Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Music@Menlo’ Category

WH announces

_____________________________

In David’s words
_____________________________

When the final exuberant chords of Dvořák’s Quintet reverberated in the hall at Menlo-Atherton, the twelfth season of Music@Menlo had seemed to go by so quickly that we couldn’t believe it was really over. When one is as busy as Wu Han and I are during the Festival, days blur from one to the next, the sense of time passing is suspended, and suddenly it’s all over. In some ways, it seems like yesterday that we greeted the 44 young musicians attending the Chamber Music Institute, and yet, it also seems like a year ago that they bravely launched into their first assignments.

As is always our practice at Music@Menlo, we delved deeply into music through a particular lens, which was, this summer, the life and world of the great Czech composer Antonín Dvořák. The ways in which we explore music at the Festival always provide the richest and most meaningful contexts in which to experience the works of great composers, and for Dvořák, who was so widely regarded and well-traveled during his life, we decided to focus this lens very widely, to include the composers and cultures of Dvořák’s neighbors in Hungary, Romania, Germany and Austria. Included among those composers were Dvořák’s musical ancestors, contemporaries and descendants, all of who could be connected to Dvořák. Among them were: Johannes Brahms, Dvořák’s mentor and advocate from Vienna; Franz Schubert, also from Vienna, whose music inspired many of Dvořák’s compositions; Beethoven, who set a lofty example for Dvořák of what it meant to be a true artist; Leoš Janáček, the great 20th century descendant of Dvořák’s tradition who translated the Romantic era’s passion into modern musical language; and Erwin Schulhoff, a Czech composer of enormous talent and promise, encouraged to pursue a career as a young boy by Dvořák himself, who needlessly perished in a Nazi concentration camp in 1942.

Without exaggeration, hardly a moment passes during these three weeks that is not in some way very special, very memorable, and very important to the life and character of the festival.
Some of my favorite recurring festival moments include: the daily morning meeting of all the Chamber Music Institute students and faculty, during which the day’s events are described and anticipated in exciting detail; sitting in the recording booth with our brilliant producer Da-Hong Seetoo as he listens with phenomenal concentration to a performance being captured for Music@Menlo Live, our in-house recording label; lunch with students, faculty, performers and friends on the beautiful campus of Menlo School, our host and partner; a concert in Menlo School’s Stent Family Hall, one of the most beautiful rooms imaginable in which to hear chamber music; attending a Café Conversation during which our visiting performers often unveil and share with us a wide selection of their projects, passions and experiences; watching both Young Performers and International Performers rise to new heights of poise, precision and artistry in performances; welcoming an exciting selection of artists every summer who are making their Music@Menlo debuts, and seeing our audience delight in newly-discovered talent and festival friends; and the list goes on and on.

Our Institute, which had its beginnings from the Festival’s very first year, has grown to serve an ever-wider range of students from the Bay Area and all over the world. We made a great effort this year to find ways to house students from afar, and this has opened up the possibility of bringing literally the best young musicians the world has to offer right into our mix, benefitting not only our voracious listeners, but the top young local talent, whose experience and standards are raised as they make music with new colleagues truly on their level. In addition, we’ve grown and developed our Chamber Music Institute faculty, and assigned each Institute component a director who oversees the activities of all the students. We now not only can say that we are offering young musicians an incomparable experience – which has always been the case – but also that we are increasingly able to make the Music@Menlo experience practical and affordable for the most deserving and eager young musicians of today.

The Chamber Music Institute programs provide both no-cost performances to our community and invaluable chances for the young chamber musicians of future to play music and to host concerts in a thoroughly professional way. The daily coachings, the many master classes, all that the students absorb through attending the main-stage concerts and other performances, plus the Encounters and Café Conversations, all add up to an incomparable educational experience.

