Archive for August, 2009

On the day after Music@Menlo’s final concert, David and Wu Han boarded a flight to Seoul to begin teaching and performing in the inaugural LG/Lincoln Center Chamber Music Festival. Nineteen string and piano students had worked on chamber works since the first week of April, on the weekends, with Korean faculty, in preparation for the festival. Beginning on Tuesday in Seoul, the faculty taught for three days at the Yewon School of the arts, which provided classrooms for rehearsals and teaching.

in David’s words…

Yewon School of Arts hosted the festival, providing classrooms for rehearsals and teaching. Students had four sessions per day with us and violinist Ian Swensen, who journeyed direct from concerts and teaching in Toronto.

The ever-youthful, demonstrative Ian was immediately loved by the students and interacted with them on a very personal level.

Only a few of the students knew some English, so translators were always present. The level of preparation was very good, but there was definitely room for improvement in the essential areas of fingering, bowing and dynamic markings. As usual, we demanded fidelity to the scores, as we worked intensively on works of Beethoven, Mozart, Dvorak and Mendelssohn.

The hyper-conscientious Korean students tended to over-mark their music, as you can see. After an emergency run by the staff for pencils and erasers, we helped the young players clean up their parts, leaving the essentials more obvious.

On Thursday the entire festival moved to the beautiful countryside Konjiam resort for concerts and festivities. Owned by the LG Corporation, it is nestled in the mountains and is primarily a winter ski resort. Teaching continued there as we prepared for our concert on Friday.

One of the resort’s large conference rooms served as a concert hall, and Wu Han and festival administrator Jeehyun Kim addressed the crowd before we began. The concert consisted of Beethoven’s Piano Trio Op. 1 No. 1, the Shostakovich Cello Sonata, and the Smetana Trio.

After the concert we were hosted by LG executives Paul Chung and Hank Lee (pictured here with me the morning after) for a delicious Korean meal accompanied by fine California wines (a rarity in Korea – there supposedly not even dedicated wine shops here as people mostly drink beer or shoju, the Korean wine). Both Paul and Hank were enormously enthusiastic about the concert and reportedly celebrated into the wee hours.

The following day we coached the students through their dress rehearsal run through, which included essential lessons on how to bow, what to do with the music, entering and leaving the stage, and looking unafraid. Wu Han also administered an intense pep talk right before the concert began. The kids were a bit shocked by it all but the hard work paid off in the concert, which took place at 4pm. All the groups played their best and we were immensely proud of them.

After a day off (during which we toured a historic Korean village) we concluded our residency with individual master classes on each of our instruments. Wu Han worked with the three pianists, I with the six cellists, and Ian with many violinists and violists, for much of it without translators, since they had all left. We did the best we could. There are some talented cellists here whom I hope to see in the States someday soon.

With the last master classes completed on Monday morning, our obligations for this year were over. Journeying back to Seoul by bus, Jeehyun Kim listened to our extensive observations on the very successful first year, and we gave her quite a bit of input and advice on procedure. LG is committed to the program for several years, and we hope to return next year to continue the good work we began with so many deserving young musicians.

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The concluding days of Music@Menlo 2009 proved to be one of the most spectacular festival periods in memory. Events that thrilled, enlightened and brought the festival community to a new level of engagement grew in intensity to the final concert of the Mendelssohn Trios, performed for a completely packed audience at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. Pianist Menahem Pressler, making his Music@Menlo debut at age 85, shared his 53 years of experience with the festival audience, students, and performers, beginning his residency with a solo recital in the Carte Blanche series, and a master class for the International Performers. Joining David Finckel and Menahem for the Mendelssohn Trios, and for Schubert’s Sonata in A, was Emerson Quartet violinist Eugene Drucker.

To view all of David Finckel’s Music@Menlo 2009 blog entries, click on the Music@Menlo category link on the upper right.

in David’s words…

The days prior included the Pacifica Quartet’s final concert of the Mendelssohn Quartet cycle, in which they added a movement from the string quartet by Felix’s sister Fanny, herself a highly gifted, prolific composer who, because of the custom of the time, was discouraged from pursuing a career as musician. It was her sudden death that plunged Felix into a deep depression, producing the raging, tragic Op. 80 string quartet that ended the program. Felix Mendelssohn never recovered from the death of his sister, experiencing a series of strokes in that took his life only five month’s after his sister’s passing, in 1847, at the age of 38.

Encounter Leader Ara Guzelimian, a Music@Menlo regular since the festival’s inception, summarized Mendelssohn’s life, took us through his last years, and explored the Op. 80 quartet with the assistance of the Pacifica Quartet. Ara revealed extraordinary musical moments that reflect Felix’s anguish during the composition of the work, and we all left his Encounter with an even deeper appreciation of Mendelssohn, and with profound sympathy for his final struggles.

On the same day as Ara’s Encounter, Menahem Pressler led a master class in Martin Family Hall, in front of an overflow audience, where he worked intensively on the sublime slow movement of Schumann’s Piano Quartet.

Unprecedented lines formed for all the events, outside the churches of St. Mark’s and Menlo Park Presbyterian, and the overflow for the student concerts was accommodated via video projection.

The tragic end of Felix Mendelssohn’s life was outweighed at the end by the joy his eternal music continues to bring to so many. The International Performers concluded their residency with absolutely brilliant performances, beginning with Mendelssohn’s Allegro Brillante for piano four hands, played by Fan-Ya Lin and Hye-Yeon Park.

