Archive for the ‘Duo’ Category

Arriving at noon in the spectacular environs of Aspen, Colorado, directly from appearances at Portland’s Chamber Music Northwest festival, David and Wu Han met and auditioned the four piano trios of their new-inaugurated chamber music program at the Aspen Music Festival. David writes about this new program, the intense musical work, and the trios’ triumphant marathon concert – the culmination of their studies with the duo and Aspen faculty.


In David’s words

In the more than thirty years that Wu Han and I have participated at the Aspen Music Festival and School, we have longed to contribute more than our performances to the immense musical life of the festival. Gradually over time, Wu Han developed a private piano class, and this summer – my first at Aspen as the ex-Emerson Quartet cellist – I finally had some time to devote to cellists and the school’s chamber music program.

With the full support of the festival administration, headed by President and CEO Alan Fletcher, and Vice President and Dean of Students Jennifer Johnston, Wu Han and I mounted an immersive chamber music program for twelve students: four from each of our studios, and four violinists. We combined them into four piano trios, assigning their repertoire well in advance of the festival. Many of them had never met each other, but our years of experience running chamber programs helped us to match players and repertoire successfully.

A welcome dinner of Chinese food gathered us all together for the first time.

Our wonderful trios consisted of: violinist Angela Wee, cellist Julia Rosenbaum, and pianist Agata Sorotokin (Shostakovich Trio in e minor); violinist Haruno Sato, cellist Jean Kim, and pianist Adria Ye (Mendelssohn Trio in d minor); violinist Will Hagen, cellist Austin Huntington, and pianist Sarina Zhang (Dvorak “Dumky” Trio); and violinist Fabiola Kim, cellist Hsiao-Hsuan Huang, and pianist Steven Lin (Beethoven “Archduke” Trio).

We, alongside the AMFS faculty, coached the groups every few days during the program. Joining us in the coachings were the teachers of our violinists: Robert Lipsett (Will Hagen), Sylvia Rosenberg (Fabiola Kim) and Masao Kawasaki (Angela Wee). Unfortunately, Paul Kantor’s class of forty-four students took so much of his time he was unable to participate, but he will hopefully join us in future summers.

Robert Lipsett, arguably one of the world’s most influential and successful violin teachers, joined us for a marathon session.

Master cello teacher Richard Aaron (here with Sarina Zhang) was an enthusiastic supporter of the program.

And violinist Sylvia Rosenberg contributed an enormous amount of time, enthusiasm and wisdom. We were also so fortunate as to have the wonderful violinist, violist and pedagogue Masao Kawasaki available to share his vast skill with our students.

We formed a marketing committee which included members of each trio, who met with Aspen’s PR and Marketing director Laura Smith to design and distribute posters around town. Aspen is a very competitive place in which to present a concert, with many events happening daily.

Each work presented offers distinct, musical and technical challenges. The students arrive already very accomplished, so bringing them to the next level takes very thoughtful work during which we utilize every ounce of experience, wisdom and knowledge we possess. The experience for all of us was one of discovery and excitement, and the Aspen Music Festival community awaited the program’s final concert with great anticipation.

Beginning with Beethoven’s great, final piano trio, subtitled the “Archduke”, we worked to find the kind of stability of tempi which would allow the music’s monumental grandeur to emerge on its own. Composed in 1811 and dedicated to Archduke Rudolf of Austria, it is a piece that bridges Beethoven’s “middle” or “heroic” style period with his “late” period, combining the symphonic proportions of the former with the mysticism and modernity of the latter. The pianist is afforded the lion’s share of the difficulties and responsibilities, and Juilliard student Steven Lin gamely absorbed the heavy demands laid on him by the coaching teams. Violinist Fabiola Kim, also from the Juilliard School and a student of Sylvia Rosenberg, contributed passion and dedication to the process, not to mention her naturally sweet sound and solid technique. Cellist Hsaio-Hsuan “Sharen” Huang proved herself a highly communicative chamber artist, making the most of the cello part and proving her talent to us for the second time (she had participated in our now-legendary workshop in Taiwan in 2009, sadly abandoned after one year due to a pullback in Taiwanese government support). Although the Archduke trio looks relatively simple on the page, to play it well takes consummate musicianship, and this young trio matured by leaps and bounds, giving a performance in the final concert that stood among the finest performances we have heard in Aspen, by anyone.

Mendelssohn’s famous d minor trio is the first of his two often-heard works in the genre. It epitomizes the German Romantic style, and is Mendelssohnian through and through, from its stormy outer movements to its song-without-words Andante and its quicksilver Scherzo, in the Midsummer Night’s Dream tradition. Pianist Adria Ye – at fifteen, among the youngest of our students – showed herself equal to the virtuosic challenges that Mendelssohn left us, adding as well a naturally beautiful sound and lyric instinct. Violinist Haruno Sato, a student of Paul Kantor, endured endless requests from the faculty for altered fingerings and bowings to maximize the music’s vocal qualities. Unfazed, she sailed through in the end, offering a truly heated performance that was tender and gripping as required. And cellist Jean Kim, an extremely gifted player on her way to the Curtis Institute in the fall, showed maturity and poise in the midst of one of chamber music’s stormiest works.

Shostakovich’s Trio in e minor is one of chamber music’s most popular and often played pieces. Tackling its unusual difficulties were pianist Agata Sorotokin, cellist Julia Rosenbaum (both Music@Menlo alumnae) and violinist Angela Wee, a student of Masao Kawasaki. Emerging from the dark depths of Soviet Russia under Stalin, Shostakovich’s music takes listeners to different sound worlds, and the drama, irony, wit, intensity and sometimes sheer beauty of his music calls upon extremes from its interpreters. Together, we experimented to discover sounds that were expressive but not necessarily sweet; ways to increase volume to orchestral proportions; Jewish folk music style (we all watched a YouTube video of Zero Mostel singing “If I Were a Rich Man”); and the special kind of technical accuracy that the often-bare textures demand. All in all, these three very young musicians accomplished everything they set out to do, and their powerful performance garnered a standing ovation in middle of the concert – for a work that ends pianissimo, no less. We were proud and our audience was amazed.

