Archive for the ‘Duo’ Category

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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David Finckel and Wu Han, deepening their involvement with chamber music in Korea, performed in and presided over the first Chamber Music Today festival in Seoul. The festival’s mission is to bring the finest musicians on the international chamber music scene to perform in Korea every year. As a result of their ongoing relationship with the LG Chamber Music School, David and Wu Han were recruited by the festival’s organizers to lead it artistically.
In David’s words

It had seemed to us that our commitment to the wonderful LG Chamber Music School, including annual visits to teach and perform and a schedule of educational video productions, would be the extent of our involvement with chamber music in Korea.  But we were wrong.

Of all the Asian countries we have visited, Korea has emerged as the region’s leader in terms of interest in and enthusiasm for chamber music.  Although many fine players come from Japan, China and Taiwan, the Koreans are fast outnumbering their neighbors in sending young musicians to major international conservatories, and appearing on concert stages.

[At the moment, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s roster includes seven Koreans: violinists Kristin Lee, Jessica Lee, Yura Lee, Amy Lee, violist Richard O’Neill, pianist Soyeon Lee, and flutist Sooyun Kim. The only other Asians within the Society at this time are the Chinese Wu Han and violinist Cho-Liang Lin.]

The popularity of chamber music in Korea – as measured by audience numbers, demographics and enthusiasm – was a definite encouragement for all who set about creating this new festival. Generously underwritten by the LG Corporation, the festival is hosted and produced by the Korean company Casual Classics, headed by Jeehyun Kim, in collaboration with LG and with us.

For the first festival, the organizers wanted the world’s most famous chamber ensembles.  Well, the Emerson Quartet was available and was happy to go.  As well, the popular young Jupiter Quartet (which boasts a Korean first violinist, Nelson Lee) was also eager to participate.  We decided to round out the three-concert series with a concert of piano trios with Philip Setzer, and lo and behold, the first festival was in place.

The festival began on Saturday evening with a private performance for LG executives and their families. Held in the elegant Plaza Hotel, the evening included performances of Mendelssohn’s D major cello sonata, Mozart’s quartet K. 575, and the Schumann Piano Quintet. After the performance, the audience gathered with us for photos.

We were then treated to an elegant Chinese (!) dinner hosted by Mr. Sang Chul Lee and his wife. Mr. Lee is the Vice Chairman of LG Corporation and the CEO of LGUPlus.

I was presented with a birthday cake made of CMT (Chamber Music Today) cupcakes. The cake was topped with a cellist cookie on which my head was pasted.  Wu Han and I had some fun with it after dinner.

But by far, the moment that touched us all was a surprise film in which a great number of “our” kids from the LG Chamber Music School offered me their affectionate birthday greetings.  I have been promised a copy of the film and when I get it, it will appear here. It’s always amazing to me to find that my students – given how demanding I am of them – still like me!

The occasion called for a speech from me – a rare occurrence, experienced by few.

As the evening progressed, behind the scenes a crisis was emerging: the Jupiter Quartet was having a pregnancy emergency (since successfully and happily resolved) that would prevent them from making the journey to perform. Solving problems such as these are simply part of our job, and with a couple of quick conversations and calls to our indomitable travel agent Diana Hardy, it was determined that the Emerson Quartet could extend its stay, and play another program to substitute for the Jupiter Quartet.

Sunday evening’s first public concert was performed by the Emerson, at the acoustically-excellent IBK Chamber Music Hall at the Seoul Arts Center.  A capacity crowd was a great omen for the festival’s future, and the quartet offered a highly demanding program of Mozart’s K. 590, Beethoven’s Op. 135, and the giant Dvorak Op. 106.

The Quartet was mobbed in the lobby for autographs, especially on its new disc of Mozart Quartets for Sony Classical.

Dinner was hosted by LG Vice President and CFO Sunghyun Kim, an avid and knowledgeable classical music fan.  Vice President Paul Chung, who has been instrumental in committing LG to the Chamber Music School, joined us as well. These two gentlemen – consummate executives – are also among the most fun-loving, generous and gracious of all our business acquaintances.

