Archive for the ‘Music@Menlo’ Category

WH announces


In David’s words

When the final exuberant chords of Dvořák’s Quintet reverberated in the hall at Menlo-Atherton, the twelfth season of Music@Menlo had seemed to go by so quickly that we couldn’t believe it was really over. When one is as busy as Wu Han and I are during the Festival, days blur from one to the next, the sense of time passing is suspended, and suddenly it’s all over. In some ways, it seems like yesterday that we greeted the 44 young musicians attending the Chamber Music Institute, and yet, it also seems like a year ago that they bravely launched into their first assignments.

As is always our practice at Music@Menlo, we delved deeply into music through a particular lens, which was, this summer, the life and world of the great Czech composer Antonín Dvořák. The ways in which we explore music at the Festival always provide the richest and most meaningful contexts in which to experience the works of great composers, and for Dvořák, who was so widely regarded and well-traveled during his life, we decided to focus this lens very widely, to include the composers and cultures of Dvořák’s neighbors in Hungary, Romania, Germany and Austria. Included among those composers were Dvořák’s musical ancestors, contemporaries and descendants, all of who could be connected to Dvořák. Among them were: Johannes Brahms, Dvořák’s mentor and advocate from Vienna; Franz Schubert, also from Vienna, whose music inspired many of Dvořák’s compositions; Beethoven, who set a lofty example for Dvořák of what it meant to be a true artist; Leoš Janáček, the great 20th century descendant of Dvořák’s tradition who translated the Romantic era’s passion into modern musical language; and Erwin Schulhoff, a Czech composer of enormous talent and promise, encouraged to pursue a career as a young boy by Dvořák himself, who needlessly perished in a Nazi concentration camp in 1942.

Without exaggeration, hardly a moment passes during these three weeks that is not in some way very special, very memorable, and very important to the life and character of the festival.
Some of my favorite recurring festival moments include: the daily morning meeting of all the Chamber Music Institute students and faculty, during which the day’s events are described and anticipated in exciting detail; sitting in the recording booth with our brilliant producer Da-Hong Seetoo as he listens with phenomenal concentration to a performance being captured for Music@Menlo Live, our in-house recording label; lunch with students, faculty, performers and friends on the beautiful campus of Menlo School, our host and partner; a concert in Menlo School’s Stent Family Hall, one of the most beautiful rooms imaginable in which to hear chamber music; attending a Café Conversation during which our visiting performers often unveil and share with us a wide selection of their projects, passions and experiences; watching both Young Performers and International Performers rise to new heights of poise, precision and artistry in performances; welcoming an exciting selection of artists every summer who are making their Music@Menlo debuts, and seeing our audience delight in newly-discovered talent and festival friends; and the list goes on and on.

Our Institute, which had its beginnings from the Festival’s very first year, has grown to serve an ever-wider range of students from the Bay Area and all over the world. We made a great effort this year to find ways to house students from afar, and this has opened up the possibility of bringing literally the best young musicians the world has to offer right into our mix, benefitting not only our voracious listeners, but the top young local talent, whose experience and standards are raised as they make music with new colleagues truly on their level. In addition, we’ve grown and developed our Chamber Music Institute faculty, and assigned each Institute component a director who oversees the activities of all the students. We now not only can say that we are offering young musicians an incomparable experience – which has always been the case – but also that we are increasingly able to make the Music@Menlo experience practical and affordable for the most deserving and eager young musicians of today.

The Chamber Music Institute programs provide both no-cost performances to our community and invaluable chances for the young chamber musicians of future to play music and to host concerts in a thoroughly professional way. The daily coachings, the many master classes, all that the students absorb through attending the main-stage concerts and other performances, plus the Encounters and Café Conversations, all add up to an incomparable educational experience.

The impact of Music@Menlo on these young musicians is no better evidenced than at the Institute’s concluding concerts. The meticulous and passionate performances, the cheering of the packed house, and the many tears and hugs, onstage and off, make us as proud to be a part of this program as anything we do. A look at the following collection of photos can only begin to provide a true picture of what the Music@Menlo Chamber Music Institute is capable of providing to the deserving young musicians who represent the future of the art.

CMI group bow

Leslie and Josephine

Sophie talks


Full hall

Coaches backstage

CMI coaches Dmitri Atapine, Hyeyeon Park, Gloria Chien, Sunmi Chang, Sean Lee, Nicolas Dautricourt

Tears on stage

Tears offstage

The 2014 festival began as most of our festivals have, with an initial Encounter that provides an overview of the festival and an in-depth look at the subject at hand. Perfectly suited for that mission was musicologist David Beveridge, a Dvořák expert, who made the journey all the way from Prague (where he lives and where we first met) to give us background and context on Dvořák and his world. David traced the incredible line of Dvořák’s career, from the son of simple butcher in a small Bohemian village to a composer of world renown. Included in the Encounter was a thorough geography lesson (something we can all use when talking about Middle Europe) and a fascinating examination of Dvořák’s compositional techniques, with musical examples provided by violinists Erin Keefe and Kristin Lee, violist Paul Neubauer, cellist Dmitri Atapine and bassist Scott Pingel.


Each Music@Menlo festival is anchored by a series of main concert programs that outline the festival’s theme. During our first festival in 2003, there were five of them, but that number has swelled on occasion to eight, which was the case this year. The eight programs, most of which were performed twice, were buttressed by many other events, among them the four Carte Blanche concerts and four Encounters, making the Festival a more-or-less wall-to-wall musical experience over three weeks.

Around Dvořák” traced Dvořák’s life not only from the perspective of his own music but also that of his neighbors past, present and future. The first program, “Dvořák in Context” began with music by Mozart, one of Dvořák’s most inspiring predecessors from nearby Vienna, and concluded with music by a powerful descendant of Dvořák’s folkloric tradition, Béla Bartók. In Mozart’s Serenata Notturna, Wu Han made her Festival debut as timpanist, and a crackerjack ensemble composed of the Escher and Danish Quartets, plus individuals, gave a definitive performance of Bartók’s Divertimento.

WH timpani


Our second main-stage concert program, “Viennese Roots”, paid tribute to the effect of the great classical composers on Dvořák, whose expert craftsmanship gave structure and integrity to his passionate, nationalistic and folk-inspired works. Included on the program were two works of Schubert (about whom Dvořák wrote a learned article), his A-flat Impromptu performed with depth and mastery by Gilbert Kalish, and his flashy Rondo Brilliant for violin and piano, played with lyricism and panache by violinist Sean Lee and pianist Gloria Chien. The program opened with a sparkling trio by Haydn, which gave me chance to sneak on stage with Gloria and the marvelous violinist Kristin Lee, with whom I had the pleasure to play many concerts last season on tour with the Chamber Music Society, all across America, in Germany at the Dresden Festival, and on the CMS cruise in June from Venice to Dubrovnik.

Kalish Schubert

Schubert Rondo

Haydn Trio

Interspersed with our main concert programs and Encounters is another concert series called Carte Blanche, in which Wu Han and I invite extraordinary performers to design and perform programs of their own invention. This series, inaugurated in the festival’s second season, has had an amazing history, and this year’s offerings lived up to the series’ high standard of creativity and excitement. The first program of this year’s Carte Blanche series was performed by the Escher Quartet, simply one of the finest string quartets of now or any age, and they used both their incomparable virtuosity and impeccable traditional string playing style to render, in a single evening, all four quartets by Alexander von Zemlinsky. I daresay that, without having played these quartets myself, it seems to be feat of technique, concentration and stamina that far outweighs playing Bartók’s six quartets in one concert (something I am well-qualified to talk about). The Escher Quartet astounded the over-sold hall with as thrilling a quartet performance as I have heard anywhere, and their two-hour and forty-five minute concert was rewarded with cheers and a hearty meal (in the Music@Menlo tradition).


The main stage concerts continued with a program dedicated to the patronage of the seventh Prince Lobkowicz, Josef Franz Maximilian, a Bohemian nobleman who became the stand-out arts supporter of his family through his commissions and dedications from Haydn and Beethoven. A great lover of chamber music, especially string quartets, this prince kept a house orchestra from which could be formed smaller ensembles, and he enjoyed music in his many castles and palaces, from downtown Vienna to the idyllic Bohemian countryside.

The focus on the Lobkowicz family’s contribution to chamber music was heightened by the presence of today’s heir to the Lobkowicz properties, possession and legacy, William Lobkowicz, who was accompanied on his visit by his wife and three children.


William shared the incredible history of his family during an Encounter, and, in his honor, we resurrected a string quartet composed by the seventh prince’s house composer and orchestra leader, the Czech violinist Antonin Vranicky. William and Sandra listened from the side of the stage, and our quartet, formed with violinist Sean Lee, International Performers Becky Anderson and Cong Wu, and me on cello, was given official permission, upon request and on the spot, to call itself the New Lobkowicz Quartet (neither I nor many of my friends could quite believe I was back in a string quartet so soon – much less forming a new one!).


