Borstlap says:

    I met Feghali in the later eighties, attended a recital of his, discussed music with him over dinner – he told to be fond of the Liszt Sonata – and what struck me the most was his utter distinguished and stylistically-apt rendering of…. of all pieces…. a Haydn sonata. I never heard Haydn performed so well, combining superb aristocracy, faultless technique and intense musical expressiveness. These assets are mostly not the stuff out of which ‘big international star careers’ are made, so my suspicion is that he was too good to be a Rang Rang type. It reflects not too well upon today’s music life.

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    What a tragedy. I heard him once or twice- he was a brilliant pianist. Agreed- Norman has fallen a bit below his usual high standards by referring to him as a ‘not quite made it’ on the international circuit. This is irrelevant- there are thousands of gifted performers who, for whatever reason, fail to achieve celebrity.

    Don’t know the circumstances of his death but perhaps he was depressed. The life of a performing musician is far from the glamorous one many perceive it to be. In fact, the one of a solo pianist is particularly tough.

  • Jonathan Brett says:

    Glittering careers nowadays seem to have much more to do with people in suits than with musicianship. For all the career may have glittered less than some others, José’s light will shine in the memory of those who knew his work. A deeply sad end to the life of a greatly talented person. R.I.P.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    I find it very, very tragically sad to hear this news, if it was indeed suicide. I only met Jose a couple of times, but these were warm and cordial occasions. He has carved a respectful life as a performer, soloist and chamber artist, teacher and techno-wizard. That he left behind a legacy of music and technological advances makes his life an international treasure and extends his legacy beyond the concert stage and recording studio. Just as in the case of many who commit suicide, from the outside looking in, unless we are close to the person, we will never truly know the reasons and patterns which led to this downfall. I am sure his loss is felt by those who knew him well in the capacities of his wide-ranging gifts.

  • StopTheMusic says:

    If you’re going to single out Feghali as a contest winner who didn’t achieve a continuous international career, then please name the countless thousands of other contest winners who also didn’t achieve world-wide careers — because Feghali was indeed in good company. Feghali was a poet, and his playing was memorable for imaginative turns of phrases that would stay with you long after his performances. True, his wasn’t a mega-technique –he wasn’t a barn-storming virtuoso — but he could play truly beautifully. At the 1985 Cliburn Competition — where 30 pianists played at more or less the same proficient (i.e.”bland”) level, Feghali’s playing really stood out.

  • Hank Drake says:

    This is indeed tragic. We don’t know if Feghali’s suicide is the result of disappointment in his career or if there was another cause – or a combination of reasons. Reviewing the list of Cliburn winners, those who went onto active performing careers (like Lupu) seem to be the exceptions rather than the rule.

    Rest in Peace.


    Some of us could also appreciate that Norman was “suggesting that he SHOULD have had all those things that being a competition winner normally brings” and that “the subtext is that here is a brilliant pianist who was overlooked.”

    If this is indeed the case, then please do not mislead the other readers who will take it literally and edit the post so that it can express your actual opinion rather than imply it in a poor choice of words.

    This is a writer’s blog, for Pete’s sake. Clear writing is not an option when reporting the suicide of a decent human being just a few hours later!

  • Professor Crofton says:

    Thank you for this comment! Feghali was indeed a poet who had a career that many pianists would envy.He was a joy to work with. A slightly more informed over-view of his work would have been welcomed.If N.Lebrecht had had any personal connection with him,how different this ‘news item’ would have read……;’We are extremely sad to report the death of the greatly-underrated pianist José Feghali. How typical of the music business that a sensitive,self-effacing person like José could be ignored. We spent many convivial evenings together etc etc”.Ususal self-referential stuff plus picture of Norm with Feghali.

  • Erika says:

    Mr. Norman, I am writing to respectfully, I think that Jose was great musician look in the internet video in a masterclass of the Third Piano Concert by Rachmaninoff, when Jorge Bolet give him the high recognition for his masterful work in the piano playing and Bolet says Bravo, Bravo. My heart is very sad for this, because I am depressed too. I hope your answers for me.

  • Mark says:

    See this about his nerves in the VC competition:

  • P Traugott says:

    I produced a recital program recording with José Feghali at Ed Landreth Hall in Texas this past December and can attest to the many postings around the world acknowledging his intellectual brilliance, insightful artistry and keen ear. From our first meeting, José was a warm and passionate person, extremely enthusiastic about recording and technology, and indeed proud to teach at TCU. This news comes as a complete shock and is a real tragic loss. It baffles the mind what would drive a person with so much talent and energy to such a terrible end. RIP.