The Emerson Quartet and Wu Han with Sunghyun Kim

Paul Chung

A fine meal in Korea is a feast for the eyes as well as for the taste buds.  See the end of this blog for a gallery of stunning dishes from the trendy restaurant near the concert hall.

On Monday, it was the Emerson’s turn again, and the quartet offered Mozart’s K. 575, the Bartok 5th, and the Dvorak Quintet with Wu Han. After the concert, we experienced a sensational dinner of barbecued pork with the entire staff of Casual Classics, who worked tirelessly and with great expertise to produce the tightly-packed festival.  They are all dedicated and passionate, and all of us owe them our gratitude and encouragement.

On Tuesday, the festival wrapped up with the D major cello sonata and d minor Trio of Mendelssohn, with the Schubert Bb Trio after intermission.   It was especially gratifying to play this concert, as virtually the entire student body of the LG Chamber Music School was in the audience.

After the concert, there was plenty of picture-taking in the lobby. It was a fitting way to end this first festival, surrounded by Korea’s chamber musicians of the future.  We are honored and happy to be playing a role in their development, and to feel a part of the evolution of chamber music in Korea.

As a postscript, I’ll include the statement written by me and Wu Han for the festival, introducing the art of chamber music and expressing our feelings.

Chamber music is the music of friends. It is an international language that brings people together, and is, at the same time, one of the richest art forms on earth. Chamber Music Today will bring the greatest chamber music repertoire and performers to Korea.  In every concert, we will hear why chamber music has become an exciting, personal and essential experience for audiences around the world.  We look forward not only to performing for Korea’s audience, but also to watching our music form unbreakable bonds of friendship between musicians and listeners. It will be a delight to witness this extraordinary project blossom, as we share in the magical power of chamber music – truly the greatest music of today.

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On the evening of December 5th, David and Wu Han accepted Musical America’s 2012 Musicians of the Year award in a special celebration at Lincoln Center. Also honored were Instrumentalist of the Year, Gil Shaham; Composer of the Year, Meredith Monk; Vocalist of the Year, Jonas Kaufmann; and Conductor of the  Year, Jaap van Zweden. Watch David and Wu Han’s acceptance speech below:

In David’s words

It was a very, very long and wonderful day.

At 5 a.m. in Aarhus Denmark with a ride to the airport courtesy of Mogens Kilian (see previous tour report),we began our journey through Copenhagen to New York to receive the greatest honor of our careers.

Musical America’s Musician of the Year Award is the highest honor in classical music given in America, and is recognized around the world.  We have proudly joined a list of recipients that includes Anne-Sophie Mutter, Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, Anna Netrebko, Riccardo Muti, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Andre Previn, and Bernard Haitink.

Musical America was founded in 1898 as a weekly arts newspaper.  Over the years the publication passed through various hands.  The first incarnation of what is today’s annual issue appeared in 1921, and has evolved to become the bible of musical presenting, including articles on honoree musicians, advertisements, listings of virtually all artists worldwide under professional management, and reports by managers on their current artistic offerings.  The practice of awarding a musician of the year award began in 1960.  In 1998, Musical America launched musicalamerica.com, which has since become a source of choice for the most up-to-date news the music world.

When we first heard about an award coming our way from Musical America, we surmised that perhaps we were being recognized as instrumentalists, or  educators.  We needed to be told several times, after numerous double-checkings, that we were indeed to receive the top award.

The fact is still somewhat surreal.  That this award wound up in the hands of musicians who have gone about their business unconcerned with market pressures and commercial considerations is not only incredible but historic. When we started ArtistLed, we were alone and had no idea that so many institutions and artists would follow us down the path of independent recording production. We have always thought of ourselves as servants of the art, never as celebrities, and we have never sought the spotlight as a source of gratification for our efforts.  Our lives in music have always been about “the work”, as we call it, but what makes the Musical America award so special for us is that we have received it because of that work, not just for our instrumental activities.

The awards ceremony began just after 6 p.m. in Lincoln Center’s Kaplan Penthouse – familiar territory for us, as it is located on the 10th floor of the Rose Building, just across from the offices of the Chamber Music Society.

The room was packed with what seemed to be every important person in the classical music industry.  Everywhere we looked, the magazine cover, with our beautiful picture by Christian Steiner, was prominently displayed.  There was nowhere for us to hide on this occasion!

