Croatian pianist to kick off Tupelo Symphony’s 40th anniversary season

By Sheena Barnett/NEMS Daily Journal

The Tupelo Symphony’s 40th anniversary season combines a bit of the past and a bit of the future. Music director Steven Byess chose this season’s program to highlight the orchestra’s past and where it could go in the future.
“I wanted to program music that would be celebratory in a lot of ways, and it’s a rather rich mix that combines a lot of the pieces the orchestra has performed before, sort of looking backward and acknowledging that work that’s been done in the last 39 years, with new young soloists and new formats,” he said.
Kicking off the season is a program featuring Croatian pianist Martina Filjak, a winner at the Cleveland International Piano Competition.
“She plays with a flair and finesse that many pianists don’t have,” he said.
Saturday’s performance includes Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1, a piece Filjak suggested.
“The sheer sweep of this piece and difficulty to play is something that requires a pianist of not only great talent but also a certain level of maturity,” Byess said. “I had some reservations because it is so challenging, but she has an amazing enthusiasm for the work.”
Filjak answered a few questions from the Daily Journal as she flew across the world over the weekend.

Daily Journal: Your stage presence has been described as “magnetic.” What do you love about performing, and how do you engage your audience in your performance?
Filjak: Of course, I wish to thank those reviewers who describe me as magnetic. Each performance is different, and there are so many factors that can influence it. I love those performances where one is in the same time absolutely focused and aware and yet attains total freedom. I would describe it best as riding a good wave – those performances are when music truly happens – and in that moment, everyone is engaged, the soloist, the orchestra and the audience. One just knows that something special is happening in that very instant.

Daily Journal: Did you suggest performing Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Tupelo Symphony Orchestra? Why?
Filjak: I did in fact. It is one of my favorite concertos. I love the way Brahms combines the very symphonic and the chamber music elements inside one piece of music – and these elements exchange quite frequently. Brahms had at first intended this music to be a choral piece, for a choir. He later on changed his mind and re-wrote it into a piano concerto. Nevertheless, I can always feel the presence and the intention of the human voice in this piece. It is for me one of the most “speaking” romantic concertos.

Daily Journal: This is a challenging piece for both the symphony and yourself. What makes it so challenging?
Filjak: A part of it I described above. Another challenging thing I would mention is the production of the sound – the piano has to deliver a sound that goes above a massive orchestra ensemble, so the pianist needs to have a huge, voluminous sound. The concerto is very long – more than 40 minutes, and the first movement in itself is very large and has a large form. One needs to keep a lot of focus on the passing of the time, on the form, keep this focus very strongly until the end… many things are happening there! Oh, but it is absolutely worth it!

Enjoy the show
What: Tupelo Symphony Orchestra featuring pianist Martina Filjak

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Link Centre concert hall, Tupelo

Cost: $20/adult, $10/student

Info: (662) 842-8433 or

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