The main-stage concert program that honored the Lobkowicz family was composed entirely of works commissioned by the Seventh Prince: Haydn’s Quartet Op. 77 No. 2, and by Beethoven, the string quartets Op. 18 No. 1 and Op. 74,“Harp”, plus the song cycle “An die Ferne Geliebte”. Performing for us were Gilbert Kalish and the compelling baritone Randall Scarlata, and the popular Danish String Quartet, justifiably renowned both for the depth of their performances and the wildness of their hair.



The second concert in the Carte Blanche series was something of a double Carte Blanche, as the legendary Brazilian piano virtuoso Arnaldo Cohen has long been admired by Wu Han, who saw this summer’s programming line up with Arnaldo’s specialties, making it the perfect season to introduce this great pianist to the Menlo community in a single recital. His adventurous program paid tribute to the festival’s theme at every turn, traversing Bach-Busoni, Handel-Brahms, Liszt and Chopin, all delivered with apparent ease in show-stopping style, and all before lunch at that. Our audience warmly welcomed a completely new artist, and we have been asked again and again when he will return.


As we had focused on Beethoven so thoroughly through the Lobkowicz concert program, we decided to detour further in Beethoven’s world in concert program four, titled “Beethoven’s Friends”, by performing his music in the company of music by his famous friends and colleagues. Moreover, Anton Reicha was of Czech descent, and Johann Nepomuk Hummel was born in Hungary, so they were certainly well-qualified for Around Dvořák status. Their music was a discovery for many in our already-well-educated audience, which enjoyed these performances featuring both piano and winds.

 Beethoven quintet



Our third Carte Blanche concert was put in the hands of the estimable violinist Yura Lee, who cooked up (she’s a great cook as well so that’s apt to say) a program that one is likely going to hear nowhere else unless it’s Yura and her pianist Dina Vainshtein playing. Their program whole-heartedly served our season theme, ranging from the extraordinary Impressions d’enfance (Impressions of Childhood) by Georges Enescu, to Bartók’s essential Sonata no. 1 for violin and piano, with Dvořák, Suk and Hubay thrown in between. Yura played with her signature intensity and magical technical accuracy, and all left the hall amazed at both the music and performers.


In Concert Program five, titled “American Visions”, we followed Dvořák all the way to America, where he spent the years 1892-95 heading the National Conservatory in New York City. To document his experience in and effect on American musical culture, we created a sequence of music that told something of a story. Beginning with a rousing performance by Gilles Vonsattel of Gottschalk’s The Union, a medley of American popular songs coupled with ingenious, parlor-trick sound effects, the jovial piece became the perfect setup for Dvořák’s cheerful and quintessentially American-sounding Sonatina in G Major for violin and piano, composed during his stay, and performed for us by Wu Han and violinist Arnaud Sussmann.


The happy mood Dvořák created was then carried on by the first song in a set by the American maverick Charles Ives, and as Randall Scarlata and Gilbert Kalish moved from song to song, the music of Ives became more and more mystical and unsettling. This was exactly what we had hoped for, as we needed to set the mood for us all to experience the phenomenal American Songbook II: A Journey beyond Time, by contemporary legend George Crumb.

Joining us for the Crumb were Gilbert Kalish (without a doubt, the leading interpreter of Crumb’s music), Randall Scarlata, and percussionists Ayano Kataoka, Ian Rosenbaum, Chris Froh and Florian Conzetti. One can see from the photo below that to say they had their hands full would be a true understatement.


The concert’s impact was mesmerizing and powerful. Nothing in the festival could have made us prouder than the virtuosity and versatility of our incredible collection of performers that night, nor the sight of a packed audience on its feet screaming bravo’s at the conclusion of a truly adventurous program.

During the next main stage program, titled “Transitions”, we explored where music went in the wake of Dvořák’s Romantic age, seeking palpable connections between the music of the nineteenth century and modern times. Wu Han opened the program alone with Brahms’s late Intermezzi, Op. 118, which she described as the most intimate music of the festival, and also some of the most forward-looking of the late Romantic era.

Cellist Dmitri Atapine and pianist Hyeyeon Park then performed a selection of works by the Second Viennese School composer Anton Webern that perfectly documented the transition from the tonal to the atonal age. Webern’s first two pieces, composed in 1899, sound much like the Brahms that Wu Han had just finished, but his second set of three pieces, composed fifteen years later, are completely without key centers, and derive their hyper-romantic, expressionist emotion through both overt and suggestive musical gestures, as well as extreme dynamic levels. Our exceptional performers – both faculty of the Chamber Music Institute as well as graduates of the International Performers program – made the works truly their own, as they moved between all five pieces without a break, playing both cello and piano parts from memory. It was a highlight of the festival for me and Wu Han to watch another cello-piano duo take over such repertoire with expertise, dedication, and captivating charisma.


Also on the program was the Concertino by Dvořák’s musical descendant Leoš Janáček, a work that shows the colorful Czech folk idiom in full twentieth-century bloom.


The final concert in the festival’s Carte Blanche series was entrusted to the powerhouse pianist Gilles Vonsattel, who made his Music@Menlo debut last season in a blazing performance of the Franck Quintet. His program for this festival centered on the ideas of nationalism and revolution, two social phenomena that were strongly present throughout Europe during Dvořák’s lifetime. He began with two works by history’s greatest revolutionary composer, Beethoven, and both the sad stillness and bursting anger of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata were duly echoed in the work that followed, Liszt’s Funerailles. After an intermission during which all the pianists in the room said that they had better go practice, Gilles returned to perform one of the most beautiful pieces of Janáček that I have ever heard, his Sonata 1.X.1905 which mourns the death of a young Czech student, killed by pro-German forces while demonstrating for the building of Czech-speaking university. Saint-Saëns’s Africa followed, a wild, tour-de-force for the piano inspired by the composer’s trip to Egypt and Algeria. The recital concluded with Fredric Rzewski’s 1979 work titled Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues, and inspired by the poem of an anonymous cotton mill worker describing the mill’s harsh conditions, written in 1880. Gilles’s phenomenal performance of this mind-twisting work, all from memory like the rest of his recital, left all of us cheering and shaking our heads in disbelief. From Beethoven’s sophisticated late Bagatelles to Rzewski’s pictorial, jazz-infused tone poem, Gilles had covered all the bases, basically hitting it out of the park.


Along the way, Encounter Leader Michael Parloff returned for his third consecutive Music@Menlo appearance to enlighten us on late nineteenth and early twentieth century’s composers who delved into the folk music of their native lands. As usual, Michael came prepared with a veritable galaxy of images, recordings, videos and information, streamed together seamlessly, which added up to one of the finest lectures on music that we’ve heard anywhere.


We would have neglected a great opportunity had we not devoted an entire evening – our seventh concert program titled “Hungarica” – to the music of Dvořák’s great neighboring country, Hungary. In doing so, we proudly brought to the stage a spectacular collection of performers, some of them new to Menlo this season (cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan and violinists Nicolas Dautricourt and Alexander Sitkovetsky). Joining them were more recent additions to our main stage roster (violinist Benjamin Beilman and pianist Gloria Chien) as well as Music@Menlo veterans: violinist Jorja Fleezanis, violist Paul Neubauer, and, for good measure, Wu Han and me. The rather wild program included music by Liszt, Ligeti, Bartók, Kodály, and Dohnányi, all of it invigorating to play and hear.

Prior to our concluding performances, Encounter Leader Ara Guzelimian returned to confront a subject that few could with such passion and sensitivity: the persecution of musicians, artists, and art itself during the eras of Nazism and Communism. The story is no better illustrated than through the Czech lens, as the subjugation of Czechoslovakia by the Nazis meant not only the end of progressive Czech music, but also the negation of the country’s proud heritage, as we had heard about first-hand from William Lobkowicz, whose entire family was forced to flee their homeland twice during the 1930’s and 40’s.

Ara’s brilliantly planned and moving Encounter led us through the era with music composed in Terezín, or Theresienstadt in German, the “show camp” set up by the Nazis to try to convince the outside world that Jews were being humanely treated. Nothing could have been further from the truth, but the only positive outcome of this staged community was that it was necessary to produce art as a sign of social health, and therefore art was allowed and enabled to happen by the monstrously cruel people who ran it. The Encounter included a film clip of the late Alice Herz-Sommer, a pianist who survived Terezín and who performed one hundred and fifty concerts there. She passed away last spring in London at the age of 110, and at 109 she was still practicing the piano some three hours a day. The film made about her, called “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved my Life” won the Oscar for Best Documentary the week after she died, and is now available to watch on Netflix and can be purchased directly from the producer. In addition, I should mention that our great friend and colleague Daniel Hope recently created and hosted a documentary on Terezín called “Refuge in Music” which has been released by Deutsche Grammophon. Both films are compelling and beautifully told accounts of this sad yet inspiring chapter of human history.