Concluding the marathon concert (over two-and-a-half hours long) was Dvorak’s beloved “Dumky” Trio, composed by him on the eve of his journey from Bohemia to the new world in 1891. It is a unique work without anything resembling classical structure: its six movements, each labeled Dumka, are essays in Bohemian nostalgia, filled with music sometimes joyful but often melancholy. It is some of the most personal and beautiful music ever composed, and our trio, consisting of violinist Will Hagen (a Colburn student of Robert Lipsett), cellist Austin Huntington (also from Colburn), and pianist Sarina Zhang (headed to Juilliard this fall), found themselves pressed to extremes of expression, communication and imagination that sometimes left them looking a bit in shock.

Wu Han worked intensively with Sarina to enlarge her sound palette, spending a lot of time on pedaling and touch. Will and Austin, both possessing naturally rich sounds and fine technique, worked hard to match each other and piano, and to enable the work to come across as freely and naturally as if it were improvised. The folk spirit, in the end, was the group’s biggest challenge, as our rigorous training often restricts our ability to play with freedom, spontaneity, and daring. As they concluded the long concert, though, we had the feeling that this trio of remarkable talents had reached a new level in their performance, and we were enormously proud to have played a part in their artistic development.

The program’s closing concert took place in Aspen’s jewel of a venue: The Joan and Irving Harris Concert Hall, this year celebrating its 20th anniversary.

Having recorded our Beethoven Sonatas cycle in Harris Hall for ArtistLed, Wu Han and I have always had a special affection for this sublime space. Our close friendship with Joan Harris and her late husband further cemented our relationship to the hall, but if anything really connected me to if for life, it was the famed acoustical testing of the hall – the first by live musicians – that the Emerson String Quartet performed in the summer of 1993.

After the concert, the happy and relieved young musicians gathered on the lawn for a formal photo, each looking their very best. It was a moment to remember.

Though we have departed for Music@Menlo, we have heard from many sources that the buzz about this program is still continuing around the festival. And our students have become fast friends, and something of a star crowd, having received an invitation post-concert to a gracious meal in the home of Aspen board member Arlene Solomon, pictured here with her husband Chester and the young musicians.

Plans are already under way for next summer’s workshop. Stay tuned for a much-anticipated announcement as this newest addition to the festival grows its roots deeper in the Aspen musical community.


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In a single, momentous week in May, David Finckel performed in numerous cities in a variety of roles. Here is his account of seven days, including his various concerts and the definitive, insider’s report on his long-awaited departure from the Emerson String Quartet.


In David’s words

Saturday, May 4   Reneé Fleming in Carnegie Hall

The opportunity to perform in Carnegie Hall is every musician’s dream.  I’ve been fortunate to play there many times, and my momentous week began in the Stern Auditorium (the main stage) in a concert belonging to soprano Renée Fleming, who had invited us to appear on the final performance of her Carnegie Hall Perspectives series.

In her intriguing program entitled “Window to Modernity”, she presented music from the transitional period between the Romantic and Modern eras, beginning with late Brahms and exploring music generated from the Second Viennese School.  Along with songs by Zeisl, Wellesz, Wagner, and Weigl, we performed Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night with colleagues from our recent recording, Paul Neubauer and Colin Carr. Pianist Jeremy Denk appeared with Renée in various repertoire, and performed two pieces from Brahms’s Op. 118. Renée hosted the concert, speaking about the music to the audience during the many complex stage changes.

At the post-concert reception, the musicians gathered with audience members Ronald Schoenberg and Barbara Zeisl-Schoenberg, the children of the composer. Ronald resembles his famous father very strongly.

Post Concert Party- Left to Right: Ronald Schoenberg, Philip Setzer, Barbara Zeisl-Schoenberg, Reneé Fleming, Eugene Drucker, Jeremy Denk, Lawrence Dutton, David Finckel

Sunday, May 5: The Trio plays in Montreal

The next morning, Philip Setzer, Wu Han and I left early for the Ladies Morning Musical Club series in Montreal. A longtime venue for the Emerson Quartet, and more recently our trio, we were welcomed for our second appearance that included performances of Haydn’s A major Trio, Dvorak’s “Dumky” Trio, and Mendelssohn’s d minor Trio.

Artists who perform for this series, which is held in the wonderful Pollack concert hall at McGill University, are always treated to the best of care and feeding.

Left to Right: David Finckel, Monique Prévost, Philip Setzer, Michèle Nepveu, Wu Han

As the concert ended by 5 p.m., we managed to return to New York that same evening.

Monday, May 6:  First rehearsal with Paul Watkins, Greene Space performance, CMS gala

After meetings which began at 8:00 a.m. and ran until lunchtime, Wu Han and I welcomed Gene, Phil, Larry and my Emerson Quartet successor Paul Watkins to our newly-expanded living room to rehearse the Schubert Cello Quintet. We were performing the Quintet at both the Chamber Music Society gala that night, and for my final concert with the Quartet the following Saturday.

The last time the quartet had rehearsed in our old apartment, it looked like this:

And by April, it looked like this:

It was the first time we got a look at the new ESQ.

The rehearsal was wonderful: intense, musical, friendly, joyful and celebratory.

Unbelievably, between our rehearsal and performance for the CMS gala, the Quartet raced down to WQXR’s Greene Space performance and broadcast venue for an hour-long, live streamed interview and concert, hosted by Jeff Spurgeon and produced by Martha Bonta. The quartet was joined by cellist Colin Carr and violist Paul Neubauer, who graciously agreed to play with us to promote our about-to-be-released CD “Journeys”, featuring string sextets by Schoenberg (Transfigured Night), and Tchaikovsky (Souvenir of Florence.)

A video of the performance can be found here.

After the performance and interviews, we were whisked past a throng of enthusiastic Emerson fans who had turned out to see my last public performance with the quartet in New York, into a van for a swift trip to the St. Regis Hotel, site of the CMS spring gala.

