Archive for June, 2010

Boarding the 57-cabin Corinthian II in the port of Piraeus, passengers brought together by the Chamber Music Society, Smithsonian Journeys, and the Archaeological Institute of America embarked Saturday, June 19, on an extraordinary journey exploring music, art, architecture, history, archaeology and mythology.  Leaving Athens at sunset, the group – comprising couples, singles and families – began forming friendships over the first of many gourmet meals aboard ship, heading into the night for an early morning arrival at the city of Çanakkale in the Dardanelles strait. ______________________________________________________________ in David’s words… ______________________________________________________________ Wu Han and I would not be exaggerating to describe this trip as incomparable. The expected features of a cruise – service and convenience – were delivered at the highest level, but the program of visits to historical cities and sites, organized by Travel Dynamics, elevated the experience far above a great vacation.  I’m sure the entire group would go along with calling this a life-changing week, and I’ll try to present a sampling which is, at best, only the tip of a mountain of discovery, learning, friendship and renewal.

This is the beginning of a multi-post blog. At the end of each post you may click on a link to an extended and annotated Flickr photo journal of each stop on the tour.


Having arrived late Sunday from Japan, and after a whirlwind day in New York on Monday, on Tuesday it was off to the airport again for a flight to Athens through Frankfurt. The stress of the arduous travel was eased by the elegance of the King George Palace Hotel, and the warm welcome from the Travel Dynamics team.  Our first glimpse of the Parthenon was from the hotel’s rooftop restaurant, where we also witnessed the hotel’s lavish breakfast and elegant outdoor seating.

The CMS tour began with a visit to the Acropolis, the 500-foot high mountain in the center of the city which hosts some of the world’s most famous structures.  On the ascent along the Grand Promenade, one encounters the Theater of Dionysus, the Sanctuary of Asclepios, and the grand Theater of Herodes Atticus, once fully covered by a roof and still used for concerts.

One enters the Acropolis summit through the grand entrance called the Propylaea.  After passing through magnificent marble columns, the first sight of the Temple of Athena Parthenos (Athena the Virgin) is breathtaking.

During the entire tour, we were accompanied by knowledgeable local guides, and divided into small groups of not more than thirty.  Wireless headsets were provided which enabled us not to miss a word, despite distance or ambient noise.

Although the Parthenon has been stripped of its once lavish and colorful decorations, it lacks nothing in terms of aesthetic impact.  One can stare at it for hours (as we did on two occasions), taking in the numerous details, and marveling at its size.

The Parthenon, along with other principal surviving structures on the Acropolis, was built during the Golden Age of Athens (460-430 B.C.) under the leadership of Pericles.

The Erechtheum, a collection of sacred temples, was built during the same period.  Most famous are the collection of five Caryatids that support the weight of the roof.  The ones seen here are copies: four of the originals are now in the Acropolis Museum, and the fifth is in the British Museum, as are the Elgin marbles (frieze of the Parthenon), a situation in constant dispute.  The new Acropolis Museum has even constructed space for them, affirming the inevitability of their eventual return to Athens.

Passing back through the Propylaea one gets a great view of the Agora, the general meeting place and central market which was the customary hanging-out place for men in ancient times.  To its left is the mound from which St. Paul preached, and the hill called the Pnyx, where citizens were called upon to vote on civic questions. Also visible from the hill is the ocean and the port of Piraeaus, from where we would soon depart.

After a stroll through town which included some shopping and a delicious lunch of Greek salad, souvlaki and the famous Athenian iced coffee…

…we stopped by the wonderfully mysterious Tower of the Winds, built in the 2nd century B.C, which used to house a water clock, weather vane, sun dials and other scientific inventions. The outside bears fantastic marble carvings of the eight wind deities.

Next, we visited the National Archeological Museum, one of the world’s great museums. Beautifully organized, the configuration allows one to begin with the earliest part of the collection beginning in the late Neolithic age (4500 B.C.), and move through the great periods and artistic styles of Greek civilization. Most striking from this time is the art of the Cyclades islands, which are located above Crete in the central Aegean. The statues seem almost contemporary in their minimalist interpretations, including small human figures in the shape of violins.

