Leaving New York well in advance of its record-breaking October snow storm, David, Wu Han, Arnaud Sussmann, Lily Francis and Gilbert Kalish flew to Munich and Salzburg, the closest major airports to the little German town of Bad Reichenhall. Waiting for them was the AlpenKlassik Festival, and CMS’s second European residency of the year.
In David’s words
The 2011-12 season is one in which The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center is spreading its name and artistry in foreign countries at an unprecedented pace. Having returned from its second residency at the Mecklenburg Festival in late August, CMS journeyed almost immediately to its first tour of Colombia as guests of the Cartagena Festival (see previous blog August-September 2011: CMS Intercontinental).
September and October, traditionally busy months, included, for me and Wu Han performances on the CMS opening night, the Mendelssohn Trios at South Mountain Concerts, numerous Emerson Quartet concerts (including an immediate return to the Mecklenburg Festival), we also oversaw the opening of numerous CMS series such as the Late Night Rose concerts and Inside Chamber Music lectures, plus the main stage concerts. Music@Menlo’s Winter Series opened with a spectacular recital by Inon Barnatan (see Wu Han’s previous blog post).
So it was somewhat of a relief to exchange the hectic American scene for the tranquillity of the Bavarian town of Bad Reichenhall, only minutes from Salzburg, nestled beneath spectacular mountains. The crisp fall air and beautiful foliage provided a bracing and inspiring backdrop for four days of intensive rehearsing and performing.
Klaus Lauer, our long-time friend as former director of the famous Roemerbad Musiktage in Badenweiler, has more recently become an artistic partner of CMS on three occasions: first, his Night Fantasies series, curated by him for us in New York in the November of 2008; second, this residency for CMS at the AlpenKlassik Festival, which he directs; and third, later this season, as he is featured in CMS’s Winter Festival as a leading commissioner of new music. Our programs in Bad Reichenhall were made collaboratively, Klaus requesting from us signature American programming for each of our three concerts.
Arnaud Sussmann, Klaus Lauer, and Wu Han walk the streets of Bad Reichenhall
In our opening performance on Friday evening, in the town’s beautiful Königliches Kurhaus, Wu Han, Lily Francis and I began with Beethoven’s Op. 1 No. 1 piano trio, which was followed by a piece close to Klaus’s heart, George Crumb’s Four Nocturnes (Night Music II) for violin and piano, performed by Lily and Gil using a second piano that had been prepared with all the special markings and equipment necessary to produce Crumb’s magical sounds. The program closed with Beethoven once again, but this time with his final trio, the magnificent “Archduke”, Op. 97, for which Wu Han and I were joined by Arnaud Sussmann.
Post concert festivities are always important, and in the hands of Klaus Lauer, musicians are never at a loss for good food and company. Arnaud and Nicolas amazed the table with outrageous iPhone tricks and games.
Saturday’s program featured a major role for Gilbert Kalish, who opened the concert with Charles Ives’s monumental “Concord” sonata for piano alone or almost alone, as Ives included the briefest of offstage roles for flute and violin. Before the hour-long performance, Gil and Klaus took the stage to introduce the work, the performance of which earned Gil a prolonged ovation.
German cellist Nicolas Altstaedt (a CMS Two artist who only days before joining us assumed artistic directorship of the prestigious Lockenhaus Festival, hand-picked by founder Gidon Kremer) made his first appearance of the weekend in Elliott Carter’s Figments for solo cello, one of which is subtitled, appropriately for this program, “Remembering Mr. Ives”. The program closed with Dvorak’s ever-popular Piano Quartet in Eb.
Sunday’s third and final concert was opened by me with the brief and soothing “Fantasy on a Bach Air” by John Corigliano, after which Wu Han joined me for Beethoven’s sonata op. 69. Schumann’s Eb Piano Quartet closed the first half, with Nicolas borrowing my cello (at the very last minute!) in order to execute Schumann’s unusual request for a single low Bb at the end of the slow movement. It was fun watching Nicolas negotiate his way on and off stage with both cellos.
The concert – and this demanding CMS residency – concluded with American music for piano, four hands, Gil and Wu Han offering first Samuel Barber’s charming Souvenirs, and finishing with George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
For years and years we had heard about this place: “I just played at Schloss Elmau” – “You MUST play at Schloss Elmau!” – “You mean you’ve never played at Schloss Elmau?”. We were beginning to think there was something seriously wrong with our careers, and so, by means of a completely “cold call” , I got our trio with Philip Setzer invited to perform there after our concerts in Bad Reichenhall and before our performance in Naples.
A beautiful two-hour drive from Bad Reichenhall, the famous castle is nestled in the Bavarian mountains near Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the famous violin-producing town of Mittenwald. Emerging from a dense forest, a driver’s first sight of Elmau is truly breathtaking.