The room at the St. Regis is elegant and held 26 tables purchased by patrons and CMS board members, each of whom invited their own guests. Our gala chairs were James and Melissa O’Shaughnessy, Joan Harris, Elizabeth Smith, and Erwin and Pearl Staller, and the room was filled with an international collection of Emerson Quartet fans who had turned out to honor the quartet, past, present and future,  some coming from as far away as Seoul, Korea.

Within minutes of our arrival, we walked onto the stage to perform the Schubert Quintet, Paul Watkins taking his first bow as the incoming cellist of the Quartet.

After the performance, which was rewarded with a thunderous ovation, the speeches began.  We received gifts from Peter Frelinghuysen, Chairman of the Board, and the five us posed for our first picture together in public.

I then took the lectern to speak, paying tribute to the quartet from CMS, and, from the perspective of the Emerson, thanking CMS for its support over the years and the evening’s honor.

Having donned both CMS and ESQ hats during my dual-role remarks (much to the amusement of the guests) I concluded by officially welcoming Paul to the Quartet and crowning him with the ESQ hat.

The event was a stunning success, raising a hefty sum for CMS and providing the quartet and our families – all of whom attended – with an elegant and heartwarming occasion in which to celebrate the Quartet’s many accomplishments and exciting future.

Tuesday, May 7: The Quartet’s last tour performance, Buffalo, NY

Rising early after a late night with the Chamber Music Society, the four of us left for Buffalo to perform our last full quartet concert together. Fittingly, it was on one of America’s most hallowed chamber music series, which this year celebrates its 90th anniversary. We have appeared on this distinguished series many times, and our audience in this quartet-focused town has often included musical luminaries and mentors, such as Budapest Quartet cellist Mischa Schneider way back in the 1981-82 season.

Upon arriving in Buffalo, we learned almost immediately that the Buffalo Philharmonic was to play in Carnegie Hall the following evening as part of the Spring for Music orchestral festival. The city was immensely proud, with signage everywhere congratulating the orchestra on its coming appearance.

The Buffalo concert encapsulated many of the realities of heavy touring: Early flights for all; a lengthy, in-studio radio interview for me immediately on arrival; some crammed practicing in the hotel; an even more hectic rehearsal in which we prepared not only for Buffalo but for Washington’s concert; a very difficult program which included my last performances of Berg’s Lyric Suite, Dvorak’s d minor quartet, and Mozart’s quartet K. 499 in front of a discriminating audience; and finally, a post-concert trek back to the hotel for some Buffalo chicken wings for dinner.

Wednesday, May 8: CMS at the Harris Theater, Chicago

While my colleagues returned home to New York, I hurried to Chicago for the final performance of the Chamber Music Society’s annual series at Harris Theater. Beginning last year, the series has proved a stunning success, and our partnership with the theater has just been extended for another three seasons.

We were very proud to bring to Chicago the Society’s first all-Britten program, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth and the first such program in the history of CMS. On the program were Britten classics and novelties, including many extraordinary works composed at the beginning of his career. Of musicians featured were the Orion String Quartet, oboist James Austin Smith, pianist Gloria Chien, tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, countertenor Daniel Taylor, and me and Wu Han, who concluded the concert with Britten’s Sonata in C of 1961, composed for cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. I played the sonata for Rostropovich when I was in my mid-teens; one of the many rare opportunities I have had to play for musicians to whom composers dedicated their works to.

Cellist Tim Eddy

Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac for Countertenor, Tenor, and Piano, Op. 51

Phantasy Quartet for Oboe, Violin, Viola, and Cello, Op. 2

James Austin Smith, Gloria Chien

James Austin Smith, Gloria Chien

After the concert, which was attended by over 800 wildly enthusiastic patrons, we were graciously treated to a relaxed dinner in the stunningly beautiful home of Joan Harris.

Joan Harris, center

Thursday, May 9: A special rehearsal and another important gala

Upon our return to New York the next day on yet another early flight, we welcomed the eminent pianist Menahem Pressler to our home for lunch and a rehearsal with Wu Han. Next season, Menahem, the pianist of the Beaux Arts Trio for more than fifty years, celebrates his 90th birthday with special concerts in some of the world’s most distinguished venues. The Chamber Music Society will honor him with a concert in December, where he will be joined by Wu Han, violinist Daniel Hope, myself, and the new Emerson Quartet. And earlier, in November, Wu Han flies to Paris to join Menahem as a four-hand partner at the Salle Gaveau. I was treated to the sounds of their Schubert as I worked in my office.

After they finished, I invited Menahem to witness a poignant, personal moment in my career. While organizing my music for the coming weekend, I found that my concert binder contained only three more works that I would play with my quartet – quite a reduction from the usual thirty to forty pieces that the quartet has carried annually for so many years. But I was heartened to be able to beef up this collection with the music of my new future – trios, solo works, and a variety of wonderful chamber pieces that I will play within the next month. And once again, my concert folder felt heavy and full again, to the delight of both of us.

With hardly a break, Wu Han and I dressed up to look our best and headed off for an important Lincoln Center event: the annual Lincoln Center gala, honoring the President of Lincoln Center, Reynold Levy, who will step down in December after eleven years of service. During his tenure, he has raised well over a billion dollars for Lincoln Center, and has overseen the mammoth redevelopment of the campus, which included the stunning renovation of our own Alice Tully Hall in its initial phase. Lincoln Center, and indeed all of New York, owes Reynold incalculable gratitude, and we were more than proud to have been invited to this event personally by him. The Chamber Music Society made us proud to have purchased a table, which was well stocked with our prominent board members, and we were more than thrilled to be seated by Reynold with his close friend, Lincoln Center board member Bart Friedman, former Ambassador to China, Winston Lord, and his wife, novelist Bette Bao Lord, and United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice.

Lincoln Center Board Chair Katherine Farley welcomes Reynold Levy to the stage

We were also delighted to have a brief but ecstatic moment with two people whom we deeply admire, and who we are now privileged to count among our good friends: Ric Scofidio and Elizabeth Diller, the brilliant architects who re-imagined Lincoln Center to universal acclaim, and who have just been announced as the winning architects for the coming MoMA re-design.