For our eighth and final concert program, “Bridging Dvořák”, we collected a sampling of the festival’s music and ideas, juxtaposing works that, we hoped, would truly summarize the idea of Around Dvořák. Beginning with a work by the acknowledged father of Czech music, Bedřich Smetana, we moved on to the delightful Serenade for string trio by the Hungarian Dohnányi. The centerpiece of this program, however, was undeniably the String Sextet by Erwin Schulhoff, one of the brightest lights of Czech music during the early part of the 20th century. This haunting work, which somehow presages the horrific events of World War II and Schulhoff’s own untimely death, provided our festival with its most powerful link from the colorful, mostly cheerful world that Dvořák knew, to the world of the twentieth century and the one we live in now, with ups and downs of proportions unimaginable during Dvořák’s age.

It would not have been fitting, however, to end such a joyous festival with music as disturbing as the Schulhoff, so we decided to send our listeners off with one of chamber music’s most beloved and often-heard works, Dvořák’s Piano Quintet in A Major. Joining us was pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, who headed a powerful ensemble that brought the audience to its feet, and Music@Menlo 2014 to a glowing conclusion.

Dvorak quintet

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The eleventh season of Music@Menlo, David and Wu Han’s hand-crafted and now world-renowned chamber music festival, celebrated the legacy of Johann Sebastian Bach, the composer whose music has set the course for Western music over the nearly two centuries since his death.  In addition, the festival’s thriving Chamber Music Institute trained fifty promising young instrumentalists, ages 8 to 31, in the fine art of ensemble playing.


In David’s words

During Music@Menlo’s 2009 Season, titled Through Brahms,  we experienced an extraordinary event that inspired our festival this summer. As we were juxtaposing music by composers who had either influenced or been inspired by Brahms, one of the concerts opened with Bach’s 2nd Suite for Solo Cello, followed by a variety of works from composers such as Schoenberg, Harbison and Rachmaninov. During the masculine yet poetic performance of the Bach by cellist Laurence Lesser, the sound of the solitary cello overtook the large hall, and we listened to the rest of the concert with changed ears. Having confirmed similar sensations of heightened listening with many of our musician colleagues in attendance, we began to dream of a season where each program began with Bach – a festival was born.

We began our Bach celebration with a joyous rendition of his Concerto in C major for two harpsichords, played on modern pianos with power and conviction by returning Music@Menlo veteran Derek Han, and rising star Gloria Chien. Gloria’s career has been on a steady upward swing ever since she first auditioned for the festival’s International Performers program in 2006. After stand-out performances that summer, she returned as an Institute faculty member in 2008, and was appointed Chamber Music Institute Director in 2011. In the meantime, she won the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s 2012 CMS Two auditions, joining the program’s roster of extraordinary young musicians such as violinists Arnaud Sussmann and Erin Keefe, pianists Juho Pohjonen and Alessio Bax, and clarinetists Anthony McGill and Jose Franch-Ballester. Along the way, she also started her own chamber music series in Chattanooga, Tennessee, String Theory at the Hunter, now in its fifth successful season. We are immensely proud of, and inspired by Gloria.  She has outperformed conventional expectations in everything she’s done, and no challenge we’ve ever thrown her way has daunted her adventurous musicianship or formidable technique.

Gloria Chien and Derek Han perform Schubert’s Rondo in A Major, D951

Korean violinist Soovin Kim, also veteran of the CMS Two program,  violinist of the Johannes Quartet, violin professor at Stony Brook University, and music director of the Lake Champlain festival, made his Music@Menlo debut with a marathon solo violin concert that left us all astounded. Working his way from solo Bach to Jörg Widmann, with composers such as Paganini and Bartok in between, Kim performed the repertoire flawlessly, and virtually all of it from memory. His spoken remarks from the stage revealed him to be a charismatic and learned lecturer – a talent highly marketable for young musicians in today’s classical music scene.  After Soovin’s herculean performance, which lasted from 10:30 a.m. to nearly 3:00 p.m. with a short lunch break, all the musicians scurried off to practice.

Violinist Soovin Kim

Guiding us through the rigorous Music@Menlo LIVE recording process was returning sound engineer, recording producer and violinist Da-Hong Seetoo, who has been with us every step of the way since the founding of ArtistLed, our recording label, back in 1997.  Da-Hong records every concert and  dress rehearsal to ensure us nearly perfect recordings on  the festival’s much praised label, and his advice on everything from fingerings to bowings to composers’ markings is an invaluable contribution to the artistic product. So critical is his ear that musicians at Menlo have turned his name into a verb: to have been “Da-Honged” is to have successfully undergone his scrutiny and sometimes brutally honest interrogation during our dress rehearsals. However, it is all for a good cause, as we are thrilled and grateful for his diligence when we hear, many months later, the final product of our efforts forever engraved into the Music@Menlo LIVE label.

French violinist Arnaud Sussmann once again contributed his beautiful violin playing and tasteful musicianship to our festival. We call Arnaud a chamber music prodigy as when he came to us he had hardly had any experience in the genre, having spent his formative years in soloist training with Itzhak Perlman.  But he took to chamber music like a duck to water, and, like Gloria Chien, every challenge Arnaud has taken on has resulted in stellar performances – not to mention that he is one of the nicest people we’ve ever known.

Violinist Arnaud Sussmann alongside Soovin Kim

We could not be more proud of the young musicians who have come our way through auditions on both coasts, and violinists Kristin Lee and Sean Lee are perfect examples. Both extraordinary players, they have risen through the ranks to our main stages in the most challenging repertoire, and for two summers now have proven invaluable members of our Institute faculty as well. Assisting us on stage and in the classroom this summer was returning International Performer Sunmi Chang, who proved an indefatigable coach and equally brilliant violinist and violist in a variety of performances.

Sean Lee and Kristin Lee teach

Sunmi Chang teaches

After a breathtaking Opening Night performance of Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, percussionists Ian Rosenbaum and Christopher Froh were joined by Ayano Kataoka for the festival’s first-ever all-percussion Carte Blanche, one of the most adventurous programming projects we have ever mounted. Although we knew – because of these incredible performers  – that the event would be of amazing quality, we did not know for sure how our audience, which has been groomed on string quartets and piano trios, would react to a completely new genre of chamber music. But they showed up in large numbers, and, as hoped for, were on their feet by the end cheering the miraculous feats of memory, coordination and musicianship by our three exceptional performers.

Toru Takemitsu’s Rain Tree; Lighting by Joe Beahm

Music@Menlo has been very fortunate to be able to partner with extraordinary visual artists, whose work graces not only our annual posters but all of the festival publications, creating a distinctive look and feel for each summer’s festival. This year we were thrilled to welcome the Argentinian-America painter Sebastian Spreng, who spent a week at the festival speaking to our audiences and attending virtually every concert.  Sebastian, besides being an artist of extraordinary gifts, is also an expert music journalist, making regular contributions to the Spanish language publication Miami Clásica. In fact, Wu Han and I first met Sebastian when he interviewed me with the Emerson Quartet many years ago.  Sebastian’s art was a perfect fit for this summer’s festival, as his deeply expressive and thoughtful paintings reflected our similar musical journey to the realm of the sublime. His stylistic image of a lone tree, for us, seemed to coincidentally depict the role of Bach in our musical history, as the nourishing trunk, rooted in the earth, from which all branches spring. It was a joy to have Sebastian among us and we will long treasure the memory of his presence and the beauty of his work.

Sebastian Spreng

Coming on the scene for the first time was the remarkable Danish Quartet, a young group of blonde ruffians who defy their rustic appearance through sublime performances of the most sophisticated literature. Such was their audition performance of the slow movement of Beethoven’s late quartet Op. 127 two years ago, at CMS, that the jury unanimously awarded them a spot on the CMS Two roster. Tapping into that extraordinary gift the quartet possesses, Music@Menlo presented them in a demanding program that concluded with Beethoven’s sublime quartet Op. 132.  Our listeners certainly know quality when they hear it: the Danish Quartet, completely unknown in the Bay Area, became an instant object of affection.  It’s not hard to like these guys: they are nice to everyone and to each other as well, here enjoying a game of Frisbee on the Menlo lawn during a rehearsal break.

Of the festival’s many memorable performances, there were  two solo cello Carte Blanche explorations by Colin Carr and Laurence Lesser. Besides offering a selection of Bach’s solo suites, these two formidable musicians surveyed the evolution of the literature through solo works by George Crumb, Luigi Dallapiccola and Zoltan Kodaly.

Cellist Laurence Lesser

Cellist Colin Carr

Violinist Jorja Fleezanis, a founding and frequent participant of Music@Menlo, offered her own Carte Blanche entitled “Into the Light”, in which she performed music that has lifted spirits of listeners through the ages. From Bach’s E major violin concerto to Messiaen’s Variations, she chose a program that mirrored her inspiring personality and probing musicianship. Trumpeter David Washburn made a spectacular contribution to this concert, as did soprano Elizabeth Futral, making her Music@Menlo debut.

