Archive for the ‘Education’ 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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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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On tour in Corpus Christi, Texas, David Finckel posted the Cello Talks series’ final nine videos, hitting the one hundred mark and concluding his groundbreaking course in cello technique. Still a one-of-a-kind project, the Cello Talks, filmed by David in locations from Japan to Europe to Russia to Scandinavia, are viewed in growing numbers by cellists all over the world. (Photo: David with his famous pink camera that filmed virtually every Cello Talk)
in David’s words…

Sometimes, the most important things one does have not been asked for, nor are paid for, nor are necessarily well-known or high-profile components of one’s career. But what makes these projects or ideas important is that, for some reason, one feels it essential to do them.

When I was not even fifteen, I had private cello students. I learned to teach music like my father, on Saturdays at home. He had his studio and I had mine. He charged four dollars per hour and I charged two. It seemed like I was making a fortune.

My students were my age, younger, and older – some of them much older. I learned to pass on immediately what I myself was learning: one could say the turnaround time for my acquired knowledge was extremely short.

A requirement of my teaching at that early age was the ability to explain things that I barely understood or could do. I often stayed one lesson ahead of some students. I gobbled up enough expertise in theory that I could stay about a week ahead (one of my most gifted students, Michael Curry, had off-the-charts perfect pitch and that made the appearance of expertise difficult). I quickly discovered that my students progressed if I explained things clearly and simply. If I confused them, or had no clear answers for their questions, they stayed in the same place.

After I left home to go to college for a year (where I was taught or learned almost nothing), I stopped teaching and never taught regularly again. It was not that I lost interest, only that I was focused on making a performing career for myself. And the learning I did – especially in regard to technique – was mostly figured out on my own, as my great mentor Rostropovich offered only musical inspiration.

During the 1990’s I became increasingly interested in the possibility of working again with young cellists. I had opportunities to hear talented students in the summers in Aspen. They wanted to study with me, and I wanted to teach them, but I could not find a school to teach at. I offered to bring an extremely gifted and accomplished cellist to the Manhattan School but was turned down as a part-time cello teacher – they already had enough adjunct teachers. I still can’t believe that.

Since the 90’s my professional career has taken other turns – the artistic directorships have lead to being able to administrate entire education programs, serving multitudes of students of many instruments, and I have found that extremely gratifying. I also had peak experiences coaching chamber music with Isaac Stern and his stellar faculties in Jerusalem and New York.

I was teaching, but still not the cello. Chamber music coachings often lack the minutes and hours necessary to explain or solve technical problems – extra time is seldom available. It’s ultimately frustrating not to be able to be more helpful in practical ways.

So, with countless concerts, mountains of experience, and a growing sense that someday I might get hit by a bus and take it all with me, I decided to teach via the Cello Talks, without being asked, or paid, or even much noticed – for the meantime.

The Cello Talks are pretty much all I know about how to play the instrument. I’ve left it where people can get at it, and that’s what’s important to me, and hopefully, to others. If there is even one cellist out there who can play better because of something I’ve explained, it’s been worth it, and it’s been a lot of fun.

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This past week, Music@Menlo concluded its annual Winter Residency at Menlo School – a celebration of Music@Menlo’s rich educational vision. Alumni of the Chamber Music Institute and festival artistic administrator, Patrick Castillo, prepared a series of enriching programs for students at Menlo School.

in Wu Han’s words…

This past week, we had the wonderful opportunity of traveling to California for Music@Menlo’s annual Winter Residency at Menlo School. The Winter Residency provides an opportunity to bring the best of our educational resources into the classroom, giving Menlo School students the chance to absorb the rich chamber music repertoire through close interaction with world- class artists. It’s also an incredible opportunity for our Chamber Music Institute alumni to enhance their teaching skills and share their passion for chamber music with a new generation of listeners. Music@Menlo is proud to be a program of Menlo School, whose uncompromising commitment to education and dedication to the arts have created an ideal setting for Music@Menlo since the festival’s inception in 2003. Through benefit concerts and educational performances at Menlo School, the Winter Residency is truly a celebration of Music@Menlo’s educational vision. The Winter Residency brought back several outstanding alumni from the Chamber Music Institute’s International Program to take part in the week’s activities. Sean Lee, violin; Michelle Ross, violin; Areta Zhulla, violin; Eric Han, cello; and Chamber Music Institute director and pianist, Gloria Chien; all performed brilliantly in the array of concerts and events throughout the week.

