He’s a young man, but he qualifies as an old friend.
When Adam Golka returns to perform with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra this weekend, the New York-based pianist will be reuniting with the city and the orchestra that helped launch his professional career.
“The Fort Worth Symphony is a very meaningful orchestra to me,” said Golka, who performed with the FWSO several times while he was studying with 1995 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition gold medalist Jose Feghali at TCU. “I performed my first concerto with them in 2000. I am so happy to be coming back to see all my friends.”
The 26-year-old Houston native was all of 13 when he marked that milestone, and he has hardly looked back since. In addition to earning artist diplomas from TCU and Baltimore’s Peabody Institute (where he studied with the legendary Leon Fleisher), he has established himself as a touring concert pianist.
We caught up with the busy Golka for a quick phone interview as he waited to board the flight that would bring him to Fort Worth to perform Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 with the symphony, under the baton of guest conductor Joshua Weilerstein.
You appear to be one of those rare pianists who supports himself solely with performing. Is that the case?
Yes, that’s all I’m doing. But, truth be told, I would love to teach. I don’t want to stop playing, but when I teach, I learn a lot about myself. It’s fun and I really like doing it.
But I love all of it. I am performing a pretty equal mix of solo recitals and concerto performances right now, and I can’t say I prefer one or the other. If I’m playing a Beethoven sonata, I’m very happy being alone onstage.
On the other hand, if I am performing the Brahms second, I am not complaining.
What have been some of the highlights for you since you left Fort Worth?
Several specific concerts come to mind. But probably the biggest thrill has been the Marlboro Music Festival [in Vermont]. I spent several weeks there this last summer, and I am going again next year. It brought me closer to artists like Richard Goode, Mitsuko Uchida and Andras Schiff, who are all exciting sources of inspiration for me.
Because you made such an impression when you were living and performing here, and because your primary teacher was a Cliburn gold medalist, a lot of people saw you as a likely Cliburn competitor. Why did you choose not to participate in that event?
I really thought about it. It is such a great event, and I was so directly aware of it. But it was a question of having the time to do so. I didn’t feel the timing was right.
[Feghali and I] talked about it, and he was so supportive of me in whatever I chose to do. But it just didn’t feel like it was the right thing in my life right now.
Did you know Van Cliburn?
It would probably be a stretch to say I knew him, but I did have the great pleasure of meeting him and shaking his hand a few times — and even comparing hands with him. And I played for him a little bit one time just by good luck.
I was trying out a piano that the Cliburn Foundation was considering for purchase. I was trying it at Bass Hall when Van Cliburn walked in. I was terrified. I completely lost it. I completely freaked out.
But Jose was there, and he said, “What are you doing? Keep playing.” He kept me going and I played a couple of pieces for him. I don’t remember much about how I played, but it was a great honor and a great experience.
[Cliburn] was so kind to me. He was one of the most generous and kindest people I ever came across. That was a memory I’ll never forget.
But how did that hand comparison go? You had to lose that contest, didn’t you, especially since you say this all happened 10 years ago?
I’m embarrassed to admit it, but our hands were incredibly similar. So why don’t I sound like that?