Music@Menlo days begin early for David and Wu Han in beautiful Woodside, CA, where David practices as the sun rises, the fog lifts, and the rabbits listen.
in David’s words…
The first concert program of the festival turned out to be more of a revelation than I had ever imagined. How often does one hear an entire first half of fugues by three different composers – especially three composers who lived within the same 100 years, who are regarded universally as some of the greatest musicians in history, and who each brought his art to perfection in a different stylistic age?
Light moments during the Mendelssohn Sextet rehearsals in Stent Hall, in front of Theo Noll’s paintings.
The selections from Bach’s Art of the Fugue showed the tip of the iceberg that is Bach’s unparalleled fugal output. Each employed the techniques of fugal composition for which he is so well known: inversion, dimunition, augmentation, embellishment, etc, all the while offering endless possibilities for interpretation. Hearing his massive fugue in 6 voices from the Musical Offering immediately after, our ears had been prepared to listen to simultaneous lines in a way that is rarely afforded to audiences.
Mendelssohn Sextet rehearsal: Scott St. John, Leslie Robertson, Wu Han.
Following the Bach, Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue for quartet and bass seemed almost ridiculously complex, dissonant and jarring. I found myself actually wondering if the group had gotten lost, so convoluted is the writing: one almost completely loses a sense of key, or of where the downbeats are. Was Mozart being serious, or was he perhaps poking fun at a form which had already become outdated?
The Mendelssohn String Symphony in c minor, including the St. Lawrence Quartet augmented by International Performers in St. Mark’s Church.
But the following fugue, from the pen of the 14-year old Mendelssohn, took hold of the room in a compelling way. It showed the inspiration the form had provided for the young, energetic student who was trained to revere Bach, and to carry his legacy forward. All in all, the first half was a stirring journey that left the ears in a heightened, rarified state.
An amazing Mozart sonata in preparation by two Young Performers, both playing from memory.
And then, the second half changed musical worlds completely, the young Mendelssohn, only a one year older, composing a work that looks directly to the Romantic age in the style of Weber, but still possessing the beauty of Mozart, the virtuosity of Hummel, and the fire of youth that is uniquely theirs. The heavenly slow movement, in the ethereal key of F-sharp major, was a balm for the ears, especially after the astringent fugal harmonies produced by Mozart. The sheer exhilaration that audience and performers alike experience when notes are blazing by is one of the great thrills that classical music can produce. It’s still great music, but there’s much to be said for virtuosity for its own sake: I play this fast because I can! As expected, tumultuous buildup to the end drove the audience into a frenzy, undoubtedly what Mendelssohn had in mind.
International Performers Sean Lee, Kristin Lee, Jordan Han.
Tonight the next phase of the festival begins, as the Pacifica Quartet starts their traversal of the complete Mendelssohn Quartets. The intrepid IP’s (International Performers) have been appearing now for six nights in a row, performing Schumann’s Fairy Tales, the Mendelssohn c minor Piano Quartet, and the Mozart Clarinet Quintet.