Jorja Fleezanis’s Carte Blanche

A particular highlight of the festival was the Preludes and Fugues program, which, beginning of course with Bach, offered examples of the two forms throughout music history, culminating with a stunning performance of Benjamin Britten’s 1943 Prelude and Fugue for eighteen strings. Making his Music@Menlo debut in this concert was the extraordinary pianist Gilles Vonsattel, who would remain with us a bit longer for a powerful performance of César Franck’s powerful Piano Quintet.

Britten’s Prelude and Fugue for Eighteen Strings

Franck Piano Quintet with Gilles Vonsattel

Of Music@Menlo’s many essential components, there is hardly one more dear to us and the festival community than its Chamber Music Institute. Having grown steadily in numbers and infrastructure since our first season, the Institute (CMI) now boasts a dedicated faculty of five mentors for its Young Performers division (ages 8-18). Pianist Gloria Chien returned for her third season as Institute Director, assisted by faculty members Sean Lee, Kristin Lee, Dmitri Atapine, Hyeyeon Park and Sunmi Chang. In two spectacular concerts, in front of teeming houses at our largest venue, the young musicians of this intensive program delivered inspiring performances in which all aspects – from their stage deportment to their introductory remarks and of course their interpretations – were prepared and delivered at a professional level.  We could not be more grateful for our extraordinary faculty’s dedication, wisdom and musicianship, which guided so many of our students on their very first performances of chamber works often of extreme difficulty.

Our incredible institute staff. Left to Right: Wu Han, violinist/violist Sunmi Chang, violinist Kristin Lee, pianist Hyeyeon Park, violinist Sean Lee, cellist Dmitri Atapine, pianist Gloria Chien, General Manager and Education Programs Director Marianne LaCrosse

The Institute’s senior component, the International Performers Program, this summer hosted thirteen incredibly gifted young professionals. Among them was a newly-formed string quartet, the Tallis, who not only performed quartet literature but mixed with their colleagues in collaborative works. We proudly welcomed back to our Institute violinist Alexi Kenney, a graduate of the Young Performers Program who is headed this fall to New England Conservatory. Last minute injuries sidelined this program’s two cellists, but we fortunately found available – and stunningly equipped replacements – Sujin Lee and Richard Narroway.

Now essential to the IP program is the presence of season-long mentor faculty who guide these professional level students during a particularly challenging stage of any musician’s career. Conservatory age brings a host of new challenges for serious young players as they begin to grapple with the realities of the music industry today, and search for their own places within it. Music@Menlo could not have been more blessed than to have, as senior faculty, the team of Gilbert Kalish and Jorja Fleezanis, who gave wholly of themselves to the Institute’s students for the entire festival.  Their wisdom, compassion, energy and consummate musicianship set examples not only for our students but for the entire festival community.

Jorja Fleezanis

Gilbert Kalish

Our four Encounters events – full evening lectures on festival-related subjects – have been a favorite component of Music@Menlo since its inception. Returning this summer were four incomparable speakers, thinkers and teachers, each of whom delved into a fascinating subject. Stuart Isacoff, in an entertaining evening derived from his recent book A Social History of the Piano, explored how Bach’s keyboard instrument, the harpsichord, evolved into the modern, 9- foot concert grand pianos we hear on stage today. Michael Parloff, in a wizardly presentation, dissected Bach’s great contrapuntal works, The Art of the Fugue and Musical Offering, and related the amazing anecdotes and history of these two monumental creations. Ara Guzelimian, in his characteristically eloquent manner, went to the heart of this festival’s idea, making obvious the relevance of Bach’s music to people of so many times and places. And Patrick Castillo concluded the series with an exploration of the spiritual side of Bach. Bach’s great spiritual works such as the St. Matthew Passion and the B Minor Mass simply can’t be performed by chamber forces, and Patrick did an extraordinary service to Bach by bringing this essential missing component of his work to life at the festival.

Ara Guzelimian

Stuart Isacoff

Michael Parloff

Patrick Castillo

The festival reached an exhilarating conclusion as we examined Bach’s legacy of the solo concerto, all the way from his own Concerto for Oboe and Violin to Mendelssohn’s fiendishly virtuosic Double Concerto for violin and piano. Oboist James Austin Smith, one of the brightest young stars of his instrument, made his second visit to the festival, partnered in the concerto by the charismatic and powerful violinist Kristin Lee. In between Bach and Mendelssohn came Schubert and Mozart, with violinist Sean Lee performing a sublime Rondo by Schubert, and pianist Gilbert Kalish offering a consummate rendition of Mozart’s concerto K. 414. And for the concluding fireworks of the Mendelssohn, Wu Han was joined by violinist Benjamin Beilman, returning after his triumphant festival debut last summer. It was a rousing finish to a festival like none other, which is, very proudly, Music@Menlo’s own cherished legacy.

Bach Concerto for Violin and Oboe, BWV 1060

Schubert Rondo in A Major for Violin and String Quartet, D. 438

Mozart Piano Concerto no. 12 in A Major, K. 414

Mendelssohn Double Concerto for Violin, Piano, and Strings

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The final week of Music@Menlo’s 10th anniversary season began with a Café Conversation which opened the eyes and ears of the audience to the possibilities of music education through the internet. As a long passion and curiosity for me, I decided to share many of my favorite videos, recordings, and web sites – focusing especially on our students.  Dividing my talk into three segments – music lessons, master classes, and performance examples – the hour and 15 minutes flew by as we toured violinist Kurt Sassmannshaus’s violinmasterclass.com, Paul Katz’s cellobello.com, and my own cellotalks.com.  We then moved to the masterclassfoundation.com site which offers numerous classes, and we watched Daniel Barenboim working with both Lang Lang and Alessio Bax on Beethoven.  Finishing up with performances, the room sat in an awed silence as we experienced the incomparable sound of David Oistrakh in Debussy’s Clair de Lune.

The week included a fantastic series of master classes, one after the other, led by Ani Kavafian, Gilbert Kalish, Ian Swensen, and finally Wu Han on Friday. She worked magically with two Young Performers’ piano duos on Mozart and Schubert with the hall packed full of listeners. Her ability to express herself powerfully, and to inspire, always enables young musicians to rise to higher levels and to produce new and more musical sounds, right in front of the audience.  And she does it all so naturally, and with such love – sometimes tough love – that it draws everyone together onto the same page- like very few artists I’ve ever seen.

Wednesday brought the season’s final Encounter, led by festival Artistic Administrator, Patrick Castillo. Focusing on the diversity of musical experiences today, and on today’s uses of music and listening habits, Patrick courageously put forth strong theories concerning the role of music in contemporary society, challenging his listeners with experimental and provocative musical examples.  Declaring rightly that “Music today is inescapably everywhere” ,  Patrick reasoned that music is an important means of engaging with the world of our time, and his selections – from Steve Reich to Mario Davidovsky – justified his arguments.  A riveting performance by Gloria Chien of Davidovsky’s Synchronism for piano and prepared tape perhaps elicited a pivotal moment in the evening, in which an audience member suddenly spoke out saying “That’s not music!” The tension was high for a few moments while Patrick deftly navigated away from a protracted argument, but as Patrick said in his opening remarks, there are more questions than answers about music today, and it is precisely the questioning that is the most important process.

On Thursday, the pressure shifted towards me and Wu Han as we presented our Carte Blanche recital program.   There is nothing quite like playing in front of your students: you tell them what to do and what not to do for 3 weeks, and then it is time for you to live up to the same expectations you have set for them.  We played a program in which each work represented one of the main festival program themes: Our opening Strauss Sonata was Delighted, the Messiaen “Praise to the Eternity of Jesus” was Inspired; Wu Han’s Spanish dances by Albeniz was Motivated; Glazunov’s “Minstrel’s Song” was Transported, and finally, Chopin’s Cello Sonata was Impassioned.  We made it through somehow, and people seemed to enjoy it, which is the most we could ask for in the middle of our heavy festival schedule.

After the Friday night concert in Stent Hall at Menlo School, a large crowd consisting of artists and staff trekked through the back gate of Menlo school, crossed the driveway, and went through the hole in the fence that leads to the house of long-time festival friend Jack Phillips.  It was the most poignant of parties, as, after hosting ten years of gatherings there, Jack has decided to sell the house.  But the good news is that it was purchased by Menlo School, and we are hoping with all our might that the new Head of School – who will live there – might enjoy a party once in a while.  (It was Jack Phillips who introduced us to Menlo School twelve years ago and helped us forge the relationship that began the festival.  We can never thank him enough!)

On Saturday at noon, the final Koret Young Performers Concert took place in the Center for Performing Arts at Menlo-Atherton.  These events have always been packed, even though we are now presenting them in our larger 500-seat hall. Unusual ensembles, including two octets (Spohr and Mendelssohn) bookended the concert, which showcased the incredible talents and preparation of the students in violin duos, piano duos, and even a selection of sublime cello quartets.  We could not be more proud of our students, and of our coaches, who all emerged for a well-deserved ovation from the audience of students, staff, parents, many senior artists and IP’s, the public, and of course me and Wu Han.

