Feddeck talks of the joys, challenges of guest conducting at 2015 Gala

James Feddeck / Harrison Parrott
James Feddeck / Harrison Parrott

“How would you like to go to Helsinki?”

Not the words one expects to hear while sitting in a dentist chair. But for James Feddeck, it’s all part of the job.

“When people ask me ‘so what do you do for a living?’ I typically answer that I work at the airport. After all, that IS actually where I spend most of my time,” Feddeck said in a speech at the 2015 Georg Solti Foundation Gala.

He clarified he is grateful for the opportunities, even if it does mean crazy hours and short-notice trips to Finland.

When his manager asked him about Helsinki, it was just four hours before he was to board the plane. He finished up with the dentist, packed his bags and was leading a rehearsal of Rachmaninoff’s Third Symphony in front of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra the next morning.

Such phone calls, paired with an extensive repertoire of conducting under his belt, have resulted in Feddeck leading world-renown ensembles in San Fransisco, Chicago, Vancouver, and Berlin. And that’s just scratching the surface.

After a four-year stay as a staff conductor for the Cleveland Orchestra, Feddeck received the 2013 Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award, and shortly thereafter began his journey as an itinerant conductor. And while it’s not been a traditional path, it’s certainly been fruitful, even as it presents unique challenges that in-house conductors don’t face.

“Under the best of circumstances the chemistry ‘just works’ between conductor and his orchestra … and those moments are the most cherished for musicians, conductor, and audience alike,” Feddeck explains. As a staff conductor, he had weeks to establish that chemistry. Now he has days, even hours. But the reviews reveal that his ability to connect with the players is impeccable.

“The CSO players gave Feddeck everything he asked for, and then some.” John von Rhein of the Chicago Tribune said recently of Feddeck’s Chicago Symphony Orchestra subscription debut.

Marc Shulgold of Classical Voice America called him first-rate, saying, “he is a talent to watch. The future seems bright.”

2016 looks like more of the same. Feddeck begins the year with appearances with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Sacramento Philharmonic, then travels to France, the Canary Islands, Canada and Germany to lead the Orchestre National de Lyon, Orquestra Sinfonica de Tenerife, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and the Deutsches-Symphonie Orchester Berlin, respectively.

Feddeck says the award he received from the Solti Foundation US gave him the stability and support he needed to launch this phase of his career.

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Feddeck’s 2016 schedule is already bursting at the seams. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t prepared to answer his phone and hear, “You know Bruckner 8, don’t you?”

That’s exactly what his manager asked, which lead to another exciting 2015 debut. “Next week the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra would like you to take over the three performances.”

That’s part of the excitement of Feddeck’s work. The adrenaline isn’t only when he first steps in front of a new ensemble, or on the first downbeat in a new concert hall. It’s on the other side of that phone call, where a new adventure could be waiting.