Music@Menlo broke new ground on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Menlo Park, as the Emerson String Quartet inaugurated the festival’s new Winter Series. A long-time consideration, the Winter Series now provides summer festival audiences with performances during the year, programmed and directed by the festival, and presented with Music@Menlo’s signature quality and integrity.
in David’s words…
What a thrilling day it was for Wu Han and me, and for the entire Music@Menlo community, to open a new chapter in the festival’s history. The possibility of a winter series had been discussed for years and finally came to fruition between the festival’s eighth and ninth summers. As with every step in the development of the festival, this one waited until its timing was right: our attendance has been near capacity every summer; audience members, including many donors, have expressed their hunger for an off-season presence; and Music@Menlo’s year-round staff is at a peak of productivity and experience, ready and able to take on the responsibilities of presenting concerts in a new format.
The Winter Series offers Music@Menlo two important opportunities: first, to reconnect on a regular basis with our audience during the long winter months; and second, to reach an audience that is unable to attend in the summer. The single concerts acquaint new listeners with the festival’s quality through individual performances; and we, as artistic directors, have the option of selecting from a wide field of artists and pre-formed groups touring during the regular concert season.
The group we chose to inaugurate this entire series just happened to be the Emerson String Quartet. The ESQ had appeared only one time for Music@Menlo, in our 2005 Beethoven festival. Naturally, it is with enormous pride that I am able to show off Music@Menlo’s great audience, state-of-the-art production, and overwhelming hospitality to my quartet, which I know from experience is well-acquainted with the world’s top series and venues. Likewise, it is gratifying for me as the festival’s artistic co-director to bring to the new series a concert which I know will satisfy on all levels and provide the project with a stellar launch.
The performance, long sold out, took place in our newest venue, the Center for Performing Arts at Menlo-Atherton, in which we presented a number of concerts for the first time this past summer. This beautiful hall, designed primarily for chamber music, provides the fine acoustics our audience has come to expect, and in addition, elegance, accessibility, and enough seats to accommodate the large crowd the festival now draws for single performances.
The program we selected, from the Emerson’s many season offerings, comprised works that each had a tie to a previous Music@Menlo summer. We began with Mendelssohn’s last completed work, the Andante and Scherzo, Op. 81, which of course recalled for us all the 2009 festival Being Mendelssohn. Anton Webern’s Langsamer Satz (Slow Movement) followed, a romantic gem which was featured on our very first festival in a program titled Bridging the Ages. Debussy’s only string quartet, one of the great masterpieces of the literature, closed the first half, recalling the Spanish Inspirationss program of just last summer, in which the quartet’s guitar-like second movement helped draw connections between the music of Spain and France.
And finally, Dvorak’s magnificent quartet in C major, op. 61, rounded out the program. In last summer’s closing concert, Dvorak’s America, our audience heard the two great chamber works that the Czech composer wrote during his stay in America, filled with melodies, harmonies, and rhythms inspired by Native and African-American music that he heard here. The work on this Winter Series concert was composed during a different era of his life, when he was fast becoming a major European composer, earning the respect of not only his countrymen but of internationally famous musicians such as Johannes Brahms. With this quartet, of the same large dimension as a middle-period Beethoven work, Dvorak sought to put himself on the same plane of skill and importance as his most distinguished contemporaries.
My quartet, coming from consecutive-day concerts in Costa Mesa and San Diego, gave its all for the performance and basked in the warmth and enthusiasm our audience showed in return. An encore of one of the Dvorak Cypresses closed the program.
Looking back on the concert, in the context of the history of the festival, we are happy to have been able to present three works that recalled performances of past summers, and to also introduce a work, the Dvorak, which our audience had never heard.
The post-concert activities included a CD-signing for the quartet and the opportunity for us to greet our public once again, which happily included many Chamber Music Institute students.
with CMI students Sarah Ghandour and Agata Sorotokin
We relaxed and enjoyed the company of Music@Menlo board members and donors at a beautiful party and dinner graciously and generously hosted by Hugh Martin and Amy Sapp. During the evening, Wu Han (who made the trip out especially to see the series launch) and I enjoyed seeing Gene, Larry, and Phil getting to know many of our extraordinary board members: Ann Bowers, Leonard Edwards, Paul Ginsburg, Kathy Henschel, Michael Hunt, Hugh Martin, Bill Silver, Camilla Smith, and Trine Sorensen. Music@Menlo’s Executive Director Edward Sweeney and Director of Development Annie Rohan helped everyone to get to know each other and made sure that the quartet was amply fed and entertained. It was truly a great evening, one whose quality matched the landmark significance of the day for Music@Menlo.
with Hugh Martin and Amy Sapp