The impact of Music@Menlo on these young musicians is no better evidenced than at the Institute’s concluding concerts. The meticulous and passionate performances, the cheering of the packed house, and the many tears and hugs, onstage and off, make us as proud to be a part of this program as anything we do. A look at the following collection of photos can only begin to provide a true picture of what the Music@Menlo Chamber Music Institute is capable of providing to the deserving young musicians who represent the future of the art.

CMI group bow

Leslie and Josephine

Sophie talks

IP

Full hall

Coaches backstage

CMI coaches Dmitri Atapine, Hyeyeon Park, Gloria Chien, Sunmi Chang, Sean Lee, Nicolas Dautricourt

Tears on stage

Tears offstage

The 2014 festival began as most of our festivals have, with an initial Encounter that provides an overview of the festival and an in-depth look at the subject at hand. Perfectly suited for that mission was musicologist David Beveridge, a Dvořák expert, who made the journey all the way from Prague (where he lives and where we first met) to give us background and context on Dvořák and his world. David traced the incredible line of Dvořák’s career, from the son of simple butcher in a small Bohemian village to a composer of world renown. Included in the Encounter was a thorough geography lesson (something we can all use when talking about Middle Europe) and a fascinating examination of Dvořák’s compositional techniques, with musical examples provided by violinists Erin Keefe and Kristin Lee, violist Paul Neubauer, cellist Dmitri Atapine and bassist Scott Pingel.

Beveridge

Each Music@Menlo festival is anchored by a series of main concert programs that outline the festival’s theme. During our first festival in 2003, there were five of them, but that number has swelled on occasion to eight, which was the case this year. The eight programs, most of which were performed twice, were buttressed by many other events, among them the four Carte Blanche concerts and four Encounters, making the Festival a more-or-less wall-to-wall musical experience over three weeks.

Around Dvořák” traced Dvořák’s life not only from the perspective of his own music but also that of his neighbors past, present and future. The first program, “Dvořák in Context” began with music by Mozart, one of Dvořák’s most inspiring predecessors from nearby Vienna, and concluded with music by a powerful descendant of Dvořák’s folkloric tradition, Béla Bartók. In Mozart’s Serenata Notturna, Wu Han made her Festival debut as timpanist, and a crackerjack ensemble composed of the Escher and Danish Quartets, plus individuals, gave a definitive performance of Bartók’s Divertimento.

WH timpani

Bartok

Our second main-stage concert program, “Viennese Roots”, paid tribute to the effect of the great classical composers on Dvořák, whose expert craftsmanship gave structure and integrity to his passionate, nationalistic and folk-inspired works. Included on the program were two works of Schubert (about whom Dvořák wrote a learned article), his A-flat Impromptu performed with depth and mastery by Gilbert Kalish, and his flashy Rondo Brilliant for violin and piano, played with lyricism and panache by violinist Sean Lee and pianist Gloria Chien. The program opened with a sparkling trio by Haydn, which gave me chance to sneak on stage with Gloria and the marvelous violinist Kristin Lee, with whom I had the pleasure to play many concerts last season on tour with the Chamber Music Society, all across America, in Germany at the Dresden Festival, and on the CMS cruise in June from Venice to Dubrovnik.

Kalish Schubert

Schubert Rondo

Haydn Trio

Interspersed with our main concert programs and Encounters is another concert series called Carte Blanche, in which Wu Han and I invite extraordinary performers to design and perform programs of their own invention. This series, inaugurated in the festival’s second season, has had an amazing history, and this year’s offerings lived up to the series’ high standard of creativity and excitement. The first program of this year’s Carte Blanche series was performed by the Escher Quartet, simply one of the finest string quartets of now or any age, and they used both their incomparable virtuosity and impeccable traditional string playing style to render, in a single evening, all four quartets by Alexander von Zemlinsky. I daresay that, without having played these quartets myself, it seems to be feat of technique, concentration and stamina that far outweighs playing Bartók’s six quartets in one concert (something I am well-qualified to talk about). The Escher Quartet astounded the over-sold hall with as thrilling a quartet performance as I have heard anywhere, and their two-hour and forty-five minute concert was rewarded with cheers and a hearty meal (in the Music@Menlo tradition).