The early part of the collection includes the treasures dug up by amateur archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann in the 19th century.  The amount of, and beauty of the gold work is not to be believed.

The mask of Agammemnon

From there, one proceeds around the museum’s perimeter in a clockwise direction.  Statues and sculptures start to become familiar, as we have seen many of them in pictures.  The early large-scale representation of the human figure developed with the Daedalic style of the 7th century B.C., whose figures were square, austere and frontal.

Moving on to the famous and dramatic “kouri” figures – always male and with one foot forward – we head towards and through the Golden Age, with its myriad miracles of art and craftsmanship.

The trip through the museum’s four sides ends up with the art of the Roman period, and in the realism and personality of the face of the Emperor Augustus one feels truly to have come a long way since the Bronze Age.

An essential stop on a visit to Athens is the new Acropolis Museum, opened in 2009 and situated right next to the hill.  Built over ongoing excavations, the dramatic and beautifully-lit collection of all artifacts found at the Acropolis cannot be photographed, but the building’s unusual configuration can be seen from all angles.

The top floor, which houses the Parthenon hall, a to-scale replica of the Parthenon’s famous frieze, is skewed so as to be exactly parallel with the Parthenon itself, clearly visible through the floor-to-ceiling glass.  The effect is stunning and further connects the viewer with the building as it once was.

Back at the hotel, over cocktails, Wu Han gave a stirring welcome to the group and detailed the cruise’s coming musical programs.

Saturday was embarkation day. Making our way to the port of Piraeus, we boarded the ship in time for a magical late afternoon sail-away from the harbor, into the Aegean night.

Click here for more photos of our Athens trip on Flickr.

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I’m not going to tell anyone what this means. You have to have to watch it to find out. I think you’ll find it interesting.

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The area of the bow closest to the hand, referred to as “at the frog” is the strongest and most versatile part of the bow.  Here are examples from the standard repertoire, and certain techniques, that are most easily played at this place in the bow.

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For the first time since 2004, the Emerson String Quartet is visiting the Far East, with stops in Hong Kong, Korea and Japan. Read David’s city-by-city blog below for updates posted direct from the tour.

in David’s words…

It was a thrill to board Delta flight 0027 in Detroit on June 2nd for the Emerson’s first visit to the Far East in many seasons. Flying directly to Hong Kong on Delta’s inaugural flight for this route, I dove into Chinese culture as quickly as possible with a fantastic late-night meal.

We returned to the Town Hall concert hall where we had performed in 2004, for a program of Mozart’s “Dissonance” quartet, Dvorak’s “American”, and the Shostakovich 9. The public was the kind that makes classical musicians so happy to perform in Asia: many young people and a kind of enthusiasm that makes you feel they are anxious to hear you and grateful that you came.

The impression was borne out by the very demonstrative response from the full house, and by the enormous line in the lobby for autographs. We were gratified to see so many had brought our CDs that they had previously bought for us to sign, many of these listeners seeming to be connoisseurs of chamber music, and knowledgeable regarding our entire catalog.

Friend from California  Victor Woo, Gene Drucker, Ray Wang

After the concert we were treated to a late dinner by local cellist Ray Wang and violinist and Michael Ma, who provided not only dinner but fancy wines and much fun. Our hosts’ choice of restaurant “Under the Bridge Spicy Crab” is apparently famous, and justly so. The specialty is crabs from Vietnam, with giant claws like those of a lobster, buried in fried garlic.

In the morning I heard Ray’s excellent student Xiong Lin play Ligeti, Bach and Dvorak before departing for the monstrous Hong Kong airport and the flight to Seoul.

Saturday-Sunday: Extraordinary Seoul

We have also not been in Korea as a quartet since 2004. Larry has been coming for family reasons and to perform in Hyo Kang’s summer festival, and I as well to teach and play for the LG/CMS Chamber Music School. Yet, for the quartet to arrive here and take on the daunting, sprawling, teeming city of Seoul evoked only distant memories of our two previous visits.