Friday, May 10: Rehearsals, teaching and the CMS Britten Centennial concert

Friday morning was spent  in our gorgeous, and I believe now-incomparable,  Alice Tully Hall. I personally have not heard a chamber hall in the world, especially of that size (900-1000 seats) with such extraordinary acoustics.  And what a pleasure to hear the amazing music of Benjamin Britten in it, with all its ingenious details and vibrant colors so clearly and compellingly heard.

In between rehearsal and concert I spent some serious time at the Juilliard School, meeting with the administration and coaching some ensembles.  Next year I will be able to gradually increase my teaching availability, and I am already wondering how I can possibly take on the six chamber ensembles that have asked me to work with them during the fall semester.

That evening we repeated the Chicago program, and once again, the large audience responded with the kind of excitement that presenters dream of – especially for programs of 20th century music. Our capping of the program with the Sonata was a personal highlight of our year, and a great way for us to finish our performances for the CMS 2012-13 season. Although I am usually not one to talk about reviews, I cannot help but mention the three raves this program received in Chicago, and the rare stamp of complete approval from the New York Times.

After the concert, there was a party for members of CMS Now, a membership program for young professionals created by CMS Director of Marketing Lauren Bailey.  Approximately 100  young listeners jammed the Rose Studio to spend some relaxed, quality time together, imbibing wonderful wines and spirits provided by Warwick Vineyards and event sponsor The L Magazine.

Photo credit: Tristan Cook

Photo credit: Tristan Cook

Saturday, May 11: Packing for a long trip, a cello recital, a train trip, my final Emerson concert

After a short night, we were up early to pack for our upcoming trip to California, then Korea. I was at the Juilliard School at 8:30am to hear the dress rehearsal of my cello student, Sarina Zhang, in Paul Recital Hall. Sarina has graduated with distinction from Juilliard Pre-College and will continue her cello studies next year at the college with Richard Aaron and myself, and her piano studies with Yoheved Kaplinsky.

After some brief work in the CMS office (which is a 60-second walk from the Juilliard School) I returned at 11 a.m. to Paul Hall to hear Sarina and her pianist Carlos Avila perform Beethoven’s Sonata in C major, and to hear Sarina play two fiendishly difficult unaccompanied pieces by Joel Friedman. Unfortunately I had to miss her Chopin Sonata with pianist Jun Cho because I had to catch the 12:05 p.m. train to Washington.

My last trip to Washington was the beginning of my historic end of days with the Emerson Quartet. Traveling with my family, I was filmed wistfully looking out the window, and working on the short speech that I would deliver at the concert. Upon arriving in Washington, Wu Han raced off to the WETA station for an interview, and I plunged into my last rehearsal, ever, with the Emerson String Quartet. It was a bit strange, I’ll admit, and at the conclusion of it, we all went our separate ways, perhaps somewhat wary of confronting the reality of the moment.

We have enjoyed an annual series at the Smithsonian for thirty-five years, which began one year before I joined the quartet. There could not have been a more fitting place for me to say goodbye to the quartet.

The backstage scene at the Natural History Museum’s Baird Auditorium was very different than usual. American Public Media came all the way from Minnesota to record the concert, bringing with them their star announcer, our long-time friend Fred Child. I have done more interviews with Fred than I can remember, but they have always been memorable, enjoyable and intelligently conceived.  It is a privilege to be welcomed to the airwaves, and now the internet, by such a virtuoso media personality.

Wu Han with Fred Child

After a brief introduction by incoming Smithsonian Resident Associates Director Frederica Adelman, and Fred Child, the Emerson took the stage for a somewhat nerve-wracking performance of Haydn’s Quartet Op. 20 No. 4. I’m not sure if my colleagues felt the same way, but I was mostly concerned with not making a mess of my last Haydn Quartet, and thoughts of the significance of the moment and the sentimentality potentially attached to it, found little room in my brain. The Haydn  began and ended without significant incident that I can remember, and we plunged into the frenetic and breathless Bartok 3rd quartet, which, I daresay, went as well or better than it ever has, at a fever pitch, and all the more so because we didn’t have the chance to rehearse a note of it.  It continues to mystify me how this works, but quite often in classical music, rehearsals often complicate matters, especially when an ensemble already knows a piece quite well.  I think we were all rather amazed.

Fredrica Adelman

During the intermission I spoke with Fred Child, who asked the inevitable “How are you feeling right about now?” question, and I responded the best I could.

And then came the moment the music world had been waiting well more than a year for: the transition from me to Paul via the immortal Schubert Quintet for string quartet with an extra cello. Before we began, I said a few words, and as I had written them out, I’ll share them right here:

I have two thank you’s and two tributes and I will be brief:

  1. Thanks to Smithsonian Institution – for providing us a home in which we grew, a unique place where we have played more concerts than any other, and likely performed every quartet that we have ever learned.
  2. And thanks to you, our audience tonight, composed of many who have come a great distance to be with us, and those of you who have been with us for many concerts, like Carl Girshman, Carl, where are you and what number Emerson concert is this for you?

And now two quick tributes: to my colleagues Phil, Gene and Larry for having had the courage and imagination to re-envision the future of the Emerson Quartet, and

to Paul Watkins, my brilliant successor, for making that exciting future possible.

Please enjoy the concert, and thank you very much.

David speaks from stage.

The performance of the Schubert was everything I had hoped for. Paul played magnificently; his energy, excitement and artistry permeated the ensemble and the entire room. The Smithsonian public welcomed him with open arms, and the warmth of the event allowed me to leave the hall with a sense that all I had helped to build there will continue with strength and conviction.

But the night was not over. Running to our various cars in a drenching rain, the Emerson Quartet and its families headed to Chevy Chase where an intimate party was given at the home of close friends Rob Josephs and Gerri Carr, co-hosted by Kathe and Edwin Williamson.

Rob and Gerri, left

The party went quite late, there were speeches, and I was presented by the quartet with a beautiful gold watch which they had purchased in the Bavarian town of Badenweiler earlier this year, on the occasion of my last concert there.  The inscription reads: “To David, the ESQ Time Meister   ‘It was the best of times’ With love and admiration Phil, Gene and Larry”

Way too late, the members of the Emerson Quartet, new and old, headed off into their new lives. For me, Phil and Wu Han, it was another early flight the next morning, to California, where we concluded Music@Menlo’s Winter Series with a trio concert. And the next day, it was off to Korea on a long flight, which thankfully has given me the time to complete this very long blog about this week – one certainly like no other.