One of the highlights for us was witnessing several in-class performances at Menlo School by the musicians and Music@Menlo’s Artistic Administrator, Patrick Castillo. These presentations were brilliantly prepared and executed by Patrick, and took great chamber music into several classes contextualizing the music within the framework of what each course was studying. For example, one of the classes was entitled World Religions—in this particular presentation, Patrick and the musicians focused on Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. Written in a response to the awful atrocities of World War II, Messiaen’s own faith and deeply felt Catholicism greatly influenced this piece and how he viewed the incredible scenes around him. It was amazing to witness the engagement and interest among Menlo School students throughout these presentations. I want to thank the amazing musicians who performed so professionally and nurtured countless students through these in-class presentations. They are certainly equipped and poised to take our art form into the world and create new communities of appreciation. We would also like to thank Menlo School for being such a spectacular home for Music@Menlo, and we thank the school’s exceptional faculty for their participation in this amazing program.

In addition to all these educational events, we were thrilled to announce the 2011 Music@Menlo season, including this coming summer’s theme: Through Brahms. After many months of planning, brainstorming, and conceptualizing, it is always a fulfilling experience to see the culmination of these efforts come to fruition in front of our eager and supportive audience. This summer’s theme will explore the creative genius of one of the towering musical figures of the nineteenth century, Johannes Brahms, through the lens of the musical figures that inspired him, as well as the composers that he himself subsequently inspired. We are thrilled to be welcoming back many of Music@Menlo’s favorite artists as well as welcoming several artists who will be making their Music@Menlo debut. To learn more about the upcoming season, please visit Music@Menlo’s website: www.musicatmenlo.org

Photo Credits:  Pete Zivkov and Cynthia Yock

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Archived video of a live broadcast of Wu Han’s master class at Music@Menlo this morning.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Arriving in New York from Greece on Sunday, and devoting a full day to the Chamber Music Society on Monday, David and Wu Han departed Tuesday for Aspen, Colorado, to begin their customary residency at Aspen Music Festival and School.  The duo looked forward to solo and chamber performances, master classes and to hearing many concerts by friends and colleagues.

in David’s words…

Although my own Aspen residency was to be interrupted by a final frantic week with the Emerson Quartet (see post JULY 7:  Emerson Season Wrap-Up), Wu Han settled in for the duration and busied herself immediately with her class of students, and rehearsals for her first concerts (without me).

Wu Han teaching Music@Menlo alumna Hilda Huang

As she did the previous summer, Wu Han brought to the festival works both new to her repertoire and which she was eager to perform: the delightful “Souvenirs” by Samuel Barber, and Gershwin’s “American in Paris”.  The Barber, which she performed with Rita Sloan, is for one piano, four hands, and the Gershwin, which she performed with Anton Nel, requires two pianos.  The Gershwin is actually the original version of the work, as it was the composer’s method to bring lay out his orchestral works in piano versions.  (Wu Han makes the rounds with these pieces over the summer: she had just performed the Barber with CMS at the Festival of the Bluegrass with Anne-Marie McDermott, and this week Wu Han heads to Music@Menlo where the Gershwin will be performed by her and Ken Noda on the festival’s program of music from Paris in the 1920’s, titled La Ville Lumiere, on August 7th).

Wu Han and pianist Rita Sloan

Although Wu Han only accepted five students at the festival, she is very popular as a teacher and coach and is constantly, and generously, giving her time to eager young musicians who want to play for her.  As a private teacher I am much more inaccessible, not because of interest but because of schedule, and only the most determined young cellists and ensembles manage to make it on to my radar.

Upon my return to Aspen we dove into rehearsals of the two Beethoven piano trios of Op. 70 with our esteemed colleague and close friend of many years, the violinist Cho-Liang Lin.  Jimmy, as he is known to most, is spending more time in Aspen these days, having added a very serious teaching component to his busy concert schedule.  We were delighted to be working with him again, having played together often over the years in many locations.

Most everyone knows these two great trios, especially the first, nicknamed “the Ghost” because of its spooky slow movement.  It is known that Beethoven wanted to compose an opera on Macbeth, and there is speculation that this movement was a prototype for the witches’ scene, which is easily believable.  The “Ghost” trios two outer movements are sunny, happy and even frenetic, so the composer’s famous manic-depressive personality is in full evidence here.