Zemlinsky

The main stage concerts continued with a program dedicated to the patronage of the seventh Prince Lobkowicz, Josef Franz Maximilian, a Bohemian nobleman who became the stand-out arts supporter of his family through his commissions and dedications from Haydn and Beethoven. A great lover of chamber music, especially string quartets, this prince kept a house orchestra from which could be formed smaller ensembles, and he enjoyed music in his many castles and palaces, from downtown Vienna to the idyllic Bohemian countryside.

The focus on the Lobkowicz family’s contribution to chamber music was heightened by the presence of today’s heir to the Lobkowicz properties, possession and legacy, William Lobkowicz, who was accompanied on his visit by his wife and three children.

William

William shared the incredible history of his family during an Encounter, and, in his honor, we resurrected a string quartet composed by the seventh prince’s house composer and orchestra leader, the Czech violinist Antonin Vranicky. William and Sandra listened from the side of the stage, and our quartet, formed with violinist Sean Lee, International Performers Becky Anderson and Cong Wu, and me on cello, was given official permission, upon request and on the spot, to call itself the New Lobkowicz Quartet (neither I nor many of my friends could quite believe I was back in a string quartet so soon – much less forming a new one!).

Vranicky

The main-stage concert program that honored the Lobkowicz family was composed entirely of works commissioned by the Seventh Prince: Haydn’s Quartet Op. 77 No. 2, and by Beethoven, the string quartets Op. 18 No. 1 and Op. 74,“Harp”, plus the song cycle “An die Ferne Geliebte”. Performing for us were Gilbert Kalish and the compelling baritone Randall Scarlata, and the popular Danish String Quartet, justifiably renowned both for the depth of their performances and the wildness of their hair.

Scarlata

Danish

The second concert in the Carte Blanche series was something of a double Carte Blanche, as the legendary Brazilian piano virtuoso Arnaldo Cohen has long been admired by Wu Han, who saw this summer’s programming line up with Arnaldo’s specialties, making it the perfect season to introduce this great pianist to the Menlo community in a single recital. His adventurous program paid tribute to the festival’s theme at every turn, traversing Bach-Busoni, Handel-Brahms, Liszt and Chopin, all delivered with apparent ease in show-stopping style, and all before lunch at that. Our audience warmly welcomed a completely new artist, and we have been asked again and again when he will return.

Cohen

As we had focused on Beethoven so thoroughly through the Lobkowicz concert program, we decided to detour further in Beethoven’s world in concert program four, titled “Beethoven’s Friends”, by performing his music in the company of music by his famous friends and colleagues. Moreover, Anton Reicha was of Czech descent, and Johann Nepomuk Hummel was born in Hungary, so they were certainly well-qualified for Around Dvořák status. Their music was a discovery for many in our already-well-educated audience, which enjoyed these performances featuring both piano and winds.

 Beethoven quintet

Reicha

Hummel

Our third Carte Blanche concert was put in the hands of the estimable violinist Yura Lee, who cooked up (she’s a great cook as well so that’s apt to say) a program that one is likely going to hear nowhere else unless it’s Yura and her pianist Dina Vainshtein playing. Their program whole-heartedly served our season theme, ranging from the extraordinary Impressions d’enfance (Impressions of Childhood) by Georges Enescu, to Bartók’s essential Sonata no. 1 for violin and piano, with Dvořák, Suk and Hubay thrown in between. Yura played with her signature intensity and magical technical accuracy, and all left the hall amazed at both the music and performers.

Yura

In Concert Program five, titled “American Visions”, we followed Dvořák all the way to America, where he spent the years 1892-95 heading the National Conservatory in New York City. To document his experience in and effect on American musical culture, we created a sequence of music that told something of a story. Beginning with a rousing performance by Gilles Vonsattel of Gottschalk’s The Union, a medley of American popular songs coupled with ingenious, parlor-trick sound effects, the jovial piece became the perfect setup for Dvořák’s cheerful and quintessentially American-sounding Sonatina in G Major for violin and piano, composed during his stay, and performed for us by Wu Han and violinist Arnaud Sussmann.