As is the custom in Asia, the hospitality of the presenters goes unmatched. We are usually met at the airport at the gate, by special envoys that receive security clearance, and escorted through immigration and customs. If I did not insist on carrying my own bags, and cello, I would never have to touch them. Luxurious buses, large enough for a small chamber orchestra, take us from airports to hotels to concert halls. And then, there are those who have become special friends for various reasons over the years.

My first encounter in Seoul was with my good friend of many years Masami Shigeta, the Japanese businessman and entrepreneur who created the Aspen/Japan tours in the 1990’s which brought musicians from the Aspen Music Festival and School to perform and teach all over the country. More recently, Masami acquired a prestigious management agency in Japan, turning it into a cutting-edge organization called Aspen, and he is now managing our coming tour of the country. Masami made the journey to Seoul specially to see us amidst many other professional obligations, including an appearance as keynote speaker, as Chairperson of the Japan Association of Classical Music Presenters, at an international classical music conference this week in Singapore.

A Korean friend who is playing an important role in my Far East musical life is Jeehyun Kim, whose ingenuity, tenacity and irresistible charisma led to the creation and successful execution (twice) of the LG/CMS Chamber Music Festival. Sponsored by the LG Corporation and organized locally by Jeehyun, the program recruits deserving young talent from across the country to study and perform under the direction of CMS faculty in a week-long workshop (see the two previous blog reports: August 12-18: CMS in Korea, and April 6-11: CMS Returns to Korea).

Our concert day included afternoon master classes at Hanyang University, organized by long-time friend, violinist Joe Kim, who, along with Gene and Phil, was a student of Oscar Shumsky at the Juilliard School.

Joe seems ably cared for by his assistants.

While Phil and Larry worked with quartets, I spent two-and-a-half hours in a hot room (the AC is turned off on Sundays!) with three cellists, and heard the Schumann Concerto, Valentini Sonata and Brahms F major, all well-played.

We remembered the audiences in Korea as full and demonstrative, but what we experienced last night was on another level. Not only had every seat in the large LG Concert Hall been sold for quite some time, but the reaction from our listeners – including a huge percentage of young people – honestly made us feel like rock stars. By the time we had reached the lobby for CD signing, the line waiting to greet us stretched far into the distance and disappeared up the stairs to the balcony. It was, without a doubt, the largest post-concert crowd in the quartet’s history.

Like our listeners in Hong Kong, many had brought their collections of Emerson CD’s from home for us to sign. The recordings available in the lobby sold out quickly, and people brought us programs, photos, ticket stubs, and posters to sign. In addition, our fans were obsessed with taking our photos while we gave autographs, using everything from cell phones to monstrous video cameras. It was quite something.

A fresh and pleasing element of this tour so far is the widely and creatively used photos of us by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco. A resident of Montauk, NY, she prefers to photograph in the spectacular landscapes near her home, and her photos of us on the beach are appearing everywhere, including the cover of our latest multi-CD release of Dvorak. The photos, which have a fresh look unlike anything we’ve ever had, give us a certain sensation of a makeover and something of a fresh start. Lisa-Marie became known to me initially through the CMS clarinetist Jose Franch-Ballester, whose innovative web site (www.josefranchballester.com, including her photos) helped inspire the new site for me and Wu Han.

Ju-Young Baek, Masami Shigeta, Jeehyun Kim

After the warm reception in the LG Concert Hall lobby we were transported to a nearby restaurant, where we were treated to Korean barbecue and an international selection of fine wines. The quartet, along with Jeehyun Kim, Masami Shigeta and violinist Ju-Young Baek, was graciously hosted by LG vice presidents, and classical music enthusiasts, Paul Chung and Sunghyun Kim.

with Paul Chung and Larry Dutton

Monday-Friday: Tokyo

It has been eleven years since the Emerson Quartet played in Japan, and not by our own choice. We have been told that the Japanese economy became weak enough that it could not support our tours. We had previously made several enjoyable tours, visiting many cities great and small with much success.