Being Beethoven meant never being predictable, and the second part of this opus is as different from the first as one could imagine.  The stately introduction of the Op. 70 No. 2 trio is a far from the opening salvo of the “Ghost” as it could be, and this trio proceeds to unfold in an almost cerebral way, looking forward to the composer’s late period style.  A Haydn-esqe variation movement is followed by a dreamy, extended minuet which is pure Schubert in every way.  It’s tempting, when listening to this gorgeous movement, to make a snap generalization and say that this is where Schubert comes from.   The finale is, without a doubt, the most technically challenging of all Beethoven’s trio movements.  Rapid-fire sixteenth-note passages must interlock perfectly, and withstand Beethoven’s moment-to-moment, instantaneous changes of dynamics, a frequent characteristic of his music as he matured.

My extended stay in Aspen – the longest I ever stay anywhere besides home and Music@Menlo – allowed us the luxury of daily rehearsals during which we delved into the music’s most minute details.  There’s no other way to achieve decent performances of these works, and it was a terrific experience to share with Jimmy, who is tireless and sets only the highest standards for himself and his performances.  Performing the “Ghost” on Saturday and the E-flat on Monday also afforded us the advantage of being able to concentrate on one of them at a time.

Warm up backstage at Harris Hall

The concerts went very well, and with some luck, you will be able to hear them eventually on NPR’s Performance Today.

Emerging from Harris Concert Hall into the 8pm light in Aspen is always a magical experience.

Tuesday was far from a day of rest: we were in the KJAX radio station at 11:30 for an extended live interview, then at the Joan and Irving Harris Concert Hall for an appearance on the Great Artists Master Class series (teaching cello/piano duos), then another radio interview taped backstage for Performance Today, then to the campus of the music school for another 2 hours of chamber music master class.

Finishing after 6pm, neither of us had touched our instruments all day, and we were facing the Beethoven Sonata marathon the next night.

Scheduled to begin at 8:30pm, and predicted by the festival to end at 11:15, we were surprised to learn that the concert had sold out and that stage seats were being added to accommodate more.  The news was both flattering and unnerving at the same time.

Harris stage waiting for the Beethoven cycle

There is no place that we play where we feel more pressure than at the Aspen Music Festival.  The audience is not only filled with listeners who have followed us sometimes for decades, but crammed with phenomenally talented, eager and critical students who have as much to learn from your mistakes as from your strong points.  Add to that the possible presence of any number of distinguished performing and teaching colleagues, and you have a recipe for anxiety.  And oh, I forgot the taping for National Public Radio.

Often, for me, the journey to a very important concert is like a plane flight with lots of turbulence, the kind where no matter which altitude the pilot tries, the aircraft won’t stop lurching, and it makes you feel kind of sick.  The remedies for concert anxiety are often as speculative: should I practice more or not? Sleep? Do something completely different? Sit still and think through the music?  Even when you know you are ready, the stage is still the realm of the unknown, and the clock is ticking.

Thankfully, as is happened for us more often than not, walking on to the stage at Harris Hall and sitting down with our instruments among the crowd on Wednesday had a positive effect on our nerves and concentration.  Going back to the airplane analogy, it’s like when after a very bumpy final approach the airplane steadies itself a few feet above the runway for a smooth landing.  We sailed through the sonatas in record time (2 hours and 15 minutes) and that included Wu Han delivering her signature introductions to the works from the stage.  The performances were well-recorded and you should be hearing them on Performance Today in the near future.

With concert sponsors Martin and Sarah Flug

Before the concert we were interviewed by a new television network called Plum TV, who filmed us talking outside Harris Hall on the lawn, and during our rehearsal.  Plum TV travels to high-end communities to report on their cultural activities, and Aspen, with its Music Festival and many other events such as the Ideas Festival, offers Plum the content of its dreams.  The footage is now running six times per day for the current week.

Our performance commitments fulfilled, we delved back into teaching on Thursday, Wu Han in the studio for eight hours and me hearing one very talented cellist and the three string quartets of Aspen’s Quartet Program.  Every summer, this program, run expertly by former Juilliard Quartet violinist Earl Carlyss, selects three deserving quartets from an international pool who spend the summer in Aspen, learning not only from the resident Aspen faculty but from the visiting quartets such as the Emerson, Takacs, and American.  All three quartets – the Tesla, Nexus and Chimeng – were very well prepared and loads of fun to work with.  I had great afternoon, and hope they did too.

