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Archive for September, 2009

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center opened its 40th anniversary season with a gala program entitled “A Viennese Evening”. Sold out weeks in advance, it was concert that included superb performances, including a world premiere, and featured a large cast of artists both familiar and new to CMS audiences. With a dinner for patrons before, and a lavish post-concert dessert in the new Alice Tully Hall lobby, it was a landmark evening for the Society, beginning its first full season back home at Lincoln Center.

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in David’s words…
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In search of the most festive of themes for the Society’s 40th anniversary season opener, Wu Han and I looked to the coming season for inspiration. We had not to look much further than the entire Beethoven quartet cycle, being presented in the spring, to dream of an evening rooted in the incredible culture of Vienna, which gave birth to arguably the greatest music ever composed.

Evenings of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert are commonly found, but programming a concert that samples a wide range of Vienna’s great traditions and incorporates composers of different eras is a distinct challenge. Considering works that we had not programmed, but that were sure to please, we selected the sets of Johann Strauss waltzes arranged by Schoenberg and Webern for small ensemble, as well as another novelty, the final movement of Mahler’s 4th Symphony, arranged for chamber ensemble by composer Erwin Stein, who was a member of Schoenberg’s Society for Private Musical Performances in Vienna, and a student of Schoenberg from 1906-1910.

Making a spectacular return appearance to the New York concert stage, in the Strauss, was none other than violinist Pamela Frank, who has been sidelined with an injury for years. It was enormously heart-warming to see her once again in front of the public, playing with the passion and integrity that had endeared her to audiences worldwide. She will be welcome to appear at CMS in the future whenever she chooses.

Arnaud Sussmann adjusts tie for Kurt Muroki

Arnaud Sussmann adjusts tie for Kurt Muroki

Before the Strauss, David Shifrin, Andre-Michel Schub and I warmed up the crowd with Beethoven’s early trio for piano, clarinet and cello, and Andre and Anne-Marie McDermott followed the Beethoven with a performance of Schubert’s seldom-heard work for four-hand piano, Lebenssturme.

But the evening truly belonged to our guest soprano, the incomparable Dawn Upshaw, as she sang a new work commissioned by us from composer David Bruce entitled The North Wind Was a Woman. With highly-skilled instrumental writing to support Dawn’s magical singing of poetry by a variety of poets (including the composer), the piece was one of the most smashing successes for a new work I have seen in a long time. A prolonged ovation brought musicians and composer to the stage time and again before the intermission.

Following the Strauss waltz sets, Dawn returned with the large ensemble to end the evening on the most serene note, with a sublime performance of the Mahler. The text is from the famous German anthology of poetry Des Knaben Wunderhorn, and is entitled “Das Himmlischer Leben” or “The Heavenly Life”. It was conclusion of a truly heavenly concert, of which I was very proud to have been a part of.

performance photos by Tristan Cook

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ArtistLed’s critically-acclaimed recording of Schubert’s piano trios led to a national tour this season, which began Sunday at the legendary South Mountain Concerts series in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Joined by Emerson Quartet violinist Philip Setzer, Wu Han and David performed for a sold-out house of listeners eager to hear Schubert’s masterpieces in the hands of some of their favorite artists.

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in David’s words…
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One of America’s most special places to hear music is the Concert Hall of South Mountain Concerts, located atop a beautiful wooded mountain just south of Pittsfield, Massachusetts in the Berkshire Hills. Founded in 1918 by the legendary American patroness of music, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, the hall was built especially for chamber music, seating 440, and is now on the National Register of Historic Buildings. The hall’s construction – a simple box shape with wooden surfaces, a gentle slope to the stage, and a high ceiling – provides some of the best acoustics for chamber music that can be found anywhere.

Simplicity is the keyword at South Mountain. The backstage rooms are rustic but provide every amenity that is needed.

The box office is a wooden farm table that can be moved under the porch in case of rain.

From the inception of the concert series the programming was intelligent and varied, and featured some of the most distinguished performers of the times. Mrs. Coolidge was extremely dedicated to new music, and commissioned many works from leading composers of the day that were premiered at South Mountain, by Ernest Bloch, Anton Webern, Frank Bridge, Roy Harris, Bohuslav Martinu, Arnold Schoenberg, and Ottorino Respighi, to name a few. Mrs. Coolidge, a resident of Pittsfield, also established two resident ensembles, the Berkshire Quartet and the Elschuco Trio, which performed numerous series of concerts in mini-festivals at the hall. Other artists who have performed there include Leonard Bernstein, Gary Graffman, Lilian Kallir, Leontyne Price, Peter and Rudolf Serkin, Alexander Schneider, and countless string quartets.

Over the years, most of the world’s distinguished ensembles have been regular performers at South Mountain. The large collection of backstage photographs, inscribed to the hall, testifies to the diversity and depth of the programming.
Illustrating South Mountain’s commitment to ensembles of quality is the collection in its gallery of photographs of almost every configuration of the Beaux Arts Trio, which retired last season after 53 years. In the photos below you will see violinists Isidore Cohen, Ida Kavafian, Young-Uck Kim and Daniel Hope, as well as cellists Bernard Greenhouse, Peter Wiley, and Antonio Meneses.





After the concert, the artists gather with the public and are served refreshments in the tranquil wooded setting behind the hall.

Today the series is run with enthusiasm and integrity by Lou Steigler, who has led the organization since 1987. I am honored to be a frequent performer at South Mountain, an organization which I hold in deep admiration and affection.

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