Sonatina

The happy mood Dvořák created was then carried on by the first song in a set by the American maverick Charles Ives, and as Randall Scarlata and Gilbert Kalish moved from song to song, the music of Ives became more and more mystical and unsettling. This was exactly what we had hoped for, as we needed to set the mood for us all to experience the phenomenal American Songbook II: A Journey beyond Time, by contemporary legend George Crumb.

Joining us for the Crumb were Gilbert Kalish (without a doubt, the leading interpreter of Crumb’s music), Randall Scarlata, and percussionists Ayano Kataoka, Ian Rosenbaum, Chris Froh and Florian Conzetti. One can see from the photo below that to say they had their hands full would be a true understatement.

Crumb

The concert’s impact was mesmerizing and powerful. Nothing in the festival could have made us prouder than the virtuosity and versatility of our incredible collection of performers that night, nor the sight of a packed audience on its feet screaming bravo’s at the conclusion of a truly adventurous program.

During the next main stage program, titled “Transitions”, we explored where music went in the wake of Dvořák’s Romantic age, seeking palpable connections between the music of the nineteenth century and modern times. Wu Han opened the program alone with Brahms’s late Intermezzi, Op. 118, which she described as the most intimate music of the festival, and also some of the most forward-looking of the late Romantic era.

Cellist Dmitri Atapine and pianist Hyeyeon Park then performed a selection of works by the Second Viennese School composer Anton Webern that perfectly documented the transition from the tonal to the atonal age. Webern’s first two pieces, composed in 1899, sound much like the Brahms that Wu Han had just finished, but his second set of three pieces, composed fifteen years later, are completely without key centers, and derive their hyper-romantic, expressionist emotion through both overt and suggestive musical gestures, as well as extreme dynamic levels. Our exceptional performers – both faculty of the Chamber Music Institute as well as graduates of the International Performers program – made the works truly their own, as they moved between all five pieces without a break, playing both cello and piano parts from memory. It was a highlight of the festival for me and Wu Han to watch another cello-piano duo take over such repertoire with expertise, dedication, and captivating charisma.

Webern

Also on the program was the Concertino by Dvořák’s musical descendant Leoš Janáček, a work that shows the colorful Czech folk idiom in full twentieth-century bloom.

Concertino

The final concert in the festival’s Carte Blanche series was entrusted to the powerhouse pianist Gilles Vonsattel, who made his Music@Menlo debut last season in a blazing performance of the Franck Quintet. His program for this festival centered on the ideas of nationalism and revolution, two social phenomena that were strongly present throughout Europe during Dvořák’s lifetime. He began with two works by history’s greatest revolutionary composer, Beethoven, and both the sad stillness and bursting anger of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata were duly echoed in the work that followed, Liszt’s Funerailles. After an intermission during which all the pianists in the room said that they had better go practice, Gilles returned to perform one of the most beautiful pieces of Janáček that I have ever heard, his Sonata 1.X.1905 which mourns the death of a young Czech student, killed by pro-German forces while demonstrating for the building of Czech-speaking university. Saint-Saëns’s Africa followed, a wild, tour-de-force for the piano inspired by the composer’s trip to Egypt and Algeria. The recital concluded with Fredric Rzewski’s 1979 work titled Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues, and inspired by the poem of an anonymous cotton mill worker describing the mill’s harsh conditions, written in 1880. Gilles’s phenomenal performance of this mind-twisting work, all from memory like the rest of his recital, left all of us cheering and shaking our heads in disbelief. From Beethoven’s sophisticated late Bagatelles to Rzewski’s pictorial, jazz-infused tone poem, Gilles had covered all the bases, basically hitting it out of the park.

