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Published: Thursday, 9/20/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Martina Filjak to make her Toledo debut this weekend

BY SALLY VALLONGO
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

The Toledo Symphony wants to "Rach" Toledo during this weekend's pair of Classics Concerts, starting at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle.

A double-header program comprising Sergei Rachmaninoff's lush Symphony No. 3 and one of the Russian composer's all-time faves -- Piano Concerto No. 2 -- will be conducted by Stefan Sanderling.

Joining the principal conductor and the TSO will be rising star Croatian pianist Martina Filjak in her Toledo debut, bringing her much acclaimed personal approach to the concerto.

"Audiences and even musicians are used to hearing certain details, certain tempos, and certain ways of performing, that in the meantime, have established themselves as a kind of 'truth,' " Filjak said via email last week.

"But, is there a truth, really? If there is, I also try to search for it, using nothing but the score and my own ears and, if I may say so, my own 'tastebuds'.

"I love the first movement because it, in my own feeling, does not nearly reek of sentimentality as much as it is thought of -- what I wish to bring out in the first movement is the perfection of its form and construction, almost Beethovenian and definitely classical in its essence.

"This is very challenging -- one does not want in the same time to sound academic and 'dry' -- and keeping a good mind and soul balance is essential," said Filjak, adding, "kind of like life itself, actually."

Filjak (feel-yak) was born 33 years ago in Zagreb, then the cosmopolitan capital of Croatia, before civil wars fractured the entire Balkan area.

Civil strife or no, she graduated from the Zagreb Music Academy and subsequently from the Vienna Conservatory and the soloist's class at Hannover's Hochschule für Musik. She participated in master classes at the Como Piano Academy, where she was coached by Dmitri Bashkirov, Peter Frankl, and Andreas Staier.

Then, she began collecting performance honors.

She was first prize winner of the 2007 Viotti International Piano Competition in Italy and the 2008 Maria Canals International Piano Competition in Barcelona. She won the Cleveland International Piano Competition in 2009, the year she turned 31, following that with debuts at the Konzerthaus Berlin, Vienna's Musikverein, and New York's Carnegie Hall, among the top 10 classical venues in the world.

Filjak has performed with leading orchestras worldwide under the batons of Heinrich Schiff, Theodor Guschlbauer, Sebastian Lang-Lessing, Christian Zacharias, and Sanderling in important venues including the Concertgebouw, the Palau de la Musica Catalana and L'Auditori, Barcelona; the Shanghai Oriental Art Center, and Severance Hall in Cleveland. Her recording of Soler sonatas was released in 2011 on the Naxos label.

Along the way, Filjak learned seven languages, especially useful these days as she hops from country to country, continent to continent, like a musical top spinning nearly continuously.

Last January the pianist set forth on a complicated tour spread over six months, one that took her across at least a dozen time zones, from the west coast of the U.S. to points all around western Europe.

In Toledo, Filjak has the luxury of spending several nights in the same place and perfecting only one piece, the Rachmaninoff 2. So perhaps she will have time to savor some of the non-performing activities she says keep her balanced.

"There is this rumor that musicians are not necessarily balanced people," Filjak wrote last week. "However, I do think I manage to stay pretty grounded most of the time, and when I feel I need a break, I try to spend time in nature. Nature always has a very healing effect for me.

"I try to focus on my interior process, on my thoughts, on the music I am playing, on what I feel, and I maintain this as an absolute priority and the only reality for me. The rest of the 'real world' for me is merely a background scenery that keeps changing but most of the time doesn't affect me."

Filjak, who makes her home in Berlin between concerts, does find time to campaign to protect the Croatian lynx, now an endangered species. She drops in on schools in Cleveland to teach, from time to time, and has established a scholarship there as well.

And, whenever there is time, she studies scores and labors over the keyboard, always learning the next big work. "I have for a long time dreamed of tackling Beethoven's Diabelli Variations," shared Filjak.

Individual tickets for the Classics I concerts are $22-$52 at 419-246-8000 or toledosymphony.com.

Contact Sally Vallongo at svallongo@theblade.com.



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