From another perspective, I heard that since the economic turn down a decade ago, that presenters in Japan simply turned to presenting pop concerts and other forms of entertainment that produced significant revenue. In the opinion of our current tour manager, Masami Shigeta, the real crisis here is a dearth of committed and serious presenters who have the artistic vision necessary to promote classical music successfully. Apparently, in Japan (which is the size of California) there are around three thousand halls, twelve-hundred of them built exclusively for classical music. As Masami puts it, very clearly, the country possesses the hardware but not the software.

We are hoping that our visit, with its accompanying publicity (including an NHK television broadcast of our second Tokyo concert) will jump start our lapsed relationship with this fantastic country, enabling the many dedicated chamber music lovers, and Emerson Quartet fans, to hear us live on a regular basis.

During our first concert in the Oji Hall, which is in the fashionable Ginza district, we quickly became aware again that we were in a different society and situation than either Korea or Hong Kong. The hall is intimate, only about 3-400 seats. This audience was decidedly older. And, what at first came as a shock was the reserved quality of the response, especially as compared to Korea.  But artists have to remember that different societies (and even different audiences within the same society) react in different ways and degrees in response to music. This audience, I would say, liked the concerts no less than our listeners in Korea and Hong Kong; they simply show their appreciation in other ways. There was quiet but very persistent applause at the end, requiring an encore (we could have easily squeezed out two but didn’t want to over stay our welcome) and the line of autograph seekers was long and patient, greeting us with the utmost respect and gratitude for our visit.  It’s all just done with great reserve and politeness. It’s just very Japanese.

[I’m not sure that the Japanese really like to applaud at all, perhaps finding it rude.  When we came off stage, the six or seven backstage attendants greeted us with applause that literally made no sound. Somehow, they found a way to clap silently, perhaps to be polite. But wait, isn’t the point of it….?]

As I mentioned, our second concert was recorded for television by the NHK. Previously the NHK had filmed a Mozart concert for us which sits in some archive somewhere awaiting its day on YouTube. The NHK people – there were many of them – came with mountains of equipment including five cameras, with operators who dutifully sat behind them for our entire rehearsal. Interestingly, since we are paid for this broadcast (something which rarely happens in the US) we were not afforded the customary right of refusal. As an insurance policy, however, they agreed to tape the rehearsal for patch material.  We spent a good tortuous two hours (after having done two hours of interviews already) trying to figure out what might not go well, and do it perfectly for the recording. Because of the microphone placement, this meant the guys had to stand up the whole rehearsal, something we never do. On top of it the hall was stuffy and hot. It was not fun and left us all wondering whether it had been a good idea to do this. We then had to wait a whole hour for the concert to begin.

There is a famous story about Heifetz wishing someone a bad rehearsal. When asked to explain, he simply said that usually if you have a bad rehearsal you will have a good concert. And I guess that’s what happened to us on this night. It happens frequently for our quartet: often the rehearsal is the absolute low point of the day, in every way. But perhaps, something that has kept us successful and together so long is that under difficult circumstances, the Emerson Quartet has usually managed to pull off the unexpected and out-do even its own expectations. The concert for the NHK was one of the best I can recall playing. Everyone played their absolute best (even me) and I was immensely proud of the group that night. I am looking forward to getting a copy of the recording, hopefully it will sound as good as I remember, and we will be able to share it with our friends, somehow.

After the concert we were treated to a great Japanese meal by our long-time friend Koichiro Harada, the original first violinist of the Tokyo Quartet, now a professor at the Toho School, and still an active soloist and conductor.

Thursday-Friday: Vacation

On our first day off we all went our own ways.  It was the right thing to do.

I was lucky enough to hear a fine young quartet called the Verus Quartet, brought to me by Koichiro, and a very talented 14-year-old cellist, Michiako Ueno. With the quartet I went through the Debussy Quartet in detail, even they were already highly accomplished.

The cellist played a very impressive Bach 6th Suite prelude and part of Tchaikovsky’s Pezzo Capriccioso. As those who watch my Cello Talks will know, the best help I could give this terrific young player was to straighten out his sitting position. He currently studies with one of the best cellists I have ever heard, Hakuro Mori, a friend I have not seen in decades.