Our end-of week wrap up included a traditional artistic planning lunch with festival artistic administrator Asadour Santourian, a brilliant intellectual and passionate music lover who, especially now in the absence of a festival music director, takes upon his shoulders the details of next season almost entirely.  We wish him well and know that he will do a phenomenal job, as he has for the past eight years.

One of the most wonderful advantages of a summer festival residency is the opportunity to spend precious time with colleagues.  Too often for busy musicians the regular winter season does not allow time for spending evenings together, exchanging ideas, information, stories and simply having the kind of conversations that can only really take place between performers.

A non-concert highlight of our stay in Aspen this summer was the incredible party thrown on Thursday night by cellist Eric Kim, a great cellist and Aspen regular whom we have know for years and who, along with his wife Stacey, graciously invited us to their spectacular residence, which overlooks the town of Aspen, Pitkin County Airport, and Aspen valley looking practically all the way to Glenwood Springs.  At sunset, it was a setting without equal.

Eric, like a true cellist, is a truly wonderful colleague and friend who unleashed his passion and expertise for cooking on all of us.  Over pepper-crusted pork loin, grilled and Fontina-topped polenta, innumerable salads, appetizers and desserts, we enjoyed the enormous pleasure of the company of many esteemed colleagues until late in the evening, among them: clarinetist Joaquin Valdapenas; cellist Michael Mermagen; violinists Jimmy Lin, Connie Heard and Masao Kawasaki; violist Jim Dunham, many of them joined by spouses and children.

It was a wonderful and fitting way to end another challenging and rewarding stay at the Aspen Music Festival and School.  As long as we are able to continue making valuable contributions to this great institution, we will be happy and honored to return.

Eric and Stacey

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In April, artists of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, including Wu Han, traveled to Korea for the second annual residency initiative at the LG Chamber Music School, a series of intensive training workshops for highly gifted young musicians sponsored by the LG Corporation. The objective of the program is to enhance the quality of chamber music performance in Korea, and to increase awareness of chamber music as a powerfully communicative art form. Joined by Wu Han were violinist Ani Kavafian, violist Paul Neubauer, and cellist Andrés Díaz.

in Wu Han’s words…

Last month, my colleagues and I spent over two weeks in the Far East on behalf of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

Ani Kavafian, Paul Neubauer, Andrés Díaz, and Wu Han doing some sightseeing

The first stop was Seoul, where the second annual LG Chamber Music School was taking place.

Founded through the generous support of the LG Corporation, the school is an immensely inspiring project for many reasons. The first is the importance of celebrating chamber music in the Far East, where the art form is still not universally appreciated and valued, especially within the education system. Chamber music training is essential to building the complete musician, because to be a good chamber musician, you need to understand the full score, not just your solo parts. You need to have the skills to play a melody as beautifully as a solo, and play accompaniments as imaginatively and supportively as possible. You need to make constructive suggestions and be an inspiring force as a leader, as well as being part of a team.

The LG Chamber Music School is the first of its kind that I’m aware of in the Far East. It is extraordinarily exciting to witness the vast improvements that the students have already made from the first year to the second. Suddenly, they are studying the score rigorously, they know how to give a wonderful cue, to look at each other, and where in the phrase to build to the same climax together. We must continue to feed their hunger for chamber music, and in 10 years, I’m sure that we will see a significant impact in Korea’s culture and in the musicians’ lives. I only wish there were more people like the team in Korea, and more corporations like LG who would devote their energy and resources into improving the cultural life of their society, and I hope our work with this school will resonate with the rest of the musical community there. It’s worth the entire trip just to see the bright shining eyes of the young students, to see the tearful farewells, and to witness the two incredibly successful concerts that happened in the LG Center.

Presenter, Jeehyun Kim, and CMS musician Andrés Díaz, enjoy a special plum wine

On our way back to the United States, we stopped at the ms Amsterdam, a Holland American Cruise Ship, to play a concert in Yokohama, Japan.

The stop took us less than 24 hours, and even this short time was worth it to hear my colleagues Ani and Paul play the virtuosic violin and viola repertoire and see the standing ovation from the audience.

The boat did not sail, and I was secretly happy, because I was able to avoid learning what seasickness is about. I guess I’ll find out on my Greece cruise in June with the Chamber Music Society!

One of the student groups in rehearsal.

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