We were warmly welcomed not only by program director Silke Zimmerman but also pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who would play a recital the following evening and attend our concert that night. Such is the life of a musician: just when you think you might have a relaxed performance….
The castle as built in 1916 as a retreat for artists and thinkers, attended. Volunteer “helpers” who came to work there attracted by the contact with notables, attended to the clientele. In 2006 a disastrous fire all but destroyed the place, but under the dynamic direction of family owner Dietmar Mueller-Elmau, the castle was rebuilt to a standard that we have perhaps never encountered in all our travels. Every detail is of the highest quality, the setting is beyond comparison, and the warmth, hospitality and personal attention, from Dietmar himself to Silke and her staff, to hotel general manager Nikolai Bloyd, made us very soon feel like important guests who had been coming for years.
Schloss Elmau presents well over two hundred concerts per year. It seems that literally everyone performs here. In the coming months, for example, both our CMS Two cellists Andres Brantelid and Jakob Koranyi will appear, and so will pianist Martha Argerich. The atmosphere, the beauty and hospitality offer the broadest range of musicians a welcome respite from the hectic concert life, and a place to rest and recharge.
Several hundred listeners heard us play Schubert’s massive trio in Eb that evening, including many children staying with their parents at the hotel. It was our trio’s first performance on the European continent. Afterwards we were treated to a sumptuous meal at one of the hotel’s many fine restaurants. We could look forward to a free day, a chance to use the hotel’s amazing spa, and to walk the endless trails in the surrounding hills.
As magical and relaxing as Schloss Elmau was, the irresistible Italian allure beckoned us the following day to our next stop, Naples, for our trio’s second European appearance. Blessed with a free evening, and perfect weather, the infamous, formidable Neapolitan chaos receded into the background. A 5 a.m. departure from Elmau ensured arriving in Naples by lunchtime, the highest of priorities for us.
Approaching Naples by airplane, Castello St. Elmo on the hilltop.
For dinner we were graciously hosted by Professor Lucio Sicca and our presenting organization, the Associazione Alessandro Scarlatti, now celebrating its ninety-first season. We were joined by a small collection of music lovers, including a young cellist who is a student at the local conservatory. It is immediately apparent with these people that their foremost passion is chamber music, as they heatedly posed questions to us such as “Which of the two Schubert trios is your favorite?”. One could not imagine more pleasurable, gracious company (nor better food!).
The concerts of the Associazione take place in the Castello St. Elmo, which dominates the Neapolitan skyline behind the city. Across the water, Vesuvius looms large, and still looks threatening.
During the morning of our concert day, I was treated to a tour of the Conservatorio San Pietro a Majella di Napoli by my new young cellist friend Chiara. It was the first day of classes, and the place was hopping. Nestled in a small street in the historic district, the school, which sits inside a magnificent structure surrounding a central courtyard, is situated among music shops, plus restaurants and cafes which afford both students and faculty ample supplies and nourishment.
Most astounding to see in the conservatory is its library and museum. Containing countless first editions and manuscripts of virtually all the Italian composers (plus many others) it affords the lucky visitor a chance to see portraits, artifacts, and music from composers from Palestrina to Scarlatti to Verdi, from performers such as Paganini and Liszt, and instruments made by Stradivari, Cristofori and Goffriller. There is even a small harp from Stradivari, and Domenico Scarlatti’s own harpsichord, upon which the lucky students are even allowed to perform.
In spite of the challenges of the busy day for the school, I was warmly welcomed by the conservatory director, and shown endless hospitality by a small collection of students, all of whom eventually had their first lessons of the season later that day.
But that did not deter many of them from making the pilgrimage up the mountain to hear our two Schubert trios that evening. Driving in Naples is something I have yet to try, and may never will. There is little pattern or logic to the city’s streets, the driving style is New York +, and the traffic jams can be maddening. The route to the castle from the city below is like a maze in which one probably travels ten times the kilometers as the distance actually is, as the crow flies, and the streets become very narrow as one approaches the mountaintop. After the concert, some six hundred people stream into the streets to head home by car, foot or the funicular train, and on this evening, a bus got stuck in a small street where we sat behind it for a good forty-five minutes, killing our dinner plans (as the concert had started at 9:10, we were still without food past midnight).
An emergency stop at the last pizzeria open afforded me and Wu Han a last, delicious Italian meal and a good bottle of wine, as we sat not only marveling at the day’s wonderful experiences, but also scanning the hundreds of congratulatory e mails that had come in that day, as the official announcement of our Musical America award had hit the internet that morning. All in all, it was quite a day.