Archive for February, 2012

Photo taken January 18, 2012 after an ESQ performance in Lyon, France.

On Tuesday, February 14th, it was announced that David Finckel would be be leaving the the Emerson Quartet at the end of the 2012-2013 season after more than thirty remarkable years.  In this special blog post, David recounts his decision and discusses his thoughts on the Emerson Quartet and his own future.

In David’s words

During the past year, after much soul-searching, I came to the realization that it would be sensible to make the 2012-13 season my last in the Emerson Quartet.  My colleagues of 33 years have been extremely understanding of my desire to pursue, with greater energy, my increasing number of performing, educational and presenting commitments that are independent of the quartet. My heart is warmed by the knowledge that Paul Watkins’ enormous gifts as a cellist and musician will fuel the Emerson’s onward journey with vibrant energy and fresh perspectives. I could not be happier to see him take my chair, nor can I wait to hear how marvelous the quartet will sound in its new incarnation. While I will forever treasure the rich network of friendships and experiences I have enjoyed as a member of the Emerson Quartet, I am equally excited for the opportunities which await me in the next chapter of my artistic and professional life.

I owe the bulk of my musical education to the Emerson Quartet, not only through the experience of learning so many great works, but also from the quartet’s rigorous pursuit of fidelity to each composer’s style. The Emerson’s unflagging commitment to a 100% effort for every performance, from big cities to small, remains for me the definitive example of being true to one’s art. Each individual in the quartet has always sought a higher level from himself in each successive performance, an expectation which is palpable to audiences and, I believe, has created for the Emerson that sense of perpetual quest which has enticed presenters the world over to bring the quartet back again and again.

The Emerson’s idea to perpetuate itself – a decision that was made by Philip, Eugene and Larry –I think is logical and tremendously exciting.  It makes sense to view the work we have done over the last three decades as having significance and purpose larger than any of us as individuals.  The Emerson’s accomplishments can not only be celebrated, but built upon. With the help of new personnel equally committed to the ideals that has built the quartet’s reputation, the quartet can be sustained and continue its artistic development.

The principles of performance practice which we inherited from our mentors are responsible for the Emerson’s successes across a wide range of music.  I believe our adherence to those artistic values account for the quartet’s appeal to the vast majority of listeners worldwide.  Pursuing innovation while remaining faithful to the composer, and holding ourselves to the instrumental standards set by the greatest players of all time, constitutes the Emerson’s artistic journey. It is a musical path with no end in sight.

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On Wednesday, January 25th, David Finckel, Wu Han, and David Shifrin journeyed, respectively, from Frankfurt, San Francisco and Nashville to Chicago, where they met to perform the inaugural concert of CMS’s three-year residency at the Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater for Music and Dance. Three days of radio interviews, master classes and the performance provided the annual three-concert series with a solid beginning.

In David’s words


The name of Harris holds a special place in our hearts and memories. First, our ongoing close friendship with Joan Harris is based on a shared commitment quality, service to arts and community. She has long set an example for us as a model citizen, fueled by a sense that her work is never done. What she and her family have given to their communities is inestimable, and we are privileged to have been a small part of it.

It was in Aspen that we first met, and our lives truly converged as Harris Hall, the festival’s indoor, all-season venue, was nearing its completion in the summer of 1993.  The Emerson Quartet, in residence at the festival, was called in to test the hall’s acoustics for the project’s principals, including the architect, acoustician, festival administrators, and Joan and Irving Harris. It was a truly memorable sight, the quartet sitting on stage in white jackets (we had just come off the Tent stage next door) and surrounded by cement mixers.  But the sound of the Adagio from Mozart’s K. 575 soon eased any doubt that this hall was about to emerge as one of the most significant built in America in the 20th century.

Stage test, 1993

Harris Hall today

The hall’s natural sound, and dead quiet (it is buried underground so as not to disrupt Aspen’s revered vistas) led us to the idea of recording the Beethoven sonatas there. An arrangement was arrived at quickly for the summer of 1997, when we not only recorded all the sonatas and variations but performed them as well. (The account of our recording late into the night and emerging in the Rocky Mountain moonlight can be found in the CD liner notes.)  It was the first commercial recording made in hall, followed shortly by the Emerson’s Shostakovich cycle.

With Joan Harris and Louise Frank

Chicago has been the base of the Harris family for many years, and Joan and Irving were committed to the creation of a multi-purpose theater in their home town. It was through their efforts, over many years, around many obstacles and despite failed attempts, that the Harris Theater for Music and Dance finally opened its doors on November  8th, 2003.  It is a large space (1200 seats) that, like its cousin in Aspen, resides underground on the north edge of Millennium Park, just behind the Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavilion.