  • AJ says:

    Thank you Norman for editing the original post. It reads differently now.
    And thank you Ernst Kraetke for your comment, it helped.
    My thoughts are with Mr. Feghali’s mother in Brazil, his students, and the whole TCU School of Music.

    • MusicHappens says:

      So, he played 1000 concerts in 28 years — so that’s roughly 35 concerts per year. There’s many artists out there who would be delighted to play that many concerts per year!

  • Liam Morgan says:

    I would think that no offence was ever meant in original piece. Anyway R.I.P. to a great artist. Condolences to his family and friends who must be devastated.

  • Juan Vizcarra says:

    Norman: If you are going to comment on the devastating tragedy than the lost of José Feghali represent for those of us who knew him, and on the achievements of an artist of his stature, as quantitatively cold blooded and without the slightest knowledge of his artistic accomplishments, please pay him some respect and at least do some research to learn how to write his name. ‘José’ has an acute accent in the last vowel ‘é’. I am certain that he would have had appreciate it.

    • Rita de Almeida says:

      A manchete da matéria publicada por Scott Cantrell, no The Dallas Morning News, sobre a morte do nosso José Feghali, pergunta: “O que deu errado?” Nada de excepcional, apenas, por um instante, a doença o venceu. Seria a mesma resposta, caso fosse portador de câncer, ebola, AIDS e, ainda, diabetes, pressão alta ou renal crônica que o fizessem morrer de um mal súbito. A depressão endógena é uma doença que mata e pouco se fala dela. Acaba-se imputando ao seu fim – a morte – conjecturas, circunstâncias outras e menores, que nada têm a ver com a realidade do fato.
      Nada deu de errado na vida desse concertista virtuoso, que tinha a música por paixão e, ensiná-la, era sua missão. Desejava ir muito além de se apresentar em palcos famosos, voltar para casa, executar mais uma jornada de exercícios e cumprir novas agendas de concertos. Desejava contato e continuidade. Sonhava ampliar horizontes de jovens que não tinham tanto acesso à música erudita. Almejava compartilhar mais e mais o saber e sua sensibilidade.
      A contribuição deixada por ele foi muito além de tocar em grandes recitais. Sua capacidade e inquietação intelectual permitiram melhorar as condições de trabalho de músicos renomados e facilitar a vida dos seus alunos com gravações de alto desempenho e pequeno orçamento. Conseguiu melhorar custos e reduzir o tempo de trânsito para gravações e ensaios, através de banda de internet específica, que possibilita o encontro virtual dessas pessoas com qualidade de áudio inquestionável. Esta façanha lhe rendeu um premio concedido pela Microsoft. Portanto, podemos concluir que nem sempre grandes artistas seguem as trilhas que lhes são traçadas por outras pessoas ou os mesmos caminhos que outros tantos tomaram. José Feghali tinha suas próprias metas e desafios e os cumpria com excelência, como tudo o que se propôs realizar ao longo da sua vida.
      Cabe aqui considerar que todo vigor do fomento que ele possibilitou à música clássica e sua disseminação, estava acompanhado da doença – a depressão endógena. Ele disse: “Esta doença é terrível. Eu luto todos os dias contra ela. Ela me exige cuidados permanentes”.
      De caráter inquestionável e senso de humanidade admirável, ele resistiu, há pelo menos 15 anos, com absoluta consciência de sua dor. Sabia, também, dos possíveis resultados que o descontrole da doença poderia trazer. Há alguns meses, o quadro piorou, mas em nenhum momento ele deixou de, primeiramente, pensar e preservar sua família. Mesmo nesses momentos de luta travada, nunca privou seu público, alunos e amigos de seu sorriso largo e contagiante; jamais deixou de respeitar o instante de criação dos compositores ao interpretá-los, dedicando-se à arte com alma livre e técnica ímpar. Jamais deixou de ter esperança e, principalmente, jamais deixou de amar.
      Bravo José! Você foi um grande homem. Com qualidades artísticas inquestionáveis, foi lutador incansável por se cuidar com esmero para postergar sua vida até este momento. Creiam, nada deu errado, apenas, por minutos, a doença maligna, persistente e sorrateira o invadiu de forma fulminante.
      Fique em paz! E, quanto a nós, viveremos do seu exemplo de superação e do legado deixado por você, que, de igual forma, só outros privilegiados o fariam.

      Rita de Almeida
      Prima e admiradora.