A partial list of people who journeyed considerable distances to be with the Emerson Quartet during the transitional week:

Bill and Valerie Graham, Charlotte, VT

Marty and Sarah Flug, Aspen, CO

Jeehyun Kim, Seoul, Korea

Judith Barnard and Michael Fain, Aspen, CO

Joan Harris, Chicago, IL

Robert and Diana Hardy, St. Louis, MO

Ben Larsen, New York, NY

Harold & Jann Slapin, Basking Ridge, NJ

Irvine and Elizabeth Flinn, New York, NY

Freddie and Irwin Staller, NY

Harvey and Alisa Eisenberg, Newport Beach, CA

Robert and Shirley Kenny, Richmond, VA

Margaret and Da-Hong Seetoo, Forest Hills Gardens, NY

Matthew Zelle, New York, NY (IMG Artists)

Linda Petrikova, New York, NY  (IMG Artists)

Shirley Kirshbaum, New York, NY (Kirshbaum/Demler Associates)

Susan Demler, New York, NY (Kirshbaum/Demler Associates)

Milina Barry, New York, NY (Milina Barry PR)

… and our family members

Margaret Lim (Boston, MA)

Kim Lim (New York, NY)

Jesse, Luke, Sam Dutton and Elizabeth Lim-Dutton (Bronxville, NY)

Linda Setzer (South Orange, NJ)

Katia Setzer (Philadelphia, PA)

Wu Han (New York, NY)

Lilian Finckel (New York, NY)

Alisa Eisenberg, Margaret Seetoo, Harvey Eisenberg, Irvine Flinn

Efrem and Michael Calingaert, Eugene Drucker, Diana Hardy

Kim Lim, Efrem and Michael Calingaert, Philip Setzer

Emerson Quartet group hug

Emerson Quartet group hug.

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The week spanning January and February, 2013, featured an unusual variety of events which prompted the following report by David, taking followers of this blog along for a one-of-a-kind week in the life of a touring musician.


In David’s words

Without a doubt, one of the things I enjoy most about being a musician is the endless variety of touring experiences.  Almost every tour is different, some more than others, and this week was one of the most unusual I have ever experienced.

To set the week in proper perspective, I’ll rewind a bit to Friday the 25th, to my concert with the Emerson Quartet in Salzburg’s famous Mozarteum.  Part of the annual Mozartwoche festival, the concert gave us the opportunity to collaborate with our longtime colleague and mentor, pianist Menahem Pressler, in both Mozart Piano Quartets. Menahem, at 89, is going strong, and left soon after our performance for a recital in the large hall at Vienna’s Musikverein. The experience of playing those works alongside a master musician, only a block or so from Mozart’s home in Salzburg, was truly unforgettable.

Andras Schiff greets Menahem Pressler backstage following the concert.

In a truly rare occasion, I bypassed New York the next day, connecting all the way to Minneapolis, meeting up with Wu Han along the way.  Why the rush? We had a duo recital the very next afternoon at the Music in the Park series, where we have appeared many times.

We were greeted in St. Paul by the warmth of the St. Paul Hotel, the Ice Carnival in the square outside, and a delicious dinner at the St. Paul grill hosted by our friends from American Public Media.  The hotel, the meal, and the company have been part of a long tradition for us, dating back to our first appearances on the legendary radio program “St. Paul Sunday”, hosted by Bill McGlaughlin.

Music in the Park is an organization with a distinguished history, leading all the back to its founding by Artistic Director Julie Himmelstrup in 1978.  In 2010 the series merged with its fellow Twin Cities presenter, The Schubert Club, a similarly distinguished organization that dates way back to 1882. The merger allows Julie to concentrate on her artistic planning while the Schubert Club handles logistics. Be that as it may, Julie was still the last one out of the church after the concert, locking up herself.

Julie Himmelstrup is a member of America’s elite society of individual presenters, whose passion, intelligence, insistence on quality, courage and vision have propelled the series ever forward.  Her presence is felt throughout, and as Wu Han said, her audience of 500 friends shows up faithfully to hear the artists and programs she brings to St. Paul.

With Julie Himmelstrup

Sunday afternoon’s concert was accompanied by a snowstorm that left a hefty 8 inches of snow on the roads. Nevertheless, Julie’s audience was undeterred, and the church was completely packed. We played on of our “unfolding” program for them, consisting of Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 5 No. 2 (1796), Brahms Sonata No. 1 (1865), the Debussy Sonata (1915),  and the Britten Sonata (1960).

Fueling the Twin Cities’s current hunger for music, undoubtedly, are the twin lockouts of both the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.  ArtistLed’s former longtime employee, Patrick Castillo, is waiting out the dispute, as is violinist Erin Keefe of CMS and Music@Menlo fame, who only last year assumed the position of concertmaster at the Minnesota Orchestra, succeeding the legendary Jorja Fleezanis. Both of these faithful friends and colleagues showed up at our performance.

After a delicious and delightful reception in the company of board members of both organizations and Barry Kempton, the executive and artistic director of the Schubert Club, we boarded Erin Keefe’s car for an unusual post-concert destination: the nearby Super Target, in search of snow boots for me. Fortunately, we were successful, and for good reason, as you will soon read.

With Erin Keefe

Before our departure the next afternoon, we had the pleasure, once again, of taping a performance and interview with American Public Media, to be broadcast on the Performance Today show (check your local American Public Media listings for broadcast times on February 14).  Our host was Fred Child, whose mellow voice is now one of the most recognized in radio. Fred’s regular hosting appearances also include NPR’s Creators @ Carnegie, among countless others. The taping, in St. Paul’s historic Fitzgerald Theater included performances of Brahms, Debussy, and Rachmaninov, as well as discussions on the music and on our diverse activities.

With Fred Child and Suzanne Schaffer

After a quick farewell to our good friends, we headed to the airport for our first flight to Chicago, and then to the winter destination which resides in the dreams of many: Aspen, Colorado.