Gilles

Along the way, Encounter Leader Michael Parloff returned for his third consecutive Music@Menlo appearance to enlighten us on late nineteenth and early twentieth century’s composers who delved into the folk music of their native lands. As usual, Michael came prepared with a veritable galaxy of images, recordings, videos and information, streamed together seamlessly, which added up to one of the finest lectures on music that we’ve heard anywhere.

Parloff

We would have neglected a great opportunity had we not devoted an entire evening – our seventh concert program titled “Hungarica” – to the music of Dvořák’s great neighboring country, Hungary. In doing so, we proudly brought to the stage a spectacular collection of performers, some of them new to Menlo this season (cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan and violinists Nicolas Dautricourt and Alexander Sitkovetsky). Joining them were more recent additions to our main stage roster (violinist Benjamin Beilman and pianist Gloria Chien) as well as Music@Menlo veterans: violinist Jorja Fleezanis, violist Paul Neubauer, and, for good measure, Wu Han and me. The rather wild program included music by Liszt, Ligeti, Bartók, Kodály, and Dohnányi, all of it invigorating to play and hear.

Prior to our concluding performances, Encounter Leader Ara Guzelimian returned to confront a subject that few could with such passion and sensitivity: the persecution of musicians, artists, and art itself during the eras of Nazism and Communism. The story is no better illustrated than through the Czech lens, as the subjugation of Czechoslovakia by the Nazis meant not only the end of progressive Czech music, but also the negation of the country’s proud heritage, as we had heard about first-hand from William Lobkowicz, whose entire family was forced to flee their homeland twice during the 1930’s and 40’s.

Ara’s brilliantly planned and moving Encounter led us through the era with music composed in Terezín, or Theresienstadt in German, the “show camp” set up by the Nazis to try to convince the outside world that Jews were being humanely treated. Nothing could have been further from the truth, but the only positive outcome of this staged community was that it was necessary to produce art as a sign of social health, and therefore art was allowed and enabled to happen by the monstrously cruel people who ran it. The Encounter included a film clip of the late Alice Herz-Sommer, a pianist who survived Terezín and who performed one hundred and fifty concerts there. She passed away last spring in London at the age of 110, and at 109 she was still practicing the piano some three hours a day. The film made about her, called “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved my Life” won the Oscar for Best Documentary the week after she died, and is now available to watch on Netflix and can be purchased directly from the producer. In addition, I should mention that our great friend and colleague Daniel Hope recently created and hosted a documentary on Terezín called “Refuge in Music” which has been released by Deutsche Grammophon. Both films are compelling and beautifully told accounts of this sad yet inspiring chapter of human history.

Guzelimian

For our eighth and final concert program, “Bridging Dvořák”, we collected a sampling of the festival’s music and ideas, juxtaposing works that, we hoped, would truly summarize the idea of Around Dvořák. Beginning with a work by the acknowledged father of Czech music, Bedřich Smetana, we moved on to the delightful Serenade for string trio by the Hungarian Dohnányi. The centerpiece of this program, however, was undeniably the String Sextet by Erwin Schulhoff, one of the brightest lights of Czech music during the early part of the 20th century. This haunting work, which somehow presages the horrific events of World War II and Schulhoff’s own untimely death, provided our festival with its most powerful link from the colorful, mostly cheerful world that Dvořák knew, to the world of the twentieth century and the one we live in now, with ups and downs of proportions unimaginable during Dvořák’s age.

It would not have been fitting, however, to end such a joyous festival with music as disturbing as the Schulhoff, so we decided to send our listeners off with one of chamber music’s most beloved and often-heard works, Dvořák’s Piano Quintet in A Major. Joining us was pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, who headed a powerful ensemble that brought the audience to its feet, and Music@Menlo 2014 to a glowing conclusion.

Dvorak quintet

Read Full Post »

_____________________________

In David’s words
_____________________________

Monday September 15th

Prague castle view

Ever since our first visit to the exquisite city of Prague, we dreamed of sharing the incredible experiences we enjoyed there with our musical communities in New York and San Francisco. And so it was with enormous satisfaction and pride that we eventually realized that dream, appropriately soon after the conclusion of Music@Menlo’s Around Dvořák season. After duo recitals both in the north and south of Germany, we boarded a train in Munich that took us, in a state of great excitement and anticipation, directly to the main station of Prague.