The summer’s closing concert, entitled Delighted, presented music which was designed to be enjoyed. No lofty messages came off the stage on Friday and Saturday, but plenty of great music and phenomenal playing nonetheless.  It’s possible that I have not heard a chamber music concert with quite so many notes, between Paul Schoenfield’s frenetic trio for clarinet, violin and piano, Mendelssohn’s Allegro Brillant for piano, four hands, Moszkowski’s virtuoso four-movement duo for two violins and piano, and the grand Chausson Concerto for violin, piano and string quartet. Ani Kavafian was the eloquent soloist in the Chausson, spinning out gorgeous lines while pianist Inon Barnatan, with the score mostly in his head but reading off an iPad nevertheless, dispatched the fearsome piano part with astounding command and musicianship.  In a concert that was riddled with highlights, among them were: the triumphant violin performances of Sean Lee and Kristin Lee in the Moszkowski; the wild and funny performance of the Schoenfield by Gloria Chien, Arnaud Sussmann and Jose Franch-Ballester; and the expert performance of the festival’s made-to-order string quartet for the Chausson, consisting of  Sean and Kristin Lee, Arnaud Sussmann on viola, and cellist Dmitri Atapine.

A grand closing party brought speeches, tributes and thanks to all our staff, musicians, donors, board members, and many audience members who attended the event.  In what seemed like a few moments, Music@Menlo’s 10th anniversary season had ended as quickly as it began, and everyone scattered: musicians running off to other festivals, some on the evening’s red eye flights to the east coast; staff back into the offices on Sunday for debriefings and festival clean up; and Wu Han and I back to New York for two nights only.

Added Value Blog: A Great Moment

On Monday night in New York, the Emerson Quartet reconvened for a single concert at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall for a Mostly Mozart Festival concert.  It was a great surprise, and delight, for me to learn that my successor in the Emerson, cellist Paul Watkins, was in the audience with his wife Jennifer, and backstage we saw each other for the first time since he accepted the position of cellist in the quartet.  We gathered joyfully for what will be, I’m sure, the first of many group photos.

Post script:

Stay tuned to this blog for a major post from the next chapter of our amazing summer.

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After nine successful years, Music@Menlo, the summer chamber music festival started by David Finckel and Wu Han on the San Francisco Peninsula, opened its doors last week to celebrate a milestone season.  The first week included the concerts, lectures, master classes and festive events that have been a part of the festival since its earliest year.


In David’s words

Like a dream come true, Wu Han and I arrived in San Francisco on consecutive days, from diverse and hectic summer schedules, to open Music@Menlo’s landmark tenth season.  Almost everyone, except the performers and Chamber Music Institute students, had already shown up to prepare.  Some of the interns had been on site for nearly four weeks learning how to perform a wide range of seasonal festival tasks, from managing donor events to selling CD’s, from artist hospitality to concert production.

One of our first stops – one of the most exciting every year – was to see the art of our festival visual artist displayed in Stent Family Hall, one of the festival’s most beloved concert venues and the true heart of Music@Menlo.  This year’s artist is the brilliant Harvard professor Eric J. Heller, who captures actual sound waves and converts them into extraordinarily beautiful graphics.

The festival’s 10-year partner, the New York based ProPiano, was on hand to deliver the dozens of pianos required for concerts and rehearsals, including three always-magnificent Hamburg 9-foot Steinway D’s, the state-of-the-art instrument preferred by artists and venues the world over.

We were delighted to see our CMI faculty hard at work preparing for the imminent arrival of over forty eager young musicians.  This special group of teachers, assembled from past International Performer classes, includes: Institute Director, pianist Gloria Chien; violinists Sean Lee, Kristin Lee, and Hye-Jin Kim; pianists Teresa Yu and Hyeyeon Park; and cellists Dmitri Atapine and Nicholas Canellakis.

Coaches Dmitri Atapine, Hyeyeon Park, and Sean Lee

A significant addition to the Institute’s faculty structure this season is the creation of the International Performers director position, this summer occupied by no less an august musician than pianist Gilbert Kalish.  Gil remains in residence, teaching and performing, for the entire three weeks this summer, and this festival could not be luckier to have him.  His vast experience as a performer and educator are matched by few in the world today.

To introduce the festival and to explain the season’s theme, Resonance, we called on long-time festival friend Ara Guzelimian to present the opening Encounter on Friday evening.  Our association with this deep-thinking and eloquent scholar, educator and administrator goes back many years, having known him in his many distinguished roles at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Aspen Music Festival, Carnegie Hall, and currently at the Juilliard School, where he is both Dean and Provost.  (As such, he is my new boss, having recently joined the Juilliard cello faculty).

Ara spoke movingly about the importance of great music in the world today in a two-hour presentation entitled Why Music?  The events of that day, on everyone’s mind, provided the first opportunity for the topic’s relevance: the massacre in the movie theater in Colorado. Ara reminded us that when human beings commit unspeakable, inhuman acts, we all hope and reach for a sense of renewal of faith in ourselves, in society, and in each other.  Music’s transformative and restorative qualities offer reassurance, emotional footing and sustenance in the most trying of times and circumstances, and Ara shared his own experience of depending on music during a time of personal crisis.  As can always be expected of Ara, his Encounter was not only informative but inspirational, providing all us with a clear view of the weeks ahead, and all of the right reasons to be here in the first place.

On Saturday, the festival’s annual Open House day, Wu Han and I took the stage of Martin Family Lecture Hall to be interviewed by festival Artistic Administrator Patrick Castillo, who is also celebrating his 10th consecutive year with the festival.  Joining us was Executive Director Edward Sweeney, Operations Director Marianne LaCrosse, pianist and Institute Director Gloria Chien, Production Manager Ellen Mezzera, Assistant Artistic Administrator Andrew Goldstein. The unusual discussion focused on the activities and role of Music@Menlo’s remarkable internship program and how it parallels the Chamber Music Institute in training the future music industry.

Patrick Castillo, Gloria Chien, David Finckel, Wu Han, Andrew Goldstein, Edward Sweeney, Ellen Mezzera, Marianne LaCrosse at a question and answer session during Open House Day

After a quick run dress rehearsal for the evening’s concert, I returned to Menlo School where I was privileged to share the stage with Ara Guzelimian for the season’s first Café Conversation, the festival series of presentations by artists and guests on a wide variety of music-related subjects.  Ara and I talked about the use of composers’ original manuscripts as keys to interpretation.  We introduced the Juilliard School’s state-of-the-art web site devoted to its extensive manuscript collection, all of which is viewable online in high definition.  I shared with the large audience of CMI students and Open House public photos from my recent visit to Prague (see the Bohemian Immersion blog from late May) of the manuscripts of Dvorak.  The intrepid CMI International Performers joined us on stage to demonstrate the different possibilities of interpretation revealed by the manuscripts – possibilities not visible in printed editions.

With Ara’s enticing Encounter still fresh in our memories, we were all primed for the first concert on Saturday night in Stent Family Hall on the beautiful campus of Menlo School. After a dynamic Prelude Performance by the International Performers, which included Haydn’s Lark Quartet and Dvorak’s Piano Quartet, Wu Han welcomed the eager audience to the first main stage concert of the anniversary festival.

The opening of this festival has to have been one of the most extraordinary openings of any concert series ever presented.  A program entitled Sustained offered music of the kind that nourishes the soul, fills basic human needs, strengthens and ennobles. One of music’s most profound, joyful and exciting works is the duo for violin and piano that Franz Schubert composed late in his life.  Titled Fantasie, it is just that, with a slow, magical opening of rippling piano chords and a seemingly endless, timeless melody for the violin.  The mystery gives way to a vibrant and brilliant dance, followed by a set of variations on one of Schubert’s most beloved songs, the achingly beautiful Sei mir gegrußt.  After a return of the mysterious opening, the music breaks into a triumphant C major melody, and the piece concludes with unbelievable fireworks from both instruments.  It is universally regarded as one of the most difficult works in classical music.

Rising to the challenge, and well beyond, was returning Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen partnered with the young violinist – also a recent addition to the CMS Two roster, Benjamin Beilman.  These two musicians, in a jaw-dropping display of virtuosity and equally sensitive musicians, brought our audience to its feet.  It was their first performance of the work – neither of them had ever played it before, either together or separately.

This bar-setting performance was followed by the return on stage of one of Music@Menlo’s most beloved artists: clarinetist Anthony McGill, who was not only with us in the festival’s first season but also in its one-day pilot concert in 2002.  Joining him was the Pacifica Quartet, no strangers to the festival, having performed the complete Mendelssohn quartets two summers ago in the 2009 season, Being Mendelssohn.  The work they played together is one of the all-time favorite pieces of chamber music, the Mozart Clarinet Quintet, well known as a “desert island” piece that many people simply cannot live without.  The heavenly slow movement once again reminded us of the many reasons we began this project in the first place, as we looked over our audience in a state of profound concentration, many overcome with emotion.