The extraordinary circumstance of our trip to Aspen is entirely the result of the ingenuity and determination of the Executive Director of Aspen Public Radio, Andrew Todd.  Spying on our concert schedule via our duo web site (all of our performances are listed there), Andrew determined that I had no concerts between our recital and St. Paul and a quartet appearance in Vancouver one week later.  He inquired if we might be available to perform in a benefit for the station during the week, and after determining that all of our business commitments during that week could be fulfilled by phone conference, we agreed to go.

Making all this possible was the hospitality of Aspen Public Radio, which used its good relations in town to make the five-day stay comfortable and productive, among them, our favorite summer accommodation The Aspen Alps, and the Christ Episcopal Church, where Wu Han had flexible practice hours at her disposal.

Soon after our arrival, we met Andrew Todd at the radio station to tape an extended interview, during which we spoke of course of our long history at Aspen, and, very excitedly, of our coming chamber music program at the festival this summer (stay tuned).  Andrew is the most engaging of hosts: energetic, articulate, informed and passionate about music. He was an accomplished piano student of the late Herbert Stessin at the festival during the 1990’s.

With Andrew Todd

The next evening, we performed for an audience of seventy-five at an extraordinarily beautiful home on Aspen’s Red Mountain.  Playing both the Strauss and Brahms E minor sonatas, we talked not only about the music but about our long history with, and support from, Aspen Public Radio.  It was a tremendously rewarding experience, and a great opportunity to provide some support for an institution both expertly-run and committed to quality programming.

After the performance, we enjoyed an intimate dinner with close Aspen and Chicago friends, the authors Judith Barnard and Michael Fain, in their home.

The following day included both a dinner, hosted by Aspen Music Festival board member Mike Murray, and a late afternoon tour of the festival’s school campus. The site is undergoing a $35 million construction, which includes new buildings for practice, rehearsal, and administration. It is the most ambitious construction project for the festival since the construction of the Joan and Irving Harris Concert Hall in 1993, and it was a further pleasure (an something of an honor) to be guided through the almost-unrecognizable school, where we have taught for almost thirty years, by Aspen Music Festival president and CEO Alan Fletcher.

Alan Fletcher gives us a tour of the new Aspen Music Festival campus.

We also had the excitement of a planning session for our coming chamber music workshop this summer with Vice President and Dean of Students Jennifer Johnston. Coming out to give us warm greetings were, left to right Asadour Santourian, Mary Rechlitz, Deborah Barnekow to the right of Wu Han, and Jennifer Johnston in the front.

And now: a departure for this music-based blog.  While Wu Han and I are determined to use this outlet to share experiences we consider worthy of the time of those interested in the arts, we have to acknowledge that there is a certain amount of curiosity out there about our non-musical activities.  Our experiences during Friday and Saturday were completely unprecedented, and, as they can be accompanied by stunning visual documentation, I’ll describe them here.

Musicians possess varying amounts of both free time and athletic skill.  Wu Han and I have very little of either.  But that did not prevent us from seizing the opportunity to partake in, during Thursday and Friday, Aspen’s most famous winter activity: skiing. Aspen is truly blessed with a wide selection of ski areas within a few mile radius: Ajax or Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk, the Highlands, Tiehack, and nearby Snowmass.  For our once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience skiing at its best, we were advised by Emerson Quartet ski fanatic Larry Dutton to choose Buttermilk, the ideal area for beginners, and he could not have been more right.

For this historic exploit, Wu Han and I were blessed in all ways: with a kind, gentle and phenomenally gifted private instructor, Ned Ryerson; with the unbelievably beautiful Buttermilk ski area; three days of fresh snow which ended just before our lessons began; perfect temperature, sunshine and calm winds; very few others on the mountain; and two luxurious six-hour ski sessions that included instruction, gourmet lunches atop the mountain, and, for me, at several solo runs from top to bottom on various intermediate trails.

Although I had learned to ski in my early teens through the Far Brook School winter program in New Hampshire, I had only skied once since in the mid-1980’s.  I was somewhat terrified but did not show it because Wu Han, who had never skied, was more than terrified. It took a tremendous amount of determination to pull this off: although I reserved our instructor by phone days in advance, I had very little idea what I was doing. But it seems the very nice people at the ski area, and in the equipment and clothing shops, had all encountered novices like me, and made it all seem simple.

Equipment has changed a lot since the last time I was on the slopes, and the new skis – shorter and with curved sides, copied from snowboard design – gave me more control than I could ever remember.  With a few helpful pointers and a good dose of mental training from Ned, I got going much faster than I had anticipated, and Wu Han, for whom, as Ned put, we had “low expectations but high hopes”, looked very natural after a short time, and was skiing solo by lunch.

Check it out!  You are the first to see Wu Han ski.

We credit Ned with Wu Han’s amazing progress.  He was a completely supportive instructor, full of knowledge, insight, history, and of course, skied with inspiring ease and beauty.

Our visit concluded with a delicious dinner at Aspen’s famous restaurant Cache-Cache, with our close friends Sarah and Marty Flug.  Marty has been a vital supporter of the Aspen Music Festival for as long as we have been there, and has directly sponsored many of our duo recitals.  It was a joyful way to cap off five days of rejuvenating experiences.

On Saturday we split up, Wu Han heading east to New York and me to Vancouver where I joined up with the Emerson Quartet.  It was my final appearance for the Vancouver Friends of Chamber Music and its amazing organizer, Eric Wilson.  Unfortunately, I had to forego the traditional post-concert dinner, always at a different and fantastic restaurant, as I just barely made my 7:30 pm flight to San Francisco with a continuing redeye to New York. On Monday evening, it was time to officially unveil the 2013-14 CMS season.

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Arriving from opposite sides of the world, David and Wu Han met in Seoul on December 5th to perform in and preside over the second season of Chamber Music Today, the annual three-day festival they inaugurated last year in collaboration with the Korean company Casual Classic. During the same visit, David interviewed the finalists of the first Mendelssohn Fellowship and announced the recipient of the Fellowship.


