Squeezing in a two-night stop between the CMS cruise and the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Festival, the duo found its way to Sarajevo to perform for an exciting and original chamber music festival, inaugurated just last year. It was something of a family gathering: read on.
In David’s words
Jumping hurriedly off the Corinthian II in Barcelona in the early morning, and racing past the tantalizing cityscape, we headed straight for the airport for the first of the day’s three flights that would land us, well after dark, in Sarajevo’s Butimir Airport. For our first visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, we were very excited to be among the performers of the second Sarajevo Chamber Music Festival, organized by the Manhattan String Quartet, in which my cousin Chris is the cellist.
The festival was born in the previous year as a common inspiration of my cousin and Sarajevo musician Dino Mulić, a tireless, passionate advocate of the arts dedicated to bringing the best to his home city.
Dino, between me and Wu Han
Sarajevo’s rich history of course includes the assassination of Archduke of Austria in 1914 which sparked World War I, and the horrendous siege during the Bosnian war for independence, 1992-96, in which the city was relentlessly bombarded from the surrounding hills.
With food supplies cut off and utilities scarce, the city held its own until United Nations forces finally defeated the aggressors in 1996, ending the war. But the city had lost thousands of its citizens, its historic buildings were either completely destroyed or pock-marked by snipers’ bullets, and a generation of young people who had been shot at while traveling to school (like Dino) set about to rebuild their lives and their city.
Indeed, Sarajevo thrives today and offers visitors a vibrant historic center filled with shops, restaurants, and historic sights.
After the siege, many musicians visited Sarajevo to bring the joy of music into the lives of its war-ravaged citizens. But rarely have they returned on a regular basis, and Dino described his dream to Chris at the festival’s conception: that the concerts should be free to the public, and that somehow, the festival must find a way to survive and to continue for many seasons.
It is obvious that although many years have passed since the war, the city is still in need of sustenance. The Manhattan Quartet began the festival last year by performing the complete cycle of fifteen Shostakovich Quartets, a body of music in which the composer revealed not only his innermost self but which chronicles his turbulent and challenged life as an artist in the Soviet Union. Undoubtedly, this music had special resonance with listeners in Sarajevo, and the first festival was a stunning example of imaginative and visionary programming.
Narrowly missing the opening concert, we caught the open-air reception behind the concert hall, attended by many from the audience, including local dignitaries. The place was buzzing with the kind of enthusiasm that we were to experience non-stop over the next forty-eight hours.
Our contributions to this festival, due to our very tight schedule, had to be squeezed into a single day, beginning the next morning with a master class at the Sarajevo Academy of Music. The building has all the qualities of a quintessential European 19th century conservatory building: spacious rooms and hallways, a sense of history, and a well-worn feel that is further accentuated by still-obvious damage from war. The top two floors are the college division, first floors elementary division, middle is high school.
The students, part of the festival’s chamber music workshop who come from nearby towns, were both talented and eager. We spent the better part of the morning working with three gifted ensembles. A total of fourteen chamber groups performed in the Institute’s final concert, which concluded with the Dvorak Serenade for Strings, conducted by Deborah Wong.
Wu Han stayed on to practice, framed here by the rocket-blasted hole in the wall which has been preserved as a reminder of the city’s trials.
The afternoon brought our dress rehearsal in the stunning concert hall, known as the Dom Armije, which is located in a building owned by the army and used chiefly for army events. The remarkable hall has hosted concerts for many years by artists the likes of Heifetz.
With the Manhattan Quartet, Wu Han rehearsed the Dvorak Quintet and I the Arensky Quartet; the program began with a performance by the duo of Beethoven’s sonata in A major. That evening, the hall was literally packed with some of the most excited listeners of all generations that we’ve ever encountered.
The post-concert arrangement included an alfresco dinner with the quartet at a family-run restaurant on the side of the hill high above the city. The views, the food, the atmosphere, and the company were all delightful and unforgettable.
With Chris Finckel and spouse Deborah Wong
Although we left hurriedly the next morning, the festival continued on at a fast pace, offering performances of Schubert’s Winterreise in an all-Schubert concert, an all-Mozart concert with Slovenian clarinetist Boris Rener, a recital by pianist Christopher Taylor, plus other masterpieces of the literature. In future seasons, we hope to once again take part in this inspiring project, and we thank the Manhattan Quartet and the festival’s organizers for their invitation, their hospitality and friendship.