David Finckel and Wu Han, deepening their involvement with chamber music in Korea, performed in and presided over the first Chamber Music Today festival in Seoul. The festival’s mission is to bring the finest musicians on the international chamber music scene to perform in Korea every year. As a result of their ongoing relationship with the LG Chamber Music School, David and Wu Han were recruited by the festival’s organizers to lead it artistically.
In David’s words
It had seemed to us that our commitment to the wonderful LG Chamber Music School, including annual visits to teach and perform and a schedule of educational video productions, would be the extent of our involvement with chamber music in Korea. But we were wrong.
Of all the Asian countries we have visited, Korea has emerged as the region’s leader in terms of interest in and enthusiasm for chamber music. Although many fine players come from Japan, China and Taiwan, the Koreans are fast outnumbering their neighbors in sending young musicians to major international conservatories, and appearing on concert stages.
[At the moment, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s roster includes seven Koreans: violinists Kristin Lee, Jessica Lee, Yura Lee, Amy Lee, violist Richard O’Neill, pianist Soyeon Lee, and flutist Sooyun Kim. The only other Asians within the Society at this time are the Chinese Wu Han and violinist Cho-Liang Lin.]
The popularity of chamber music in Korea – as measured by audience numbers, demographics and enthusiasm – was a definite encouragement for all who set about creating this new festival. Generously underwritten by the LG Corporation, the festival is hosted and produced by the Korean company Casual Classics, headed by Jeehyun Kim, in collaboration with LG and with us.
For the first festival, the organizers wanted the world’s most famous chamber ensembles. Well, the Emerson Quartet was available and was happy to go. As well, the popular young Jupiter Quartet (which boasts a Korean first violinist, Nelson Lee) was also eager to participate. We decided to round out the three-concert series with a concert of piano trios with Philip Setzer, and lo and behold, the first festival was in place.
The festival began on Saturday evening with a private performance for LG executives and their families. Held in the elegant Plaza Hotel, the evening included performances of Mendelssohn’s D major cello sonata, Mozart’s quartet K. 575, and the Schumann Piano Quintet. After the performance, the audience gathered with us for photos.
We were then treated to an elegant Chinese (!) dinner hosted by Mr. Sang Chul Lee and his wife. Mr. Lee is the Vice Chairman of LG Corporation and the CEO of LGUPlus.
I was presented with a birthday cake made of CMT (Chamber Music Today) cupcakes. The cake was topped with a cellist cookie on which my head was pasted. Wu Han and I had some fun with it after dinner.
But by far, the moment that touched us all was a surprise film in which a great number of “our” kids from the LG Chamber Music School offered me their affectionate birthday greetings. I have been promised a copy of the film and when I get it, it will appear here. It’s always amazing to me to find that my students – given how demanding I am of them – still like me!
The occasion called for a speech from me – a rare occurrence, experienced by few.
As the evening progressed, behind the scenes a crisis was emerging: the Jupiter Quartet was having a pregnancy emergency (since successfully and happily resolved) that would prevent them from making the journey to perform. Solving problems such as these are simply part of our job, and with a couple of quick conversations and calls to our indomitable travel agent Diana Hardy, it was determined that the Emerson Quartet could extend its stay, and play another program to substitute for the Jupiter Quartet.
Sunday evening’s first public concert was performed by the Emerson, at the acoustically-excellent IBK Chamber Music Hall at the Seoul Arts Center. A capacity crowd was a great omen for the festival’s future, and the quartet offered a highly demanding program of Mozart’s K. 590, Beethoven’s Op. 135, and the giant Dvorak Op. 106.
Dinner was hosted by LG Vice President and CFO Sunghyun Kim, an avid and knowledgeable classical music fan. Vice President Paul Chung, who has been instrumental in committing LG to the Chamber Music School, joined us as well. These two gentlemen – consummate executives – are also among the most fun-loving, generous and gracious of all our business acquaintances.
The Emerson Quartet and Wu Han with Sunghyun Kim
A fine meal in Korea is a feast for the eyes as well as for the taste buds. See the end of this blog for a gallery of stunning dishes from the trendy restaurant near the concert hall.
On Monday, it was the Emerson’s turn again, and the quartet offered Mozart’s K. 575, the Bartok 5th, and the Dvorak Quintet with Wu Han. After the concert, we experienced a sensational dinner of barbecued pork with the entire staff of Casual Classics, who worked tirelessly and with great expertise to produce the tightly-packed festival. They are all dedicated and passionate, and all of us owe them our gratitude and encouragement.
On Tuesday, the festival wrapped up with the D major cello sonata and d minor Trio of Mendelssohn, with the Schubert Bb Trio after intermission. It was especially gratifying to play this concert, as virtually the entire student body of the LG Chamber Music School was in the audience.
After the concert, there was plenty of picture-taking in the lobby. It was a fitting way to end this first festival, surrounded by Korea’s chamber musicians of the future. We are honored and happy to be playing a role in their development, and to feel a part of the evolution of chamber music in Korea.
As a postscript, I’ll include the statement written by me and Wu Han for the festival, introducing the art of chamber music and expressing our feelings.
Chamber music is the music of friends. It is an international language that brings people together, and is, at the same time, one of the richest art forms on earth. Chamber Music Today will bring the greatest chamber music repertoire and performers to Korea. In every concert, we will hear why chamber music has become an exciting, personal and essential experience for audiences around the world. We look forward not only to performing for Korea’s audience, but also to watching our music form unbreakable bonds of friendship between musicians and listeners. It will be a delight to witness this extraordinary project blossom, as we share in the magical power of chamber music – truly the greatest music of today.