MUSIC@MENLO’S TENTH SEASON
After nine successful years, Music@Menlo, the summer chamber music festival started by David Finckel and Wu Han on the San Francisco Peninsula, opened its doors last week to celebrate a milestone season. The first week included the concerts, lectures, master classes and festive events that have been a part of the festival since its earliest year.
In David’s words
Like a dream come true, Wu Han and I arrived in San Francisco on consecutive days, from diverse and hectic summer schedules, to open Music@Menlo’s landmark tenth season. Almost everyone, except the performers and Chamber Music Institute students, had already shown up to prepare. Some of the interns had been on site for nearly four weeks learning how to perform a wide range of seasonal festival tasks, from managing donor events to selling CD’s, from artist hospitality to concert production.
One of our first stops – one of the most exciting every year – was to see the art of our festival visual artist displayed in Stent Family Hall, one of the festival’s most beloved concert venues and the true heart of Music@Menlo. This year’s artist is the brilliant Harvard professor Eric J. Heller, who captures actual sound waves and converts them into extraordinarily beautiful graphics.
The festival’s 10-year partner, the New York based ProPiano, was on hand to deliver the dozens of pianos required for concerts and rehearsals, including three always-magnificent Hamburg 9-foot Steinway D’s, the state-of-the-art instrument preferred by artists and venues the world over.
We were delighted to see our CMI faculty hard at work preparing for the imminent arrival of over forty eager young musicians. This special group of teachers, assembled from past International Performer classes, includes: Institute Director, pianist Gloria Chien; violinists Sean Lee, Kristin Lee, and Hye-Jin Kim; pianists Teresa Yu and Hyeyeon Park; and cellists Dmitri Atapine and Nicholas Canellakis.
A significant addition to the Institute’s faculty structure this season is the creation of the International Performers director position, this summer occupied by no less an august musician than pianist Gilbert Kalish. Gil remains in residence, teaching and performing, for the entire three weeks this summer, and this festival could not be luckier to have him. His vast experience as a performer and educator are matched by few in the world today.
To introduce the festival and to explain the season’s theme, Resonance, we called on long-time festival friend Ara Guzelimian to present the opening Encounter on Friday evening. Our association with this deep-thinking and eloquent scholar, educator and administrator goes back many years, having known him in his many distinguished roles at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Aspen Music Festival, Carnegie Hall, and currently at the Juilliard School, where he is both Dean and Provost. (As such, he is my new boss, having recently joined the Juilliard cello faculty).
Ara spoke movingly about the importance of great music in the world today in a two-hour presentation entitled Why Music? The events of that day, on everyone’s mind, provided the first opportunity for the topic’s relevance: the massacre in the movie theater in Colorado. Ara reminded us that when human beings commit unspeakable, inhuman acts, we all hope and reach for a sense of renewal of faith in ourselves, in society, and in each other. Music’s transformative and restorative qualities offer reassurance, emotional footing and sustenance in the most trying of times and circumstances, and Ara shared his own experience of depending on music during a time of personal crisis. As can always be expected of Ara, his Encounter was not only informative but inspirational, providing all us with a clear view of the weeks ahead, and all of the right reasons to be here in the first place.
On Saturday, the festival’s annual Open House day, Wu Han and I took the stage of Martin Family Lecture Hall to be interviewed by festival Artistic Administrator Patrick Castillo, who is also celebrating his 10th consecutive year with the festival. Joining us was Executive Director Edward Sweeney, Operations Director Marianne LaCrosse, pianist and Institute Director Gloria Chien, Production Manager Ellen Mezzera, Assistant Artistic Administrator Andrew Goldstein. The unusual discussion focused on the activities and role of Music@Menlo’s remarkable internship program and how it parallels the Chamber Music Institute in training the future music industry.