Having been soothed by Mozart, and entranced by Schubert, it was time to be strengthened by the composer who does that better than anyone: Ludwig van Beethoven.  From him we chose his magnificent piano trio Op. 70, No. 2 in Eb, a middle-period work that combines the energy of his youth, the expansiveness of his mature style, and hints of the transcendent music of his last years.  I was privileged to be the cellist joining the already-spectacular duo of Benjamin Beilman and Juho Pohjonen.

Sunday morning brought the first Carte Blanche Concert, a tour-de-force by the newly-formed duo of clarinetist Anthony McGill and pianist Gloria Chien.  Over two-and-a-half hours, these indefatigable rendered flawless performances of solo and duo works, including standard literature such as the Poulenc Sonata and novelties such as transcriptions of Scriabin Preludes.  At the program’s emotional center were two extraordinary works for each player as soloist: Scriabin’s Etude for the left hand alone, performed with astounding beauty, accuracy and command by Gloria, and the movement for solo clarinet from Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, played by Anthony in a performance that could only be called sonic magic.  As Gilbert Kalish told me right after the concert “Anthony can do absolutely anything on the clarinet”, and he certainly proved it on Sunday, all before lunch to boot.  It was easily one of the best recitals we have ever heard, and much of it will be available on record, produced by Da-Hong Seetoo.

The weekend finished with another performance of Concert Program I in the Performing Arts Center at Menlo-Atherton.  Stay tuned for next week’s report, appearing here next Monday.

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On the evening of December 5th, David and Wu Han accepted Musical America’s 2012 Musicians of the Year award in a special celebration at Lincoln Center. Also honored were Instrumentalist of the Year, Gil Shaham; Composer of the Year, Meredith Monk; Vocalist of the Year, Jonas Kaufmann; and Conductor of the  Year, Jaap van Zweden. Watch David and Wu Han’s acceptance speech below:

In David’s words

It was a very, very long and wonderful day.

At 5 a.m. in Aarhus Denmark with a ride to the airport courtesy of Mogens Kilian (see previous tour report),we began our journey through Copenhagen to New York to receive the greatest honor of our careers.

Musical America’s Musician of the Year Award is the highest honor in classical music given in America, and is recognized around the world.  We have proudly joined a list of recipients that includes Anne-Sophie Mutter, Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, Anna Netrebko, Riccardo Muti, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Andre Previn, and Bernard Haitink.

Musical America was founded in 1898 as a weekly arts newspaper.  Over the years the publication passed through various hands.  The first incarnation of what is today’s annual issue appeared in 1921, and has evolved to become the bible of musical presenting, including articles on honoree musicians, advertisements, listings of virtually all artists worldwide under professional management, and reports by managers on their current artistic offerings.  The practice of awarding a musician of the year award began in 1960.  In 1998, Musical America launched musicalamerica.com, which has since become a source of choice for the most up-to-date news the music world.

When we first heard about an award coming our way from Musical America, we surmised that perhaps we were being recognized as instrumentalists, or  educators.  We needed to be told several times, after numerous double-checkings, that we were indeed to receive the top award.

The fact is still somewhat surreal.  That this award wound up in the hands of musicians who have gone about their business unconcerned with market pressures and commercial considerations is not only incredible but historic. When we started ArtistLed, we were alone and had no idea that so many institutions and artists would follow us down the path of independent recording production. We have always thought of ourselves as servants of the art, never as celebrities, and we have never sought the spotlight as a source of gratification for our efforts.  Our lives in music have always been about “the work”, as we call it, but what makes the Musical America award so special for us is that we have received it because of that work, not just for our instrumental activities.

The awards ceremony began just after 6 p.m. in Lincoln Center’s Kaplan Penthouse – familiar territory for us, as it is located on the 10th floor of the Rose Building, just across from the offices of the Chamber Music Society.

The room was packed with what seemed to be every important person in the classical music industry.  Everywhere we looked, the magazine cover, with our beautiful picture by Christian Steiner, was prominently displayed.  There was nowhere for us to hide on this occasion!

Musical America editor Sedgwick Clark paid tribute to the honorees and handed each of us our awards.  We all made speeches acknowledging those who have helped and supported us, and spoke of what this award meant to us.

It was especially wonderful to receive the award in the company of two friends of many years, Meredith Monk and Gil Shaham.  We all  had fun congratulating each other and posing for photographs.

As the awards ceremony came to an end at 7 p.m., we moved next door to the Society’s Rose Studio, which had been set for a special invited dinner party in our honor.  Jointly hosted by CMS, Music@Menlo and ArtistLed, this gathering of over one hundred brought together, for the first time, people from our various walks of life, all known to us but not necessarily to each other.  It was a way for us to acknowledge and thank all those without whom such an honor as we had just received would likely have never have reached our hands.

Joining us from Music@Menlo were Executive Director Edward Sweeney, plus board members Trine Sorensen, Kathy Henschel, Ann Bowers, and Eff Martin, accompanied by his wife Patty.

With Eff and Patty Martin

Ann Bowers spoke on behalf of Music@Menlo

Wu Han with Trine Sorenson

Virtually the entire board of the Chamber Music Society was present, minus Chairman Peter Frelinghuysen who is recovering from eye surgery.  James O’Shaughnessy of CMS delivered a warm tribute to us, as Music@Menlo board member Ann Bowers.  Ara Guzelimian and our own Patrick Castillo gave us tributes as well.  It was all quite overwhelming.

CMS Board Member James O’Shaughnessy

Ara Guzelimian

Patrick Castillo

As a birthday present (my birthday was the following day) the staff of CMS shared the amazing short film they had put together of the historic CMS billboard that made a brief but very significant appearance on New York’s West Side Highway in November.

Milina Barry, Michael Feldman, David Rowe

Da-Hong Seetoo, Margaret Seetoo, Liza Bruna, Sam Zygmuntowicz

Wu Han and I, in a lengthy speech, acknowledged and thanked individually and collectively our guests, all of whom had contributed to our projects in one way or another.  From board members to funders, to staff members of our organizations, to individuals such as Sam Zygmuntowicz and Da-Hong Seetoo, to professionals such as our PR agent Milina Barry and and manager David Rowe, to musician colleagues and advisors, and of course our families, we thanked them all for their support, faith in us, and their friendship.

Emanuel Ax and Yoko Nozaki

Lucille Chung and Alessio Bax

Of special joy for us was the presence of musicians. Joining us was a stellar collection of pianists, from Emanuel Ax and Yoko Nozaki to Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung, and especially Gloria Chien, who made the journey all the way from Chattanooga to join us for the evening.

Ann Bowers, Helen Finckel

With Helen and Lilian Finckel

Of special satisfaction to me was the presence of my mother Helen, glowing with pride.  Wu Han’s sister Evelyne, her husband Eric, and daughter Elizabeth also journeyed from California for the event.

Having been awake for close to 24 hours, Wu Han and I headed home for a very brief night’s sleep, as I was to head out the next morning early for an ESQ concert in West Palm Beach.

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Wu Han recently headed west to the San Francisco Bay Area for the opening of Music@Menlo’s 2011/2012 Winter Series, which featured a stunning recital by the sensational young pianist Inon Barnatan. A musician of remarkable imagination and creative breadth, Inon captivated Music@Menlo’s audience with his poignant program and musical skill.

In Wu Han’s words…

The first weekend of October, I had the great opportunity to travel out to the Bay Area to launch Music@Menlo’s second annual Winter Series. The Winter Series was created in 2010 to bring world class artists and great chamber music to the Music@Menlo audience throughout the year. This season, our audience was in for a special treat as the remarkable young pianist Inon Barnatan opened the winter series with an imaginative program entitled Darknesse Visible.  Having last appeared at Music@Menlo during the summer of 2010, I was eager for our audience to experience Inon’s special artistry in this solo recital.

As I shared with the audience before Inon took the stage, David and I are so proud that Music@Menlo has played such an integral role in supporting the careers of many aspiring young artists. Anthony McGill, now principal clarinet of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; Arnaud Sussmann, an upcoming concert violinist; and Erin Keefe, recently named Concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra (a post that was most recently held by longtime Music@Menlo favorite artist, Jorja Fleezanis); are just a few of the artists presented on Music@Menlo’s main stage before their respective careers have blossomed. David and I both remember years ago, when we were young artists, receiving valuable support from a few key presenters. The chance that they took on us helped build the careers that we sustain today. We are passionate about supporting exceptional young artists in this way, and it is wonderful to see the Menlo audience enthusiastically embrace and support these extraordinary musicians.

As Inon explained to the audience upon taking the stage, several of the works he performed were inspired by poetry and are connected by a sense of darkness lying beneath the music. His program began with Debussy’s lovely Suite bergamasque, a piece that was inspired by the poetry of Paul Verlaine. One of Debussy’s most beloved works, the suite is perhaps most famous for the third movement, Clair de lune. The Debussy was then followed by Thomas Adès’s wondrous and haunting Darkenesse Visible, based on John Dowland’s lute song from 1610 entitled: In Darknesse Let Me Dwell. Thomas Adès is one of the most exciting and imaginative composers writing music today and I was thrilled that his music was being introduced to Music@Menlo’s audience. Before the intermission, Inon skillfully tackled one of the piano literature’s most challenging works, Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit. As a pianist, I was glad at that moment to be in the audience! The second half of the program featured the wonderfully imaginative Fantasy on Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten (arranged by Ronald Stevenson), and culminated in a commanding performance of Schubert’s poignant Sonata in A Major, D. 959, one of the last works Schubert wrote before his young death.