On the train

train station

A total of twenty-five travelers joined us for the visit, meeting up with us at the stunning Aria Hotel in the quieter section of the city, the Mala Strana. There, we were greeted by our tour manager Peter Straus of The Grand Tour, and by Ivana Tatkova, our local guide.

Peter and Ivana

In short order, we called for the first musicians’ “faculty meeting” in our room, where we were delighted to greet our two extraordinary colleagues for the tour, violinists Sean Lee and Arnaud Sussmann, who gallantly doubled on viola, as needed.

musicians welcome

A lovely reception in the hotel’s private garden allowed us not only to greet our group on the ground, but to snap a bird’s eye view photo of them from our room, the Dvořák Suite.

Garden view

Garden group

We were fortunate to have with us as well our two Development Directors: Annie Rohan from Music@Menlo and Sharon Griffin from the Chamber Music Society, who worked tirelessly to ensure that all our travelers’ needs were met.

Wu Han and I welcomed the group over champagne and hors d’oeuvres.

WH welcome speech

We then headed out towards the nearby Charles Bridge, the most iconic of Prague’s river crossings, built in 1357 by King Charles IV.

Group sets out

WH walks with Margulies

Charles Bridge entrance

Our destination, however, was the Kampa Park restaurant, situated directly on the Moldau, where we enjoyed a festive meal and a perfect view of the bridge.

Charles Bridge view

Kampa dinner

Tuesday 16th

The next morning we set out on the dot of 9:30 am for a place Wu Han and I had heard much about but never seen: the Strahov Monastery, which overlooks Prague from up the hill behind our hotel. For this, and many other outings, we boarded a cozy bus that seemed designed to perfectly fit our group – including my cello, which always gets its own seat on planes, trains and automobiles.

Cello in bus

The monastery was founded in 1143 by a local bishop who was inspired by a trip to the Holy Lands. The main focus of our visit was the library or Theological Hall, which dates from 1679 and is truly a wondrous sight to behold. Our visit there was made all the more special as we had gained exclusive access to the library (with countless other tourists staring jealously at us through the door).

Library view 1

Library group

It was in the library that we first got a taste of Ivana’s vast knowledge of Prague’s history. This remarkable, charming and articulate woman spent virtually the entire tour with us, and I never heard her asked a question that she couldn’t answer. People like Ivana would make me consider becoming a tour guide in a next life – such is the admiration I have for them.

The library fortunately survived conflict through the centuries, as well as its secularization during the Communist regime. On the occasion of the Velvet Revolution in 1989, the monastery was returned to the religious order from which it was confiscated, and subsequent care and renovation restored it to its former glory. There is literally not a place the eye travels that it does not encounter extraordinary beauty. I especially loved looking at – and photographing – the thousands of ancient books, many bound in white leather.

Books

After recovering from the breath-taking sights in the library, the group walked past the church, through a courtyard, and upstairs to a small but perfectly formed chamber music room, the site of our first concert.

Concert room

A close inspection of the photo above will reveal a white piano facing backwards, away from the audience. None of us could figure out for what purpose it had been positioned that way, but the musicians and I (plus Peter Straus) managed to lift it and turn it around. One never knows what roles one must play during a musical career!

Our performance began with Arnaud and Wu Han reprising Dvořák’s Sonatina, Op. 100, a charming work that he composed during his stay in America. As I enjoyed the incredible view of the city from the window while listening to such gorgeous music, I must admit that pretty intense emotions suddenly caught up with me, and I doubt I was alone. Hearing great music is always an emotional experience, yet this moment was, for me and Wu Han, the culmination of years of dreaming and planning, and here it was in real time. There are really no words to describe the beauty of that moment, one that will stay with me, vividly, forever. Hearing just the first few exuberant bars of this piece, in the heart of the Bohemia so dear to Dvořák, was worth the entire trip right there.