Sunmi Chang, Hye-Yeon Park, and Romie de Guise-Langlois performed beautiful pieces by Bruch, and the concert concluded with the IP’s rendition of the Mendelssohn Octet, one of most polished and inspired performances we have ever heard in all the years of the program. Their concert, which was preceded by the final concert of the Young Performers, concluded the 2009 Institute on an exhilarating, joyful note that was truly incomparable. The following photos only begin to describe the feeling in the air, and it’s a pleasure to share them with you.

In the concluding days of the festival, Wu Han and I met with the International Performers to discuss ways in which the program could be improved. As always, their suggestions were very helpful in paving the way for the next season’s group of deserving young players.

And lastly, while we met with the festival administration on our final morning before departing for Korea, CMI teachers Ed Klorman and Dmitri Atapine kept the festival alive all on their own, improvising on folk melodies on the Menlo School lawn. As we rushed to our car, the sound of Music@Menlo had refused to die.



There are dozens of special people who deserve credit for making Music@Menlo the extraordinary festival that it is, from the musicians to the administrators to the staff, donors, board members and audience. Wu Han and I thank them all from the bottom of our hearts. But there are two members of the Music@Menlo team to whom we would like to pay special tribute this season:

Artistic Administrator Patrick Castillo has worked for me and Wu Han as an employee of our company, ArtistLed, for seven years. During this time he has grown to become universally admired and valued as a scholar, a writer, an interviewer, a producer, an educator and administrator. In assisting the Encounter Leaders every summer in the production of their presentations, he counts among his mentors the late Michael Steinberg, Ara Guzelimian, Robert Winter, R. Larry Todd, and all the other extraordinary scholars and teachers who have participated in the series. Patrick brings to his work a deep knowledge of music, being a singer and serious composer himself. Patrick is the producer of AudioNotes, having taken it over in short order from yours truly (perhaps he sensed correctly right away that he could do a better job of it!) and this involves not only writing the text, but setting up and recording the artist interviews, researching and securing the rights to the musical examples, and putting it all together via digital editing. In addition, Patrick is author of numerous other texts for Music@Menlo and for ArtistLed, including program notes, web site text, CD liner notes, and various institutional pieces. He has become a frequent panel moderator and interviewer for the Café Conversations series. Patrick is also the point person of the festival who organizes artists’ availabilities, determines who can play what and when, and helps us form each summer’s festival in detail. He is an administrator with the highest qualities of discretion and sensitivity to artists’ needs and wide-ranging personalities. Moreover, these qualities endear him to all with whom he works, needless to say, helping us get to “yes” over and over again during the course of a planning year. He is has become an invaluable, and almost frighteningly irreplaceable member of our team, and he has our deepest gratitude and continuing admiration. And, he’s not even turned 30.

Festival videographer Tristan Cook has become a ubiquitous, familiar figure at the festival, having been with us since the inaugural season, first as still photographer, and as of last year, film producer. Tristan came to our attention while still a student at NYU when he produced a short film on the Emerson Quartet, and he has since risen to become one of the finest classical music video producers anywhere. At Music@Menlo, Tristan is as much of an artist as any of us. We interpret the music, but in his daily videos, Tristan interprets the festival itself for a growing international audience on the web. Every work of his over this summer and last is a mini-masterpiece, capturing the festival from all angles, and, for the first time, allowing people who have never been with us to catch the true spirit of the festival. Tristan’s sensitivity to music (he is a violist) gives him a special advantage, enabling him to perfectly match music and image, capturing unforgettable moments and moods with vivid power. Tristan works as hard as any of us at the festival, filming from the early morning and editing until late at night. He is seemingly tireless, always in a lively humor, flexible, creative, sensitive, and ultimately inspiring, a real servant of music. We are fortunate to count him among our regulars, and we hope that despite his growing demand, he continues to count Music@Menlo as a priority.

Note: Tristan’s work for the Emerson Quartet’s Deutsche Grammophon projects can be found on YouTube, and his other projects may be located via his company web site, http://www.peachtoad.com



To the students of Music@Menlo’s Chamber Music Institute
August 9, 2009

Dear CMI Students,

First, congratulations on completing this summer’s program. We are certain that the Institute’s expectations and opportunities are unlike anything you’ve encountered elsewhere, and we are proud of each and every one of you.

We believe that Mendelssohn would agree that we all successfully rose to the challenge of Being Mendelssohn. We are confident that every one of you had your “Mendelssohn moments” during the festival. Perhaps these included learning and performing a piece you thought beyond your ability; coaching a younger musician; encouraging and supporting your peers; trying your hand at a new skill (from reading Greek to ping-pong!); becoming the friend of a great musician or scholar; listening to a concert as you’ve never listened before; and, playing your instrument not just to satisfy yourself, but to spread the joy and nourishment that great music can bring to the lives of many.

On this day after the festival’s end, we are truly sad that we won’t be seeing your familiar faces tomorrow at morning meeting, hearing your rehearsals and concerts, and speaking to you as colleagues and friends. But we’d like to share one idea with you that can help make this experience last forever. All you have to do is add one word to the festival’s title: “Keep”.

Keep Being Mendelssohn. You can do it in your lives every single day. Expand your knowledge, take advantage of what the world can offer, seek out the best, expect more of yourself, take on new challenges, and help people who need you. Continue to share the joy of your music making with others as you have shared it with us. Your world, and world of those around you, will be a much better place for it. And someday a long time from now, when you go to heaven, Felix will welcome you with open arms.

Have a wonderful season, and please stay in touch with each other and with Music@Menlo.

All the Best,

David and Wu Han

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