Musical America editor Sedgwick Clark paid tribute to the honorees and handed each of us our awards.  We all made speeches acknowledging those who have helped and supported us, and spoke of what this award meant to us.

It was especially wonderful to receive the award in the company of two friends of many years, Meredith Monk and Gil Shaham.  We all  had fun congratulating each other and posing for photographs.

As the awards ceremony came to an end at 7 p.m., we moved next door to the Society’s Rose Studio, which had been set for a special invited dinner party in our honor.  Jointly hosted by CMS, Music@Menlo and ArtistLed, this gathering of over one hundred brought together, for the first time, people from our various walks of life, all known to us but not necessarily to each other.  It was a way for us to acknowledge and thank all those without whom such an honor as we had just received would likely have never have reached our hands.

Joining us from Music@Menlo were Executive Director Edward Sweeney, plus board members Trine Sorensen, Kathy Henschel, Ann Bowers, and Eff Martin, accompanied by his wife Patty.

With Eff and Patty Martin

Ann Bowers spoke on behalf of Music@Menlo

Wu Han with Trine Sorenson

Virtually the entire board of the Chamber Music Society was present, minus Chairman Peter Frelinghuysen who is recovering from eye surgery.  James O’Shaughnessy of CMS delivered a warm tribute to us, as Music@Menlo board member Ann Bowers.  Ara Guzelimian and our own Patrick Castillo gave us tributes as well.  It was all quite overwhelming.

CMS Board Member James O’Shaughnessy

Ara Guzelimian

Patrick Castillo

As a birthday present (my birthday was the following day) the staff of CMS shared the amazing short film they had put together of the historic CMS billboard that made a brief but very significant appearance on New York’s West Side Highway in November.

Milina Barry, Michael Feldman, David Rowe

Da-Hong Seetoo, Margaret Seetoo, Liza Bruna, Sam Zygmuntowicz

Wu Han and I, in a lengthy speech, acknowledged and thanked individually and collectively our guests, all of whom had contributed to our projects in one way or another.  From board members to funders, to staff members of our organizations, to individuals such as Sam Zygmuntowicz and Da-Hong Seetoo, to professionals such as our PR agent Milina Barry and and manager David Rowe, to musician colleagues and advisors, and of course our families, we thanked them all for their support, faith in us, and their friendship.

Emanuel Ax and Yoko Nozaki

Lucille Chung and Alessio Bax

Of special joy for us was the presence of musicians. Joining us was a stellar collection of pianists, from Emanuel Ax and Yoko Nozaki to Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung, and especially Gloria Chien, who made the journey all the way from Chattanooga to join us for the evening.

Ann Bowers, Helen Finckel

With Helen and Lilian Finckel

Of special satisfaction to me was the presence of my mother Helen, glowing with pride.  Wu Han’s sister Evelyne, her husband Eric, and daughter Elizabeth also journeyed from California for the event.

Having been awake for close to 24 hours, Wu Han and I headed home for a very brief night’s sleep, as I was to head out the next morning early for an ESQ concert in West Palm Beach.

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Leaving New York well in advance of its record-breaking October snow storm, David, Wu Han, Arnaud Sussmann, Lily Francis and Gilbert Kalish flew to Munich and Salzburg, the closest major airports to the little German town of Bad Reichenhall. Waiting for them was the AlpenKlassik Festival, and CMS’s second European residency of the year.
In David’s words

The 2011-12 season is one in which The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center is spreading its name and artistry in foreign countries at an unprecedented pace. Having returned from its second residency at the Mecklenburg Festival in late August, CMS journeyed almost immediately to its first tour of Colombia as guests of the Cartagena Festival (see previous blog August-September 2011: CMS Intercontinental).

September and October, traditionally busy months, included, for me and Wu Han performances on the CMS opening night, the Mendelssohn Trios at South Mountain Concerts, numerous Emerson Quartet concerts (including an immediate return to the Mecklenburg Festival), we also oversaw the opening of numerous CMS series such as the Late Night Rose concerts and Inside Chamber Music lectures, plus the main stage concerts. Music@Menlo’s Winter Series opened with a spectacular recital by Inon Barnatan (see Wu Han’s previous blog post).