Dvorak Sonatina

View through window

The acoustics of the room were wonderful, and the piano – a Petrof, the Czech Steinway as they are called – was well tuned, thanks to Peter’s diligent and insistent preparatory work. Following the Sonatina, Arnaud took out his viola and was joined by me, Sean and Wu Han for Mozart’s E-flat Piano Quartet. The privilege of playing Mozart in Prague – a city he loved so well and which loved him back equally – was also a great thrill and a fitting component of our musical pilgrimage.

Our fun-loving audience was delighted by the sight of Arnaud and Sean, both wearing black suits, posing as Wu Han’s bodyguards, and a large, spontaneous photo session ensued.

WH bodyguards

Photos of bodyguards

We departed the pretty room slowly and somewhat reluctantly, as we had all shared a very special hour in it. And if you are wondering: yes, we left the piano in a position suitable for the next group of deserving musicians.

After walking single-file through a tunnel under the neighboring building, we emerged onto the street outside the monastery for the short walk to the Prague Loreto.

The Prague Loreto is an ancient cloister, an intimate collection of buildings of extreme beauty sheltered from the city by high walls. Begun in 1626 as a result of the efforts of a member of the Lobkowicz family, the complex grew over several centuries and became a famous destination for pilgrimages. The central courtyard is ringed by an arcade decorated with mesmerizing paintings, many faded over time, which encloses the church and Santa Casa, the ornate building to the right which is the heart and original building of the Loreto. The interior is richly decorated and bears the Lobkowicz name prominently.

Loreto Casa

The much-larger Church of the Nativity of our Lord is visible behind the Casa, and its interior is also lavishly decorated with silver, gold, sublime paintings and a huge variety of colored marble. The church was consecrated roughly a century after the founding of the cloister.

Loreto church

After another picturesque stroll through winding cobblestone streets, we arrived at the Golden Pear for a delicious lunch. It was hard to believe we had done so much already, and it was barely 1 pm! At meals such as these, the opportunities for socializing and meeting some fellow travelers for the first time became quickly apparent. On this particular trip, literally everyone had come to experience exactly the same things, so we all had a lot in common. And, what a thrill it was for me and Wu Han to see such dear friends from both coasts come to know each other and form lasting relationships – another wonderful dream that came true in Prague during these amazing days.

Free time in the afternoon freshened us all up for our visit to Prague’s famous Rudolfinum to hear a concert by the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra (from Russia) as part of the annual Dvořák Festival.

The Rudolfinum is named for Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria, who officiated at the hall’s opening in 1885. It is one of Europe’s oldest concert halls and is the home of the Czech Philharmonic, which gave its first concert there in 1896, conducted by none other than Antonin Dvořák . The hall has fantastic acoustics, which I can attest to from experience both as a listener and performer, as well as genuine old-world charm and dignity, two qualities increasingly hard to come by today.

IMG_5889

Our group was divided in its assessment of the Prokofiev Violin Concerto which opened the program, but not one of us failed to notice that the musicians assumed on an especially lively character in the second half as they played their hearts out in Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony. Every section of the orchestra, from the double basses on up, distinguished itself, and they were justly rewarded with a rapturous reception from what we imagined must be an opinionated audience. No doubt these Russians were thrilled – as any of us would have been – to perform this great work in Dvořák’s town. And, on top of it, here we were, a group of Americans, listening in Prague to this piece that Dvořák wrote in the U. S. and dedicated to our country, played with fervor by an orchestra of Russians. It was globalization at its very best.

Wednesday 17th

As if Tuesday had not been a big day already, our group was setting its sights even higher for Wednesday, and literally so, as we headed up and up first thing in the morning to the famous Prague Castle, which dominates the Prague skyline.

