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Farwell takes stage with new act

Known for his acting career, Ashland man prepares for starring role as concert pianist

Jonathan Farwell claims the unlikely distinction of repeatedly playing piano on network television but never giving a public recital in his life. Until now. Farwell plans his first ' and he says quite possibly his last ' piano recital at — p.m. Sunday at the Unitarian Center, Fourth and C streets, Ashland.

A retired actor, Farwell, 70, now of Ashland, was playing the character George Rawlins on the CBS soap opera The Young and the Restless when he mentioned to producers he could play.

I must have been drunk or something, he moans. They wrote it in at once.

After that, scenes often would open with Farwell/Rawlins playing something atmospheric, Chopin, say, on the piano as his character's young, unfaithful wife entered the scene. Farwell did the playing himself, but he never had to play more than about 20 seconds or so.

And if I botched it, which I often did, they'd just roll the cameras and start the scene over, he says.

Farwell moved in 1991 to Southern Oregon, where he's best known for his work at Actors' Theatre of Talent. He has directed plays there and appeared in many more, performed at the Britt Festivals (as a narrator, not a pianist), Rogue Music Theatre (as the King in The King and I) and elsewhere.

He was playing the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart when he had a meeting with classical pianist Alexander Tutunov and his wife, pianist Kristina Foltz, that would prove fateful. The event was the Southern Oregon Repertory Singers' annual Mozart birthday bash. The couple, both recording artists with international reputations, were to play a four-hand Mozart sonata. Farwell, as Mozart, came on and put an extra piano bench in place for the twosome.

When Farwell told the couple he'd dabbled at piano his whole life and dreamed of performing, Foltz promptly offered to be his teacher.

Little did I know what I was getting into, he says with a laugh.

Foltz says she can be a hard taskmaster with those who need it.

And I sensed he needed it, she says. I gave him the real deal.

She describes Farwell as an intense student who has rid himself of many bad habits and whose playing is in many ways on a high level.

Farwell took piano lessons as a boy but got into acting. He worked years in regional theaters in Washington, D.C., Seattle and on Broadway. He played Salieri in the touring company of Amadeus, then moved to Hollywood, where he worked on All My Children and The Young and the Restless.

What possesses an otherwise sane man to make a serious music debut at 70? Foltz's theory is that music always has been as important to him as acting, and now he has the time for it.

It's like they say, Farwell says, all the actors want to be courtroom lawyers, and all the courtroom lawyers want to be actors.

He's made a serious investment in the project, as his gleaming Schimmel grand piano attests.

He plans to play pieces by Beethoven, Chopin and Debussy Sunday and to add some dramatic excerpts as Salieri around a Mozart sonata.

The last two numbers on the program are special ones. They're pieces by Farwell's father, the American composer Arthur Farwell (1872-1952). Farwell says learning to play them became a journey in search of the man who wrote them.

I was born when he was 60, and then there was a divorce, he says. So learning the pieces was kind of an approach to that.

He had to let that approach go.

It didn't work until I bit the bullet and started seeing them as pieces of music.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail

If you go ... What

: Piano recital by Jonathan Farwell.

When

: — p.m. Sunday.

Where

: Unitarian Center, Fourth and C streets, Ashland.

How much

: Admission is by donation. Proceeds will benefit the center's Music Fund and the second annual International Piano Institute.

For information

: Call 482-4755 or 488-2561.