So it was somewhat of a relief to exchange the hectic American scene for the tranquillity of the Bavarian town of Bad Reichenhall, only minutes from Salzburg, nestled beneath spectacular mountains. The crisp fall air and beautiful foliage provided a bracing and inspiring backdrop for four days of intensive rehearsing and performing.

Klaus Lauer, our long-time friend as former director of the famous Roemerbad Musiktage in Badenweiler, has more recently become an artistic partner of CMS on three occasions: first, his Night Fantasies series, curated by him for us in New York in the November of 2008; second, this residency for CMS at the AlpenKlassik Festival, which he directs; and third, later this season, as he is featured in CMS’s Winter Festival as a leading commissioner of new music. Our programs in Bad Reichenhall were made collaboratively, Klaus requesting from us signature American programming for each of our three concerts.

Arnaud Sussmann, Klaus Lauer, and Wu Han walk the streets of Bad Reichenhall

In our opening performance on Friday evening, in the town’s beautiful Königliches Kurhaus, Wu Han, Lily Francis and I began with Beethoven’s Op. 1 No. 1 piano trio, which was followed by a piece close to Klaus’s heart, George Crumb’s Four Nocturnes (Night Music II) for violin and piano, performed by Lily and Gil using a second piano that had been prepared with all the special markings and equipment necessary to produce Crumb’s magical sounds. The program closed with Beethoven once again, but this time with his final trio, the magnificent “Archduke”, Op. 97, for which Wu Han and I were joined by Arnaud Sussmann.

Post concert festivities are always important, and in the hands of Klaus Lauer, musicians are never at a loss for good food and company. Arnaud and Nicolas amazed the table with outrageous iPhone tricks and games.

Saturday’s program featured a major role for Gilbert Kalish, who opened the concert with Charles Ives’s monumental “Concord” sonata for piano alone or almost alone, as Ives included the briefest of offstage roles for flute and violin. Before the hour-long performance, Gil and Klaus took the stage to introduce the work, the performance of which earned Gil a prolonged ovation.

German cellist Nicolas Altstaedt (a CMS Two artist who only days before joining us assumed artistic directorship of the prestigious Lockenhaus Festival, hand-picked by founder Gidon Kremer) made his first appearance of the weekend in Elliott Carter’s Figments for solo cello, one of which is subtitled, appropriately for this program, “Remembering Mr. Ives”. The program closed with Dvorak’s ever-popular Piano Quartet in Eb.

Sunday’s third and final concert was opened by me with the brief and soothing “Fantasy on a Bach Air” by John Corigliano, after which Wu Han joined me for Beethoven’s sonata op. 69. Schumann’s Eb Piano Quartet closed the first half, with Nicolas borrowing my cello (at the very last minute!) in order to execute Schumann’s unusual request for a single low Bb at the end of the slow movement. It was fun watching Nicolas negotiate his way on and off stage with both cellos.

The concert – and this demanding CMS residency – concluded with American music for piano, four hands, Gil and Wu Han offering first Samuel Barber’s charming Souvenirs, and finishing with George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

Schloss Elmau

For years and years we had heard about this place: “I just played at Schloss Elmau” – “You MUST play at Schloss Elmau!” – “You mean you’ve never played at Schloss Elmau?”. We were beginning to think there was something seriously wrong with our careers, and so, by means of a completely “cold call” , I got our trio with Philip Setzer invited to perform there after our concerts in Bad Reichenhall and before our performance in Naples.

A beautiful two-hour drive from Bad Reichenhall, the famous castle is nestled in the Bavarian mountains near Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the famous violin-producing town of Mittenwald. Emerging from a dense forest, a driver’s first sight of Elmau is truly breathtaking.

We were warmly welcomed not only by program director Silke Zimmerman but also pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who would play a recital the following evening and attend our concert that night. Such is the life of a musician: just when you think you might have a relaxed performance….