I am extremely proud of Inon’s intelligent programming and artistic vision that he brings to each and every one of his performances. He is a pianist of remarkable imagination, as manifested in his curating of  “The Schubert Project” — an exploration of Schubert’s late solo song, piano works, and chamber music, originally conceived for The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Inon has also presented this project to great critical acclaim at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw and the Library of Congress.  It was thrilling to hear Inon play this extraordinary program so beautifully, and it was gratifying to see our audience brought to its feet. After the performance, Inon signed CDs and was greeted warmly by many of our audience members who commented on his powerful performance which truly brought the music to life. In 2012,  Inon will be releasing a CD entitled Darkness Visible, featuring many of these same works. It is certainly a disc you will not want to miss.

Inon greets audience members following his recital.

It was a very moving experience to see the Menlo audience embrace this extraordinary young musician, and David and I both look forward to featuring and taking the chance, so to speak, on other exceptional young artists in seasons to come.

Music@Menlo’s Winter Series continues Feburary 12 when festival favorites pianist Alessio Bax, clarinetist David Shifrin, and flutist Tara Helen O’Connor join forces with an ensemble of the world’s elite wind players from The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center—including Stephen Taylor (oboe), Peter Kolkay (bassoon), and Radovan Vlatković (horn)—in a program that features the extraordinary chamber music written for winds and piano by French composers.

April 29, the Jupiter String Quartet, one of America’s most exciting young chamber ensembles, returns to Music@Menlo for a special afternoon of masterworks from the string quartet repertoire: Haydn’s String Quartet in F Major, Prokofiev’s Second String Quartet, and Schubert’s final quartet, the colossal and expressive String Quartet in G Major, D. 887.

Photos courtesy of Music@Menlo: Tristan Schulz, photographer

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Music@Menlo’s ninth festival, celebrating the music and legacy of Johannes Brahms, unfolded in unique and sometimes unexpected ways.  An unprecedented number of major artists made their festival debuts, each bringing fresh musical perspectives not only to the stage but also contributing to the many educational forums that continue to exemplify Music@Menlo’s spirit of curiosity and exploration.  Attendance hit an all-time high, and the proximity of next season’s milestone year fueled the sense of communal exuberance.
in David’s words…

July 20 through August 11, 2011

Although this festival, since its inception, has fallen on basically the same dates, and has replicated a predictable event structure, it somehow never seems routine. Perhaps it is the changing thematic focus that makes each summer a fresh adventure, plus the presence of a new crop of young students which tests our abilities to communicate and identify musical and technical issues that need to be addressed. Certainly, as much as Wu Han and I have researched our programs and are familiar with our content, we find ourselves in as much of a learning mode as anyone who throws themselves into the Music@Menlo mix.

One of the first revelations we had near the outset of the festival concerned this summer’s title Through Brahms.  Originally conceived as a phrase that described the evolution of music passing through the hands of the great composer, we came to realize that this title contained an additional meaning: music written during, before and after the time of Brahms could be heard with deeper understanding using Brahms as a kind of musical lens, through which to hear other music.  And indeed, the festival presented a wide variety of such music, from a trio sonata by Bach to the piano quintet by John Harbison, all of it pulled together by the magnetism and intensity of Brahms. Of course, one can find in the works of Brahms’s musical heirs his same dedication to “rightness” of compositional technique, his uncompromising commitment to quality. But it was just as interesting to listen, for example, to the “Notturno” of Franz Schubert, knowing that music of such magical, transcendent quality would blossom into the Romantic age, reaching its culmination in the otherworldly essays of that Brahms composed in his twilight years.

New faces, new sounds

It would be impossible to select a single highlight of the festival, but one facet of this festival that would certainly be worth singling out was the influx of brilliant new artists, many of whom we had been trying to secure since our first season with no luck until now.  So many of them are such demand that can pick and choose any summer concert dates they desire.  Many of them also hold long-time loyalties to other festivals.  But somehow, the stars lined up for Music@Menlo this summer, and all of a sudden, there appeared faces we had waited almost a decade to see.

Yet, even before the concerts began, Music@Menlo 2011 experienced a “first” in the opening night Encounter: Patrick Castillo, who joined the ArtistLed team in New York in 2000, and who has, as Artistic Administrator, been instrumental in building the festival, finally assumed the coveted role of Encounter Leader, taking a capacity crowd through a brilliantly conceived and seamlessly executed overview of the life of Brahms.  No one was more qualified to deliver this lecture, as Patrick has not only been the author and narrator of the Festival’s AudioNotes series, but has, since the festival’s inception, worked with and guided Encounter Leaders to successful presentations, collaborating and assisting such luminaries as Robert Winter, Robert Greenberg, Ara Guzelimian, R. Larry Todd, and of course the late Michael Steinberg, for whom the series is now named.  The success of the event was a personal triumph for Patrick, and feather in the cap of the festival, which can take some credit for having helped to groom a brilliant and charismatic arts leader.

Friday night’s opening concert brought to our stage the eminent violinist Cho-Liang Lin, a close friend and colleague of ours for over twenty years. We have played almost countless concerts with the gregarious and popular “Jimmy”, including a recital tour with Wu Han in Japan, trio concerts at the Aspen Music Festival, a Ravel duo performances at the Santa Fe Festival, and of course numerous concerts at La Jolla’s SummerFest, once our own festival, which Jimmy succeeded us as artistic director in 2001. It has been Jimmy’s commitment to his own busy festival that has kept him from Music@Menlo, as the dates are practically identical, but thankfully this summer the timing allowed him to squeeze in a visit prior to his own festival.  It was a pleasure to perform Schubert’s Notturno with him and Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen, and also to hear him in a magnificent performances of Brahm’s B major trio, with Juho and veteran cellist Laurence Lesser.

It was also a revelation for our audience to experience the spectacular gifts of Juho as a collaborative artist.  Last summer he flew from Helsinki to perform a stunning solo recital as a last minute cancellation.  It was a joy for Music@Menlo this season to have this rising star on site for more than one concert, and to allow him the opportunity to work with our young students.  We reconnected with Juho just two short weeks later in New York, where he gave a highly-praised performance of Mozart concerto K. 488 with the Mostly Mozart Orchestra, and sublime solo recital of Mozart and Haydn in the Mostly Mozart Festival’s A Little Night Music series.

From the earliest days of the festival to the very end, we were lucky to have with us one of the most talented young musicians we have ever met: violinist and violist Yura Lee. Having become acquainted with her as a member of Chamber Music Society Two, we have been time and again astounded at not only her seemingly effortless profiency on both instruments, but also her fearless pursuit of challenge, her probing musicianship, and a maturity of conduct that belies her years. In repertoire as varied as Clara Schumann and Enesco, Yura excelled on both violin and viola, making herself an essential presence in the festival.  As I write, she has joined us in northern Germany at the Mecklenburg Festival, having squeezed in the Bridgehampton Festival between the end of Menlo and now – a scheduling feat that was amazing even to us.

A musician of major and ever-growing stature, violinist Daniel Hope, first known to us as the final violinist of the Beaux Arts Trio, found a few days in his hectic schedule to visit us for the first time.  Daniel is a musician who wears many hats: besides enjoying a performing career as soloist and chamber musician, he is a prolific author (four books to date), a television personality with his own music talk show in Germany (he is bilingual), a skyrocketing recording artist (with an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon), and a music director of the Savannah Music Festival and recently the Mecklenburg Festival, where we are now and where we will perform together tomorrow evening.  Daniel gave us a fantastic Carte Blanche concert which looked at the music of Brahms’s time through the lens of one of the composer’s most important collaborators, the violinist Joseph Joachim.  It is impossible to keep up with the pace of Daniel’s activities; his creative urge and exuberant spirit seem to know no limits.  You can get a good idea of what he’s up to by looking at his dizzyingly impressive  web site.

Another important addition in the festival’s growing cello family was Eric Kim, a familiar and much-loved performer to audiences around the country, and especially in Cincinnati, where he held the symphony’s principal cello position for 20 years. A highly respected teacher as well, Eric is a central figure at the Aspen Music Festival every summer, where he leads the Festival Orchestra’s cello section and works with a high-end class of students. He is now a Professor at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music.  Eric and I have enjoyed specially close partnerships, among them a Bloch Schelomo in Aspen with me as soloist and Eric leading the cellos, and a tour performing the Brahms sextets with violinists Pinchas Zukerman, Itzhak Perlman, Mark Kaplan, and violist Cynthia Phelps. Eric distinguished himself in Menlo especially with an elegant rendition of the first cello part of Brahms’s demanding B-flat sextet, and we hope his busy summer schedule will allow him to return in the near future.