On our second free day we met to revive the fantastic Berg Op. 3 quartet which we will play on tour in Europe at the end of August.  We have not played this piece for decades and it was wonderful to get back into the language of early 20th expressionism. A quick tally of our coming repertoire immediately after vacation prompted a concerned discussion of rehearsal scheduling, as not only the Berg is on the way back, but the daunting Schubert G major, the final Haydn quartet Op. 103, and the Webern Langsamer Satz, all for Oslo on August 26th.  There’s nothing quite like a quartet rehearsal in a hotel room, with music propped against violin cases and the TV, and people sitting on beds and arm chairs and pillows, in the strangest configuration.  But it’s actually good for us. At least we can order room service.


After the rehearsal I made a traditional trip to Akihabara area, the electronics Mecca of Tokyo. It was even more intense than I remembered.  There are big streets with big stores, small streets with small stores, and malls with booths.  You can probably buy any piece of electronic equipment you want here, if you have the patience to look for it.

This is one way they get you into the stores. The other way is by having employees yelling at you through PA systems as you pass their storefronts.

My most exciting purchase in Akihabara was my new pair of video sunglasses. Turn it on, put in on your face, and you are taking movies without anyone suspecting it. While the color is good, there’s not enough processing power for the camera to keep up with fast motion. But that feature does provide a kind of appealing chaos, which you can sample on this video which shows what’s possible to see in Akihabara in 1 minute.

Saturday: Travel to Fukushima

Our final concert of the tour took place in the city of Fukushima, a two-hour train ride to the north of Tokyo. We got to ride the Shinkansen train, the world’s first and most famous high speed train.  Shinkansen means “new main line”.

Riding the Shinkansen in Japan is always a thrill, with the trains reaching 186 mph. Here’s what you see out the window:

The concert hall, Fukushimashi Ongakudo, is in a non-descript neighborhood outside center of the city. But the hall’s interior immediately impressed us as a major venue. The many photos backstage of world-famous performers confirmed that Fukushima, where we had not yet played, was an important stop on our tour.

The interior of the hall is covered in blue ceramic tile. While it is attractive, it does present an acoustic challenge: the reverberation, while not overly-long, is extremely strong, such that we were convinced that we were being electrically enhanced (some very dead halls have these systems). But we were assured otherwise.

The best news to report about Fukushima is the audience. Our listeners in this thousand-and-two seat venue (I like the “two” part) numbered approximately seven hundred (perhaps 702) and included listeners of all ages, some of them very young. They were extremely enthusiastic, demanded two encores, and it was a pleasure to greet them afterwards in the lobby.

Arriving back at the hotel, there was time for a combination happy hour/instrument adjustment party in my room, after which we were driven to Roppongi for a reunion with our booking agent Masami Shigeta, whom we had not seen since Seoul, and violinist Koichiro Harada.

Masami, ever the gracious host, took us to his favorite yakitori (“grilled chicken”) restaurant, which, owing to his recommendation, is a regular favorite of President Jimmy Carter. The food was exquisite, and we enjoyed a stimulating discussion of classical music in Asia, and began formulating plans for resuming regular visits to Japan. Nothing could make us happier.

At Narita on Sunday morning we bid goodbye to our escort, Shuko Hasegawa of Aspen, Inc., who expertly and graciously shepherded us on our every move during the Japan tour. She deserves both a medal and a vacation.

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In advance of specific talks about using each area of the  bow, here’s a quick overview of the bow as a tool, and the assetts and liabilities of its three areas: frog, tip and middle.