The castle as built in 1916 as a retreat for artists and thinkers, attended.  Volunteer “helpers” who came to work there attracted by the contact with notables, attended to the clientele. In 2006 a disastrous fire all but destroyed the place, but under the dynamic direction of family owner Dietmar Mueller-Elmau, the castle was rebuilt to a standard that we have perhaps never encountered in all our travels. Every detail is of the highest quality, the setting is beyond comparison, and the warmth, hospitality and personal attention, from Dietmar himself to Silke and her staff, to hotel general manager Nikolai Bloyd, made us very soon feel like important guests who had been coming for years.

Schloss Elmau presents well over two hundred concerts per year. It seems that literally everyone performs here. In the coming months, for example, both our CMS Two cellists Andres Brantelid and Jakob Koranyi will appear, and so will pianist Martha Argerich. The atmosphere, the beauty and hospitality offer the broadest range of musicians a welcome respite from the hectic concert life, and a place to rest and recharge.

Several hundred listeners heard us play Schubert’s massive trio in Eb that evening, including many children staying with their parents at the hotel. It was our trio’s first performance on the European continent. Afterwards we were treated to a sumptuous meal at one of the hotel’s many fine restaurants. We could look forward to a free day, a chance to use the hotel’s amazing spa, and to walk the endless trails in the surrounding hills.

Italian debut

As magical and relaxing as Schloss Elmau was, the irresistible Italian allure beckoned us the following day to our next stop, Naples, for our trio’s second European appearance. Blessed with a free evening, and perfect weather, the infamous, formidable Neapolitan chaos receded into the background. A 5 a.m. departure from Elmau ensured arriving in Naples by lunchtime, the highest of priorities for us.

Approaching Naples by airplane, Castello St. Elmo on the hilltop.

For dinner we were graciously hosted by Professor Lucio Sicca and our presenting organization, the Associazione Alessandro Scarlatti, now celebrating its ninety-first season. We were joined by a small collection of music lovers, including a young cellist who is a student at the local conservatory. It is immediately apparent with these people that their foremost passion is chamber music, as they heatedly posed questions to us such as “Which of the two Schubert trios is your favorite?”. One could not imagine more pleasurable, gracious company (nor better food!).

The concerts of the Associazione take place in the Castello St. Elmo, which dominates the Neapolitan skyline behind the city. Across the water, Vesuvius looms large, and still looks threatening.

During the morning of our concert day, I was treated to a tour of the Conservatorio San Pietro a Majella di Napoli by my new young cellist friend Chiara. It was the first day of classes, and the place was hopping. Nestled in a small street in the historic district, the school, which sits inside a magnificent structure surrounding a central courtyard, is situated among music shops, plus restaurants and cafes which afford both students and faculty ample supplies and nourishment.

Most astounding to see in the conservatory is its library and museum. Containing countless first editions and manuscripts of virtually all the Italian composers (plus many others) it affords the lucky visitor a chance to see portraits, artifacts, and music from composers from Palestrina to Scarlatti to Verdi, from performers such as Paganini and Liszt, and instruments made by Stradivari, Cristofori and Goffriller. There is even a small harp from Stradivari, and Domenico Scarlatti’s own harpsichord, upon which the lucky students are even allowed to perform.

In spite of the challenges of the busy day for the school, I was warmly welcomed by the conservatory director, and shown endless hospitality by a small collection of students, all of whom eventually had their first lessons of the season later that day.

But that did not deter many of them from making the pilgrimage up the mountain to hear our two Schubert trios that evening. Driving in Naples is something I have yet to try, and may never will. There is little pattern or logic to the city’s streets, the driving style is New York +, and the traffic jams can be maddening. The route to the castle from the city below is like a maze in which one probably travels ten times the kilometers as the distance actually is, as the crow flies, and the streets become very narrow as one approaches the mountaintop. After the concert, some six hundred people stream into the streets to head home by car, foot or the funicular train, and on this evening, a bus got stuck in a small street where we sat behind it for a good forty-five minutes, killing our dinner plans (as the concert had started at 9:10, we were still without food past midnight).

An emergency stop at the last pizzeria open afforded me and Wu Han a last, delicious Italian meal and a good bottle of wine, as we sat not only marveling at the day’s wonderful experiences, but also scanning the hundreds of congratulatory e mails that had come in that day, as the official announcement of our Musical America award had hit the internet that morning. All in all, it was quite a day.

