What killed a Cliburn winner?

The bullet in José Feghali’s head, as he lay in bed, leaves little doubt that his death was suicide.

Now, the music world is asking why. Friends, including a former housemate, tell us he was on medication for depression for many years and spoke freely about it.

The Dallas critic Scott Cantrell reports that Feghali’s career dried up after losing mainstream management and his playing became unreliable. ‘Critics heard a growing fussiness in his playing, and in more recent years worrying technical fallibility. I remember being surprised at all the wrong notes in a 2005 Mimir Festival performance of the Franck Violin Sonata. In the end, his was the only recognizable name in the roster of a small Fort Worth artist management.’

Was it a case of too much, too soon? Or just of the lack of a professional infrastructure to see him through the bad times?

José was well liked in the Texas music world, had many friends. None foresaw his tragic end.

jose feghali

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  • Despicable reporting – total pack of respect for those who knew him and loved him – within not to many hours of learning about his tragic death. Who would have thought a professor and classical musician would be treated the way TMZ does. I never knew Feghali, but I wish there was some respect for his life and humanity in general. This is not a politician or an actor that the media needs to make into a scandal – no Katdashian here. Why couldn’t he be left in peace and why must anyone know what ailed him?

    • Agreed.
      But this blog isn’t much better.
      Low standards of ethics throughout ( apart from PC nonsense) and no respect for the tragic fate of a musician like Feghali .
      This blog used to be a serious source of information, and from time to time one can still find some excellent articles here..
      But mainly it has now become n a sensationalist forum with little substance .

  • The efforts of Mr. Cantrell (and others) to link Joe Feghali’s depression to his career-pace are reprehensible, and it demonstrates blatant ignorance — as there are innumerable causes for human depression: There could have been genetic reasons, a physiological-chemical imbalance, child-abuse or childhood-neglect issues, etc. The fact that he was on medications indicates that the root of Fehgali’s depression was physiological, so it couldn’t be treated by therapy alone, and his condition may well have been irreversible. There’s no reason whatever to link this tragedy to his Cliburn win, or the subsequent tapering-off of his engagements. There are countless contest winners out there — ALL of whom have seen their concerts dry up and their managers flee — but there haven’t been a rash of suicides amongst them.

  • This is a remarkably insensitive article and Cantrell should be ashamed of bringing up missed notes and fussiness in playing when talking about a man who died just a few days ago. To further blame his apparent suicide on poor reviews is the height of arrogance and is appalling.

  • Agree with Musichappens and Jeff. Artists don’t take critics as seriously as the critics seem to think. To quote a well respected conductor i will not name,”critics are on a different food chain”. RIP, Jose.

  • It is utterly abominable how some people seemingly long for and revel in the idiotic speculations, farfetched hypotheses and uncouth “journalism” when it comes to the reporting of a death.
    Shame on those who start it, shame on those who facilitate it and shame on those who perpetuate it.

  • It’s important to try and understand if there were connections between a traditionally high-stress career and his tragic end. Any journalist worth their salt would explore such issues. The crybabies in this comments thread need to stop being so sensitive. Cantrel himself states:

    “Cause and effect are probably unknowable here. Were these manifestations of depression, or aggravations of it, or both? Was this another case of too-much-too-soon, yet another instance of a competition winner thrust into overnight celebrity but unprepared to sustain the career?

    • I disagree. As you point out, Mr. Cantrell himself states that “Cause and effect are probably unknowable here.” If something is unknowable, there seems little sense in trying to get to know it. And considering Mr. Cantrell early on states that he did not know Mr. Feghali well at all, he seems to me the least qualified person to try and shed light on something that is none of his or the general public’s concern.
      Mr. Cantrell merely offers incoherent conjecture regarding what he calls “the bumpy history of Cliburn winners”.

  • On second thoughts, I feel as if this particular music critic almost ravels, and enjoys the fact that harsh criticism could hurt artists so much. Why do these people think artists such as Feghali care about their reviews or criticism that much? Do they really get such a kick out of that? Why are they so convinced a ‘huge career’ is just about all a musician would want? Why do they limit the person to only career, why do they exclude his right to be depressed about a huge range of other things, rather than his career. I for example am depressed reading the stupidity and superficiality of some people’s articles and thoughts. Give him the right to imagination, give him the right to be sad and depressed about things you can never imagine, and finally, give him the right to pull the trigger in peace if he wants to.

  • Mention of the “bullet” reminded me the sensitive evocation of Horowitz final resting posture by Perahia… Class all the way down the gutter.

  • Cantrell is a self-important hack who doesn’t know nearly as much about music as he thinks he does. José Feghali’s prize-winning performance left an indelible impression on me. If he was suffering from depression, it may have been because of adverse reactions to SSRI’s, not because of reviews from know-nothing critics.

    • Let me get this straight: he was suffering from depression caused by medication.. which is used to treat depression? Circular logic, much?

  • Ask the critic in question to play the very demanding piano part of the Frank Sonata. I bet your bottom dollar that Feghali would still play it a million times better.

    • Mark Mortimer that’s a useless comment since the critic isn’t a concert pianist. It is however plausible that the pianist could write a good review. Cantrell can be pretty rough. Many years ago I recall reading a SCATHING review of a Charles Castleman concert. It was pretty bloody.

  • People are going to ask and speculate whether an article is written or not. Better to have the reporting of the real facts out there (that is what newspapers do i both happy circumstances and unhappy ones) than to leave a vacuum to be filled with uninformed guess work.

  • This situation is tragic. There is no ‘nice’ way to talk about it honestly imo. But what is better — to politely step around possible issues or to stumble around attempting to add definition to them?

  • I did not know José Feghali. However, a friend of mine took her own life in a similar way. My heart goes out to his family and friends.

  • I knew José and counted him as a friend since I sang some concerts with him years ago. He was an incredibly warm, open, lovely human being with facile technical and interpretive skill at the piano. I understood why he won the competition many moons ago. I did not know about his depression and had not talked to him in a few years, so it pains me to think that it got so bad that he thought the only way out of the pain was to kill himself. He was a beloved colleague and teacher, and I do find it in very bad taste to try to “tabloid-ize” his death or add conjecture about his career, his personal choices and his playing in conjunction with his suicide, especially with absolutely no personal knowledge of him or even much first-hand information from his friends. Talking ill of the dead and casting aspersions about their life in such a way is simply tacky. May he rest in peace, dear soul.

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