The theater’s mission is not only to present quality performances of music and dance, but to be a home and partner to Chicago’s numerous performing organizations. Beginning with twelve, the list of companies presented by the Harris has grown to thirty-nine, and CMS is now proud to be counted among the Harris Theater’s many vibrant relationships.

For our inaugural concert, we decided that not only we had to perform but wanted to bring something especially powerful and representative of our work in New York.  Nothing could have been more perfect for us to bring along our long-time colleague, and predecessor as CMS Artistic Director David Shifrin, to help us open the project on a high note.  Our repertoire consisted of the Beethoven Trio, four pieces for clarinet trio by Max Bruch, and the great trio by Brahms.  It is exactly the music on our CD recently released by ArtistLed, performed by us and David.

The days before the concert were filled with rehearsing and other activities, such as a visit to the distinguished WFMT studios for a live broadcast performance and interview with host Kerry Frumkin. Presiding over the event was producer Louise Frank, who is, coincidentally, the daughter of Joan Harris. The WFMT studio possesses some of the best acoustics we have ever encountered in a room that size, reminding us of CMS’s own Rose Studio.  We felt immediately comfortable and the usually-nerve wracking sensation of live performance was thankfully absent.

A free evening found our trio eating in a famous Chicago steak house, situated under the famous ‘L’ train line (the second oldest in America).  On the way into dinner, and at dinner, we enjoyed fantastic performances streamed live from CMS’s Rose Studio to our iPhones via the CMS iPhone app of the Late Night Rose concert, featuring the octets of Spohr and Enescu.

Part of our residency also included teaching master classes, and giving a talk for the Music Institute of Chicago.  One of the most important music education institutions in American, the Music Institute was founded in 1931. After working with extremely gifted students individually, we all met on the stage of Harris Theater to share some of our ideas about music study and performance, and to answer questions from eager students, parents and Institute administrators.

For our concert the following evening we enjoyed the company of a large and friendly crowd of listeners who behaved as though they already knew us.  It was the warmest welcome a musical trio of New Yorkers could ever imagine from in such an important American capital of culture.

New CMS Two violinist Benjamin Beilman, enjoying a free night on tour, showed up to listen.

And to cap off a great weekend, we were rewarded with a glowing review from the dean of Chicago Tribune critics, John von Rhein, who lauded not only our performance but the idea of the residency itself.  Nothing could have made us happier.


The day after our Chicago triumph saw us in Columbus Ohio’s Southern Theater for a repeat performance of the clarinet trios.  The presenting organization, Chamber Music Columbus, is one of America’s longest-running and most distinguished, running uninterrupted for sixty consecutive season, and supervised by a volunteer team of dedicated and intelligent chamber music aficionados.

The large crowd included (as had the Harris Theater audience the previous night) a small herd of clarinet players who journeyed from far and wide to hear David Shifrin.  While we have always admired David as the finest clarinetist we know, we only just learned on this tour of his apparent rock-star status among players of his instrument.

Before the concert, a student string ensemble entertained the audience as a concert prelude.  These dedicated and gifted students thrive under the guidance of Deborah Price, the director of The Chamber Music Connection, a stunningly popular, well-organized and unique (to our knowledge) organization that provides chamber music opportunities to a vast number of students.  Check out their organization at www.cmconnection.org and maybe send them a contribution. They are worth it!


Returning to New York on an early flight Sunday morning, we rested and geared up for our first of two Tully Hall performances of the trios, plus the 2012-13 season announcement following the concert.

It was truly a joy to walk on stage that day with David, someone who has given so much to CMS, and to make music for the audience that we have developed together.  The affection he generates among the CMS crowd is palpable, and we were rewarded with the warmest of responses.

Following a hectic CD-signing in the Tully lobby, we were ushered upstairs to the glamorous new Hauser Pavilion where a large crowd of donors, press and CMS board and administrators awaited the unveiling of the coming season.  In the past, we have described the season’s events, accompanied by music and a power point presentation, to a crowd of about 100 in the Rose Studio.  This year, however, our endlessly-creative marketing team, led by Lauren Bailey, constructed a web-based Season Preview that is miles beyond anything we have done before.  Check it out at www.chambermusicsociety.org/12-13preview/ where one can find in-depth information about all the programs, including extensive interviews with the artists who are performing them.

During the Season Preview, members of the CMS Student Producers gave quick tutorials to patrons on how apps works. What is astounding to reveal about the new incarnation of the Season Preview are the statistics.  Since CMS began its extensive online activities two years ago, including the live stream Late Night Rose concerts, we have collected over 100,000 dedicated visitors each year. Listeners are experiencing the Chamber Music Society now in Spain, Canada, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Germany, France, Brazil, Japan, and Italy.  We could not be more delighted to be sharing all the amazing work that CMS does for chamber music with a truly global audience, for the first time.

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