Sunday, July 27th was a day at Music@Menlo with unprecedented highs and lows. In the early morning, we learned of the passing of our beloved Michael Steinberg, a fixture at the festival since 2004. His Encounters are already the stuff of legend, and his enormous contributions as coach, counselor, lecturer, and poetry reading leader are beyond measure. Read David’s tribute at the end of this blog entry, and look at the Music@Menlo website for a beautiful appreciation by Patrick Castillo.
in David’s words…
Earlier in the week, composer and educator Bruce Adolphe arrived for a brief visit, including a master class in Stent Family Hall. Bruce brings to his chamber music coaching the unique perspective of composer, and his comments are always well beyond the technical and into the conceptual. The students, and all those present, learned from him on the highest level, all of us expanding our musical imaginations.
Later in the evening, Bruce delivered his Encounter, which focused on the music of Mendelssohn’s mid-teenage years, during which he composed his famous Octet. Bruce delved into Mendelssohn’s magical musical depictions of fairies, the night, and the sounds of nature in a compelling lecture that included recorded sounds of flies and bees, and a brilliant harmonic analysis of the Midsummer Night’s Dream overture. After the lecture, he was greeted by the next Encounter Leader, R. Larry Todd (right) and descendent of Fanny Mendelssohn Thomas Leo (left).
The week was filled with the exciting arrivals of many musicians, including long-time friends violinist Joseph Swensen (left) and cellist Colin Carr. Colin performed a marathon program yesterday of the complete music for cello and piano of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms, with Thomas Sauer. Joey Swensen plays the Schumann Trio tonight with pianist Jeffrey Kahane and cellist Paul Watkins, making his Music@Menlo debut.
Wu Han and Jeffrey Kahane rehearse for tonight’s two-piano version of Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s dream music.
The passing of Michael Steinberg on Sunday morning was not the only tragedy that befell the festival this week. On Wednesday, St. Lawrence Quartet cellist Chris Costanza received a call that his mother-in-law had suddenly passed away, without warning. We sent Chris off to take care of his family, and I filled in for him in the Mendelssohn Octet. The Pacifica Quartet graciously agreed to play Beethoven’s Op. 18 No. 6 for the St. Lawrence, and Pacifica cellist Brandon Vamos filled in for Chris in the Mendelssohn Sextet. Extraordinary generosity of spirit, coupled with stunning talent and valuable experience, brought the concert off successfully in a packed Menlo Park Presbyterian Church.
Before the Mendelssohn Octet program, the International Performers gave a dazzling performance of Spohr’s Octet for strings, which is credited for inspiring the octet from Mendelssohn. Before the Spohr, clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois entranced the crowd with a work for solo clarinet by the contemporary American composer Libby Larsen.
In a wonderful new arrangement with one of the Peninsula’s finest restaurants, Music@Menlo audience and patrons gathered in Menlo Park’s Left Bank Brasserie for a post concert dinner with the artists. The restaurant stays open late especially for selected festival concerts, and a good meal was enjoyed by all.
Michael Steinberg: A Remembrance, an Appreciation, and a Promise
July 26, 2009
It’s not easy to describe Michael’s effect on audiences and musicians to those who never experienced him in person. It requires a kind of suspension of disbelief, and a faith in the supernatural, in magic, and in the impossible.
Michael knew and understood his subjects – the composers, their music and their lives and times – in a kind of depth that made you feel that Michael himself was actually from those times, knew the composers personally, lived in their communities, spoke their languages, and experienced first-hand the challenges and opportunities of their eras.
So convincing was Michael’s familiarity with the composer Schubert, for example, that it seemed more believable that he had time-traveled to us from 19th century Vienna. Perhaps he was just stopping in to bring us a report of a new work of Schubert that he had just heard, and would soon return to attend the next Schubertiade, check in on the crazy Beethoven, and perhaps hear gossip of the musical miracles of the young Mendelssohn.
Michael’s teaching transcended the word itself, because you didn’t have to listen, analyze, digest or memorize. While it was impossible to learn all of his knowledge, you could absorb his perspective, and come away from his lectures, coachings or even conversations with a deep sense of the material at hand. This was of incalculable value for our youngest students here at Music@Menlo, as Michael so naturally opened their eyes and ears to the endless wonders and mysteries of the world’s most intangible art.
No one whose soul was enriched by Michael will ever forget him, or will cease to remain thankful for having lived in his time. We will all treasure the memory of his assured, mesmerizing voice leading us on some of the most fascinating explorations of our lives, and along the way, introducing us to his friends, the greatest thinkers and artists of the human race. He shared not only his knowledge but gave of himself in the fullest measure; his work and life were one, a rich existence to be admired and emulated. While we are in the midst of this summer’s Being Mendelssohn festival, it seems now just as fitting that we expand the our mission to include Being Michael. There’s much work to be done, and so much to be gained. We owe it to Michael to pick up where he left off, to keep his fire burning brightly. That we will do, to the best of our ability, always remembering the incredible source of our inspiration with much love.