In David’s words

Arriving from a chilly Moscow December, one would expect warmer weather in Korea, but not so on December 5th in Seoul. The temperature was approaching single digits, but the clear air and the cheerful atmosphere of Seoul’s Insadong district was a delightful change in environment.

Our mission in Korea last week saw us in at least four roles: as performers, as Artistic Directors of Chamber Music Today and of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (whose artists performed on two of the concerts), and for me, as Artistic Director of the Mendelssohn Fellowship.

Chamber Music Today, inaugurated exactly one year ago, is a three-day festival that brings chamber ensembles and individual performers of international renown to Seoul. The festival consists of four concerts, including one special donor’s concert that kicks off the festival on Saturday night.

After a rehearsal with David Shifrin in a very small studio near the hotel, we showed him around what has become a very familiar neighborhood, filled with shops, restaurants and stands selling alluring street food.

During the day, our CMS musicians spent time teaching the many wonderful students of the LG Chamber Music School, our other major project in Korea.  They came back with glowing reports of the level of talent and dedication, which we have seen develop steadily over the five years we have collaborated with the program. It was shocking to hear, however, that the school we have taught in (usually in hot weather) lacked heat, and that these very special young players are learning under extremely adverse conditions. There are always things we can do better for our musicians of the future, and we pledge to work at it.

The evening brought our first event, the donor’s concert, held this year in Seoul’s Hyatt Hotel, which is positioned on a hill overlooking the city.  The festival is organized and administered by the Casual Classic arts company and its dedicated staff, presided over by director Jeehyun Kim, an irresistible, force-of-nature woman who is passionately dedicated to promoting classical music. Without her extraordinary vision, none of us would have been there.

Wu Han welcomed the small crowd comprised of distinguished guests, many from sponsoring corporations.

With an introduction from Wu Han, the St. Lawrence String Quartet took the stage perform a Haydn quartet.  Geoff Nuttall delivered verbal program notes in his own inimitable and engaging style.

Following the Haydn, Wu Han and I ran through the Brahms e minor sonata to conclude the program, and we moved to the dining area for an elegant Chinese meal.  Near the end, it was time for me to announce the winner of the first Mendelssohn Fellowship. Representatives from the three finalist groups stood by me, tensely, while I kept them waiting for the results, explaining to the crowd the story and mission of the Fellowship (see my blog from June at the time of the Fellowhip’s announcement).

After extensively interviewing all the finalists the day before, assisted by several of my Advisory Committee members, we came to the conclusion that all three were deserving of the prize, and it was a great joy – and relief to all the applicants – that I was able to congratulate them all in front of the enthusiastic crowd.

Left to right, Jeehyun Kim, Wu Han, cellist Yumi Nam, Animas Trio pianist Younkyung Kim, David Finckel, Classikan Ensemble violist Shinkyu Lee, and Animas Trio cellist Sae Rom Kwon

During the event, day had changed to night, and we were treated to a transformed view of Seoul before leaving. Cellist Chris Costanza made friends with the curious looking sculpture in the lobby.

Sunday brought a busy schedule with two concerts. Around lunch time, David Shifrin, Wu Han and I rode to the Seoul Arts Center to the hall where I first played in Korea with the Emerson Quartet many years ago.  This marvelous hall was also home to the festival last year during our first season.

Backstage, Casual Classic pampered us, as usual, with delicious and beautiful snacks.

Our trio concert with David Shifrin consisted of the repertoire on our recent ArtistLed release: Beethoven’s Trio Op.  11, Four Pieces by Max Bruch, and the magnificent late trio by Johannes Brahms. After the concert we hurried out to the lobby, where we experienced one of the most heartening moments in our tours to Korea: meeting the audience.

There are more young people going to our concerts in Korea than I have seen anywhere in the world, in any concert I have performed or attended.  There were probably as many, if not more, listeners under the age of twenty than above, so many that it prompted David Shifrin to joke that Korea seems to have a problem with a declining OLDER audience.  From the demographics of all three audiences at this festival, one could make that a serious argument.

In a short time, it was the St. Lawrence Quartet’s turn to take the stage.

In a few moments, the quartet launched into a galloping first movement of  Beethoven’s Quartet Op. 18 No.  6,  led by violinist Scott St. John. Scott also led the fascinating second work on the program by Osvaldo Golijov, Chamber Music Today’s first performance of a work by a living composer.

After intermission, Geoff Nuttall took the first violin chair for a high-octane performance from start to finish of Mendelssohn’s spectacular quartet, Op. 44 No. 2 in e minor.

The lobby scene after was just as wild and just as young. The St. Lawrence Quartet was ecstatic, and they signed countless autographs for the young listeners.

A delicious dinner of pork barbecue ended late with a photo of some happy and well-fed musicians.

Although Wu Han and I were done with performing by Monday, we had a very busy day, beginning with a long strategy meeting with the winners of the Mendelssohn Fellowship. Our purpose was to identify the young musicians’ strong points and to help them by guiding their projects forward.  Wu Han joined me in talking with the young musicians, and we shared with them a lot of conventional wisdom gleaned from our years of entrepreneurial work. Stay tuned for a next chapter on the exciting work of the new Mendelssohn Fellows.

With cellist Yumi Nam

  The third and final concert of this year’s Chamber Music Today festival was presented entirely by a stellar group of artists of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. It was CMS’s Korean debut.

Traveling all the way to Korea for this single appearance were violinists Kristin Lee and Erin Keefe, violist Paul Neubauer, cellist Nicholas Canellakis, and pianist Gilbert Kalish. David Shifrin joined them and was the only artist of the Society to appear in two concerts, besides us.

This performance took place in the more intimate Sejong Hall, near to our hotel and the historic palace.

The performance began with Dohnanyi’s fantastic Serenade for string trio, performed spectacularly by Kristin Lee,  Paul Neubauer, and Nicholas Canellakis. For Kristin, a native Korean, it was a special moment for her to play there with CMS for the first time, especially with the musicians who have now become her regular colleagues and friends. Her parents and many family members and friends attended, and throughout our visit, she proved the perfect hostess, tour guide and companion.