A significant contribution was made to Music@Menlo this summer by a pianist we had all known, but whom we had yet to experience in concert: pianist Lucille Chung.  A distinguished soloist and collaborator, Lucille took on the hugely demanding challenge of John Harbison’s Quintet, as well as a duo piano performance of Brahms’s quintet with her husband Alessio Bax.

Music@Menlo had an historic season for Encounters, with half of the Encounter Leaders making festival debuts.  Michael Parloff, retired principal flutist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and now music director of the Parlance Chamber Concerts series in Ridgewood, New Jersey, came to the festival with the delicate mission of explaining – as well as it can be understood – the complex relationships between Brahms and both Robert and Clara Schumann. We had gotten a strong hint that Michael would thrive in a full 2-hour spoken format, having heard him deliver eloquent pre-concert speeches prior to his own series’s concerts.  Michael, who is a phenomenally gifted educator, was thoroughly prepared, handled the subject with probing grace, and was an instant success with our discriminating audience. I was approached several times during his intermission by listeners who hoped he would return.  He will, and we look forward to many years of collaboration with this brilliant, charismatic musician.

A highly-anticipated event of the season, our vocal program titled Songs of Love, brought together a top-notch quartet of singers, three of whom were making their festival debuts: tenor Paul Appleby (right), baritone Kelly Markgraf (near right), and soprano Erin Morley.  Holding the group together was Menlo favorite, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, also Kelly’s wife, who visited this summer as a family with their new baby. The quartet, accompanied by the piano-four-hand team of Wu Han and Gilbert Kalish, were teamed to perform Brahms’s Liebeslieder Waltzes, Schumann’s Spanische Liebeslieder, and other works as individuals.  Sadly, Erin lost her voice just before the concert, but the event was rescued miraculously by soprano Katherine Whyte who flew in from Toronto on the day of the concert, and performed all the works, even Berg’s Seven Early songs.  This is how heroes are born, and, in this performance, yet another artist crossed the Music@Menlo footlights.

A huge burst of energy arrived mid-festival in the form of pianist Jon Kimura Parker. If there was ever an artist who seemed as if he had born at the festival and there all the time, it was Jackie.  Insatiably curious, overwhelmingly generous, unbelievably gifted and irresistibly charismatic, Jackie endeared himself to the festival community at every occasion, throwing himself into coachings, rehearsals, parties and impromptu encounters with unbelievable gusto. He also delivered stunning performances of four-hand Brahms with Wu Han, and powerful yet pristine renditions of Brahms’s C major trio with me and Elmar Oliveira, and Brahms’s clarinet sonata with David Shifrin. However much time passes before Jackie returns, it will seem too long to me. Visit Jackie’s hugely entertaining and informative web site.

The festival’s final performances were graced by the presence of veteran artists who brought to the stage years of tradition, experience, insight and passionate commitment to chamber music.  Among them was a musician whom we consider to be one of the most gifted we have ever known: clarinetist David Shifrin. Artistic Director of the Chamber Music Northwest festival for thirty years  and our predecessor as artistic director of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, David’s sublime and magical music making put him in a class by himself as interpreter of the clarinet’s most important repertoire. He was the Emerson Quartet’s choice for our recording of the Mozart and Brahms quintets, and recently favored ArtistLed with his performances of trios by Beethoven, Brahms and Bruch – our most recent disc to be released this October. David had yet to make it to Music@Menlo until this year —  a result of his being occupied with his own festival.  We could not have been more proud to see him enjoying himself in the company of our musicians, students, and audience members. His heartfelt performance of the Brahms Clarinet Quintet, one of the masterpieces of the composer’s final period, closed the festival with an artistic experience of the highest quality.

Beyond the concerts

Without a doubt, at any festival, it is the depth and content of the ancillary offerings that go far to define its identity. Because the soul of Music@Menlo is education, with its Institute as its core, a seemingly endless array of creative, fascinating events offers opportunities for discovery every summer. Many are planned months in advance, while others spring up spontaneously during the festival.  So many artists become inspired to contribute more than their performances when they see the excitement of learning that permeates the festival. So below, I’ll describe just a few of the many events that occurred this summer which gave Music@Menlo 2011, to a large degree, its incomparable spirit.

The Listening Room

“Talk, talk, talk” one might say about Music@Menlo.  Indeed, we are heavy on the spoken word.  How else to provide meaningful and enlightening context in which to hear our concerts?  But sometimes, simply hearing, absorbing, wondering, and using the imagination is as valid a musical experience as any.  The Listening Room, the brainchild of Artistic Administrator Patrick Castillo, offered the curious four sessions this summer, during which whole recordings were played in Martin Family Hall for people to simply sit and listen. Patrick’s choice of music is often surprising, sometimes provocative, always engaging, and the Listening Room, over the past two summers, is fast emerging as a Music@Menlo tradition.

In addition to our scheduled Encounters, master classes, Café Conversations, and Listening Room sessions, a new festival component emerged this summer that allowed our students even greater access to artists and information. As yet unnamed, the daily 2-2:45 sessions gathered either some or all of our Institute students, plus curious on-site, die-hard rehearsal listeners (there are many of them who spend whole days on campus) to hear presentations by those festival participants whose enthusiasm for  sharing knowledge was unstoppable.  In one such talk, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke treated us to an explanation of vocal technique, complete with astounding demonstrations, that gave us string players especially a better shot at sounding like great singers – something we all aspire to.

In another of these sessions, festival recording producer Da-Hong Seetoo shared his knowledge and experience as not only a recording engineer, but also as a violinist of the highest caliber, helping our young musicians to someday face the daunting challenge of making good recordings.  Later in the summer, Da-Hong, at the urging of our International Performers, generously gave them a sample recording session,  putting them under his microphones and his scrutiny for samples of the repertoire they had learned during the summer.

Begun by Michael Steinberg during his first season at the festival, the annual Poetry Reading event is hugely popular with students, artists and audience. The format is simple: the session leader (this summer Patrick Castillo and Jorja Fleezanis) select and copy a huge number of poems, lay them out on the stage of Martin Family Hall, and invite the audience to select poems they would like to read.  After selecting their poems, the readers return to their seats to study a bit, and, when they feel they are ready, raise hands, come to the stage, and read.

One might ask: what does reading poetry have to do with a music festival? Well, I might counter with the question: is reading poetry really different than playing music? In both cases, we are called upon to read masterful scripts, to interpret, bring out meaning, express ideas, and engage an audience.  For our students, the act of “performing” a poem gives them a chance to realize how close playing music is to telling stories, how ideas can be powerfully expressed with words as well as notes. Without exception, every summer, a handful of students who had perhaps been shy, or somewhat closed, will blossom like flowers as they read, revealing depth of feeling and understanding for the first time at the festival. For these students, the poetry reading can serve as a great step forward, after which they become ready to bring a new level of expression, in public, to their music-making. These poetry readings are multi-dimensional, containing humor, mystery, provocation, and often profoundly moving moments as the delivery of a very young person goes straight to the heart.  I rest my case.

One of the most unusual and magical moments of the festival came during Alessio Bax’s phenomenal Carte Blanche recital in Stent Family Hall. As Alessio had the previous summer, he astounded the packed house with another display of utter mastery of the instrument, coupled with thoughtful, tasteful music making.  As if this weren’t enough to absorb, those of us who listened to concerts on the music room’s grand staircase were able to watch John Morra, the festival’s Visual Artist-in-Residence, create a portrait of Alessio at the piano. No one who saw him paint and heard the concert would deny that the keyboard magic happening on stage was duly echoed by the brush work on the staircase.  Each of John’s exquisite paintings is a technical and conceptual masterwork, and having had the chance to watch one in creation was truly a privileged and rare experience.  We thank John for his generosity of spirit and for the sublime contribution he made to the festival.

Knowing that there was a good deal of curiosity going around about my recently-completed series of Cello Talks, I volunteered to lead a guided tour of the Cello Talks web site.  Never having done this before, I decided it might be interesting to do some teaching directly off the videos, asking students to do what I suggested in order to practice various techniques.  I dare say that perhaps none of them had ever tried to regulate their vibrato to the beat of a metronome.  The one-hundred Talks contain a lot of information, way too much to digest in a one-hour overview, but I hope that my introduction to the site will lead some to explore further, and of course, help them improve their playing.  That’s what the Cello Talks are all about.

Looking towards next summer

As euphoric as our Through Brahms summer was, there was a palpable underlying excitement, especially among long-time festival attendees, about the approaching tenth anniversary season.  Anticipation is high: people are plotting ways to learn the programming and wondering what might be special; artists wonder who will be invited; the public and the press are asking if there will be significant change in the second decade of the festival.

What can we say? Music@Menlo’s tenth anniversary has been deeply thought over, explored, and carefully decided. It will be, for sure, a summer of celebration which will remind us all why Music@Menlo started in the first place.

Photos courtesy of Music@Menlo: Ashley Pinnell and Tristan Cook, photographers

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