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In an unprecedented move, Musical America has selected not one but two Musicians of the Year for 2012: David Finckel and Wu Han. He is a cellist, she a pianist, and together they are the artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, among other organizations. The Musician(s) of the Year Award, honoring excellence and achievement in the arts, are being announced in conjunction with the release of the 2012 International Directory of the Performing Arts.

Finckel and Han have managed to breathe new life into an artform all too often overlooked. They have done so not only through imaginative programming and stellar performances, together or alone, but also as founders of Music@Menlo, and as pioneering producers of their own recordings on the ArtistLed label, classical music’s first musician-directed and Internet-based recording company. Together, writes Musical America Directory Editor Sedgwick Clark in his citation, they have managed to “create a revolution in the traditionally quiet world of chamber music — in the process building new audiences and rearing a new wave of players.

To read the full official announcement, please click here.

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A major article about Wu Han and David Finckel appears in today’s New York Times Arts and Leisure section. Critic Vivien Schweitzer writes at length on the duo’s activities on behalf of chamber music, with insights into their perspectives on the classical music industry, programming, education, young musicians and more. (New York Times)

Related link:

Wu Han and David Finckel: music’s busiest couple? (The Oregonian)

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David Finckel and Wu Han inaugurated their 2010-11 duo season with a performance of the complete Beethoven Sonatas for piano and cello on the Cal Performances series at UC Berkeley. It was the duo’s second appearance for the distinguished Bay Area series, and the duo’s fifth performance of the Beethoven cycle this year, following New Orleans, New York’s Alice Tully Hall (for CMS), the Aspen Music Festival, and Music@Menlo.

in David’s words…

Cal Performances, founded in 1906 at the University of California, Berkeley, has steadily grown to become the most comprehensive performing arts series in Northern California. The organization presents over one hundred events annually in five venues in and around the campus, drawing its audience from the famously open-minded, diverse population of the Bay Area, and from among UC Berkeley’s thirty-five-thousand brilliant students.

Hertz Hall, named after one of the early conductors of the San Francisco Symphony, is a 1000-seat venue with perfect acoustics for chamber music. It was a real pleasure to play the sonatas there, not only because of the hall but on account of the intensity with which the public engaged themselves in the music. I could see neither empty seats nor anyone checking their e mail!

Rostropovich teaching at Berkeley, October 1975

Hertz Hall brought back vivid memories, all the way from 1975, when I played the Prokofiev Sonata for Rostropovich there in his series of master classes. I was lucky enough to have been invited by him to participate among the local students, and it was there I first met and played with pianist Sylvia Kahan, who was the official class pianist. ( I have since re-connected with Sylvia through her authorship of the first biography of the arts patroness Winaretta Singer, the Princesse de Polignac, whose legacy will be celebrated next season at CMS.)

Wu Han thanks donors and Matias Tarnopolsky

After the long concert, which included Wu Han’s signature introductions to the pieces from the stage, we were given a reception courtesy of Music@Menlo board member Kathy Henschel. Kathy, an avid supporter of the Berkeley Symphony, Chanticleer, Cal Performances as well as Music@Menlo, made a passionate speech, encouraging everyone to support many Bay Area arts organizations in the belief that a community can never have too much of a good thing. She had brought brochures for all her organizations, and her inclusive advocacy was gamely embraced by Cal Performances director Matias Tarnopolsky, who warmly praised both Kathy’s vision and character. We could not have agreed more and were very proud to be able to call her one of Music@Menlo’s own.

Kathy Henschel, Matias Tarnopolsky

After the reception we gathered our Music@Menlo contingent (Kathy and her friend Chris, Executive Director Edward Sweeney and Development Director Annie Rohan) and met up with family at the China Village Restaurant in nearby Albany (www.chinavillagesolano.com), the only Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant in the Bay Area, for a custom-ordered Szechuan meal, which included “REAL kung-pao chicken” (according to Wu Han), many other dishes way to delicious to describe, and a flaming pineapple filled with shrimp and pineapple.

Matias Tarnopolsky also joined us, and it was inspiring to hear this very young director (who has just in the last year taken over the position) speak of his vision for the organization, his innovative projects, and his commitment to quality experiences for his audience. We very much look forward to our return engagement there next season.

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