The string trio was followed by David Shifrin and Gil Kalish in a performance of Debussy’s Premiere Rhapsody, a showpiece for clarinet which we have heard David perform on numerous occasions. David’s unequalled capacity for variety of color and nuance makes his performance of this work, for us, definitive, and the audience’s vocal response was indeed appropriate. Our listeners here, though young, seem to know what’s good, and they certainly got a lot of it in during the evening.

Erin Keefe then joined these two musicians for a bracing and uncannily accurate performance of Bartok’s Contrasts for clarinet, violin and piano.

After intermission, a performance of the Brahms piano quintet concluded the program.  In the opinion of many, Gil Kalish is one of the great Brahms interpreters of our time, bringing to the table his unbelievably rich tone, solid musical reasoning, crystal-clear articulation, natural phrasing, and an enormously powerful sound. Playing Brahms with him – and I’m lucky to have had many opportunities – is a chamber musician’s dream, one that certainly came true for his collaborators in this performance.

After being rewarded with numerous curtain calls, the ensemble quickly made its way to the lobby to greet Chamber Music Today’s signature audience. One of our musicians commented that it felt like a grown up concert with a children’s concert audience, and he could  not have been more correct.

The temperature outside (and also in the lobby – none of the Korean lobbies seem to be heated) had dropped to the lowest mark of our visit so far, yet we braved the elements for a very brisk walk to a restaurant only a block away, for a meal organized and hosted by LG executive Sunghyun Kim. Sunghyun is, without a doubt, the most musically literate CFO we know, and he astounded our performers during dinner with the combination of his relaxed personality and enormous knowledge of our art form, not to mention, entertaining us with a true insider’s perspective of one of the world’s largest and most successful media companies.

Sunghyun Kim, left

True to tradition, everyone had early flights the next morning, but that stopped not one of us from enjoying absolutely mouth-watering barbecue, with all the Korean trimmings, and an astonishing amount of Shoju.

The evening ended with a photograph that included the whole cast, including Sunghyun Kim and his fellow LG executive Jun Yung (center), Jeehyun Kim and her staff, and of course, all of the musicians. Somehow the night didn’t feel so cold anymore, and I believe I speak for all of us when I  say that we left Korea inspired by the audiences, warmed by the friendship, and eager to return to continue playing and teaching chamber music in this extraordinary society.

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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.

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At a press conference at Seoul’s beautiful Namsan Hyatt Hotel, Jeehyun Kim, Executive Director of the Chamber Music Today festival, announced the inauguration of the Mendelssohn Fellowship.  The program, which identifies and awards a young Korean musician a two-year budget to promote chamber music in Korea, is artistic directed by David Finckel and assisted by an international advisory committee.

The official language describing the program, taken from the Mendelssohn Fellowship announcement flier, is excerpted here:

The Mendelssohn Fellowship will support the efforts of a highly accomplished and motivated young Korean musician to further the art of chamber music in Korea over a two-year period. The Fellowship provides an artistic budget of $20,000, and is open to performers between the ages of 18 and 33 who are committed to professional careers in music. Projects and uses of the Fellowship funds might include: Presenting of chamber music performances; educational programs and outreach events; fees for collaborating musicians, educators; media initiatives, such as web sites,
live streaming or distance teaching; music industry and/or education conferences; consultation expenses; and promotional costs.

The Fellowship is named after the 19th-century composer Felix Mendelssohn, who greatly expanded the understanding and appreciation of music in his day. 

The Fellowship’s advisory committee:
Dmitri Atapine  Professor of Cello, University of Nevada, Music@Menlo; Artistic Director, Argenta Concerts
Gloria Chien  Professor of Piano, Lee University, Artistic Director, String Theory at the Hunter
Paul Chung  Vice President, LG Corporation
Tong Soo Chung  Senior Foreign Counsel, Yulchon LLC
Lawrence Dutton  Violist, Emerson String Quartet; Professor, Viola and Chamber Music, Stony Brook University,
The Manhattan School of Music, Mercer University

Ruth Eliel  Executive Director, the Colburn Foundation, Los Angeles
Soovin Kim  Professor of Violin, Stony Brook University
Sunghyun Kim  CFO, LGU+
Sangjin Kim  Violist, MIK Ensemble; Professor of Viola, Yonsei University
Kristin Lee  Violinist, The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
Sean Lee  Violinist, The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
The Jupiter String Quartet  Ensemble in Residence, New England Conservatory
Adela H. Park  Pianist, Korean National University of Arts; Yale University, Peabody Conservatory
Michael Parloff  Principal flutist, the Metropolitan Opera; Artistic Director, Parlance Chamber Concerts
Steven Tenenbom  Violist, Orion String Quartet; Professor, Viola and Chamber Music, The Juilliard School, Curtis Institute

Attending the event were some 30 people: prospective candidates, Korean music teachers, and members of the press, including correspondents from the Chosun Daily, the Tongah Daily, and the Maekyung Economic Daily.

David, assisted by Jeehyun Kim, spoke for 20 minutes about his own introduction to chamber music as a young student, and described the challenges facing young chamber music players and the classical music industry in general.  The Mendelssohn Fellowship is designed to address these challenges and to take advantage of the growing enthusiasm for chamber music in Korea.

Prior to the press conference, David and Wu Han interviewed privately with the distinguished author and arts correspondent Sunghyun Kim.

The event was also attended by two distinguished members of the advisory committee: T. S. Chung of the Yulchon law firm, and Sunghyun Kim, CFO of the LG U+ corporation.

The winner of the first award will be announced at the final concert of the second Chamber Music Today festival, on December 10th, 2012, in Seoul.

Providing enormous additional excitement to the duo’s two-day visit to Korea was the wedding of cellist Dmitri Atapine to pianist Hyeyeon Park, Music@Menlo International Performers Program alumni and now on the faculty of the Chamber Music Institute.

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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.

Coaches Dmitri Atapine, Hyeyeon Park, and Sean Lee

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.

Patrick Castillo, Gloria Chien, David Finckel, Wu Han, Andrew Goldstein, Edward Sweeney, Ellen Mezzera, Marianne LaCrosse at a question and answer session during Open House Day

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.

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