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For the fourth consecutive year, The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center journeyed for Memorial Day weekend to the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, in Harrodsburg, Kentucky.  The Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass – three days of concerts played exclusively by the Society – is the brainchild of David Finckel and George Foreman, formerly director of the Norton Center for the Arts at Centre College in Danville.

in David’s words…

The beauty and tranquility of the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill provides the ideal atmosphere for a chamber music festival.  Those who book their reservations early are fortunate enough to stay in the village, in historic Shaker buildings, surrounded by the 3000-acre village which looks virtually the same today as it did a century ago. The length of this blog post, and the number of photos, is a good measure of my enthusiasm for the place and the project.
The concerts take place in two unique spaces: one, the central Meeting House where the Shakers performed their famous devotional ceremonies, and two, a tobacco barn. The morning concerts in the meeting house, instituted in the second year, have grown in attendance to full capacity, and the afternoon concerts in the barn have been sold out since the festival’s inception. Listeners journey annually from Cincinnati, Lexington and Louisville, with a couple this year coming to us all the way from Chicago.
The Meeting House exudes a peacefulness and friendliness that puts all listeners in a receptive mood. We have been gradually expanding the scope of repertoire for the festival, and this year’s Meeting House concerts included works by living and 20th century composers, as well as music by Haydn and Mozart.
The tobacco barn is constructed with spaces between the vertical siding boards, allowing ventilation for tobacco drying. The extra ventilation was nice for the musicians too, as the temperatures crept up during the afternoons. The sun seeping through the spaces in the wall gives the tobacco barn a lighting scheme all its own.
Friday evening’s performance, the first of the festival, was for donors, with a serene reception before the concert and an elegant dinner served afterwards.  CMS Director of Artistic Programs Michael Lawrence (foreground) assisted us for the weekend’s concerts and festivities.
Joining us this year were violinists/violists Yura Lee and Lily Francis; violinist Ani Kavafian, cellist Jakob Koranyi, flutist Tara Helen O’Connor, and pianist Anne-Marie McDermott.
The young Swedish cellist Jakob Koranyi joined me for a whirlwind rendition of Barriere’s Duo for Two Cellos. Barriere was a French cello virtuoso who lived during the time of Bach.

Wu Han officially opened the festival by welcoming the audience, and Patrick Castillo was engaged by the Society to introduce the music at the morning programs as well as to deliver hour-long lectures before each evening concert.

After the short program, the musicians and donors were treated to an elegant dinner on the lawn.

Our musicians and New York staff were conferred the honorary title of Kentucky Colonel on documents signed by the Governor. This entitles us to some privileges that I have yet to comprehend, beyond being able to call myself a colonel.

The company of family members on tour is always a joyous bonus for musicians.  This time it was the lucky pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, whose husband  Michael Lubin joined us for the weekend of music, bourbon-tasting and sightseeing.

On Saturday morning, the Meeting House was packed to capacity.  Patrick introduced the concert, which included a reprise by Yura Lee and Jakob Koranyi of their spectacular rendition of the  Ravel Duo from CMS’s spring concert, Ravel’s World.

Michael Lawrence enlightened a curious audience member on musical notation.

One can walk 10 minutes from the Meeting House to the barn through bucolic settings.

Piano talk

The barn concerts’ intermissions are parties in themselves.

The Brahms Piano Quintet

After the concert, CMS board member Andrea Walton (center) joined us for the traditional musicians’ bourbon-tasting happy hour, and later hosted us for a delicious traditional dinner at the village inn.

Sunday morning’s Meeting House concert was Tara Helen O’Connor’s recital. She played the entire program, which included works by Haydn, Piazzolla, Villa-Lobos, and a set of songs from “The Social Orchestra” by American legend Stephen Foster, who apparently lived thirty miles from Danville.

This is the only traffic noise in the village.

The festival concluded with a performance of the Schubert Cello Quintet. I could not help introducing the piece from the stage, sharing with the audience my own sense of the milestone represented in any series by the first performance of this masterpiece.

The audience definitely caught my drift and listened to the monumental work in rapt silence. I can honestly say it was one of the finest, most flawless performances of the work I have ever given. And I have given a lot of them.

A barbecue in the front yard of our beautiful residence concluded the festival. I commend and congratulate my colleagues of the weekend, every one of whom outdid themselves and delivered the kind of performances that will go a long way towards making the Festival of the Bluegrass a permanent cultural institution in America.

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