After a quick run dress rehearsal for the evening’s concert, I returned to Menlo School where I was privileged to share the stage with Ara Guzelimian for the season’s first Café Conversation, the festival series of presentations by artists and guests on a wide variety of music-related subjects. Ara and I talked about the use of composers’ original manuscripts as keys to interpretation. We introduced the Juilliard School’s state-of-the-art web site devoted to its extensive manuscript collection, all of which is viewable online in high definition. I shared with the large audience of CMI students and Open House public photos from my recent visit to Prague (see the Bohemian Immersion blog from late May) of the manuscripts of Dvorak. The intrepid CMI International Performers joined us on stage to demonstrate the different possibilities of interpretation revealed by the manuscripts – possibilities not visible in printed editions.
With Ara’s enticing Encounter still fresh in our memories, we were all primed for the first concert on Saturday night in Stent Family Hall on the beautiful campus of Menlo School. After a dynamic Prelude Performance by the International Performers, which included Haydn’s Lark Quartet and Dvorak’s Piano Quartet, Wu Han welcomed the eager audience to the first main stage concert of the anniversary festival.
The opening of this festival has to have been one of the most extraordinary openings of any concert series ever presented. A program entitled Sustained offered music of the kind that nourishes the soul, fills basic human needs, strengthens and ennobles. One of music’s most profound, joyful and exciting works is the duo for violin and piano that Franz Schubert composed late in his life. Titled Fantasie, it is just that, with a slow, magical opening of rippling piano chords and a seemingly endless, timeless melody for the violin. The mystery gives way to a vibrant and brilliant dance, followed by a set of variations on one of Schubert’s most beloved songs, the achingly beautiful Sei mir gegrußt. After a return of the mysterious opening, the music breaks into a triumphant C major melody, and the piece concludes with unbelievable fireworks from both instruments. It is universally regarded as one of the most difficult works in classical music.
Rising to the challenge, and well beyond, was returning Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen partnered with the young violinist – also a recent addition to the CMS Two roster, Benjamin Beilman. These two musicians, in a jaw-dropping display of virtuosity and equally sensitive musicians, brought our audience to its feet. It was their first performance of the work – neither of them had ever played it before, either together or separately.
This bar-setting performance was followed by the return on stage of one of Music@Menlo’s most beloved artists: clarinetist Anthony McGill, who was not only with us in the festival’s first season but also in its one-day pilot concert in 2002. Joining him was the Pacifica Quartet, no strangers to the festival, having performed the complete Mendelssohn quartets two summers ago in the 2009 season, Being Mendelssohn. The work they played together is one of the all-time favorite pieces of chamber music, the Mozart Clarinet Quintet, well known as a “desert island” piece that many people simply cannot live without. The heavenly slow movement once again reminded us of the many reasons we began this project in the first place, as we looked over our audience in a state of profound concentration, many overcome with emotion.
Having been soothed by Mozart, and entranced by Schubert, it was time to be strengthened by the composer who does that better than anyone: Ludwig van Beethoven. From him we chose his magnificent piano trio Op. 70, No. 2 in Eb, a middle-period work that combines the energy of his youth, the expansiveness of his mature style, and hints of the transcendent music of his last years. I was privileged to be the cellist joining the already-spectacular duo of Benjamin Beilman and Juho Pohjonen.
Sunday morning brought the first Carte Blanche Concert, a tour-de-force by the newly-formed duo of clarinetist Anthony McGill and pianist Gloria Chien. Over two-and-a-half hours, these indefatigable rendered flawless performances of solo and duo works, including standard literature such as the Poulenc Sonata and novelties such as transcriptions of Scriabin Preludes. At the program’s emotional center were two extraordinary works for each player as soloist: Scriabin’s Etude for the left hand alone, performed with astounding beauty, accuracy and command by Gloria, and the movement for solo clarinet from Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, played by Anthony in a performance that could only be called sonic magic. As Gilbert Kalish told me right after the concert “Anthony can do absolutely anything on the clarinet”, and he certainly proved it on Sunday, all before lunch to boot. It was easily one of the best recitals we have ever heard, and much of it will be available on record, produced by Da-Hong Seetoo.
The weekend finished with another performance of Concert Program I in the Performing Arts Center at Menlo-Atherton. Stay tuned for next week’s report, appearing here next Monday.