Prague castle view

Seen in probably most images of Prague, the castle is as iconic and is recognizable on a level with other cities’ most famous landmark structures. It is the largest ancient castle in the world (according to the Guinness Book of World Records) and is residence of the president of the Czech Republic. Since it was built in the 9th century, it has been the seat of power for Holy Roman Emperors, kings of Bohemia, and modern leaders.

The Prague Castle is actually a collection of distinguished buildings varying greatly in size, from the massive Cathedral of St. Vitus to various palaces, churches, museums, and smaller dwellings. The castle contains buildings of virtually every architectural style of the last one thousand years.

A whirlwind tour expertly guided by Ivana brought us all together at noon at one of the trip’s prime destinations and focal points: the Lobkowicz Palace, the Prague family seat of our friends William and Alexandra Lobkowicz and their three extraordinary children.

William Lobkowicz is technically the thirteenth Lobkowicz prince and the heir to all of the family’s holdings in the Czech Republic. A visit to the family’s web site (http://www.lobkowicz.cz/en/) will provide a detailed history of this noble Bohemian family, which dates back to the 14th century.

Our interaction with the Lobkowicz family, however, is centered around the seventh Prince, Joseph Franz Maximilian (1772-1816), who was one of history’s most passionate and dedicated music patrons. A serious amateur musician himself (there was little distinction in those days between amateur and professional) he also had exceedingly good taste, choosing to commission the likes of Haydn and Beethoven, among others, with spectacular results.

The story of the Lobkowicz family has too many incredible chapters to relate here. The dramatic loss of their possessions twice, during and after the Second World War, and their recovery after the Velvet Revolution, is simply one of history’s most thrilling and remarkable stories. And making it all the more vivid is the personal relationship we now enjoy with present family, who are wholly responsible for saving and preserving one of the great historic collections of the world.

Our audiences in both New York and California have been treated to visits from the Lobkowicz family, who came to be honored, to share their incredible history past and present, and to hear us perform music by Beethoven and Haydn which would simply not exist without their ancestor’s vision and generosity. The family joined us in July, during their visit to Music@Menlo, for drinks on the porch of our Music@Menlo summer home.

William and Sandra and DFWH in Menlo

For our Music@Menlo audience especially, who had only last summer become accustomed to seeing William, in shorts and moccasins, playing Ping-Pong on the Menlo School lawn, it was quite a moment when he strode into the elegant dining room in the palace to welcome us to his, well, totally awesome home, the only privately-owned property within the Prague Castle.

William greets

After giving us the briefest history of his family and the castle, William and Alexandra, who are always extremely busy taking care of business and visitors, graciously joined us for the entire lunch, answering the inevitably numerous questions that came their way.

William at lunch

Alexandra

The sumptuous lunch…

lunch

…was followed by a mind-blowing tour of the palace. The Prague palace is one of the four castles that the family still owns and maintains, having sold or donated to the state eleven others that technically became theirs after the fall of the Communist regime.

The family chose to use the Prague Castle – its most frequently-visited holding- to reveal both the incredible story of the family and to display some of the most prominent treasures of their collection. So while walking the many rooms containing paintings by artists such as Canaletto, Breughel and Velasquez, music manuscripts by Beethoven, family china services dating back centuries, arms, armor and tons more, one learns the story of the family, all eloquently narrated by William himself on the audio guide. While it is indeed overwhelming to hear their story and look at their possessions, the unpretentious, humble and dedicated Lobkowicz family members of today truly make visitors feel welcome on a personal level. Their mission – to preserve and share the enormous slice of Czech history in their stewardship – is communicated clearly and with passion, and it actually makes you wonder if there’s some way you could help.

Dazzled by the incomparable experience of the day, we returned to rest for our Moldau dinner cruise. The quaint little boat, manned by a quintessential old-style ship captain and crew, sailed the river while we drank a lot of wine, tasted a huge selection of nibbles, and took many pictures of the incredible city views from mid-river, at sunset and into the night.

boat food

swimming geese

Sean drinks

Prague at night

Thursday 18th

To say that the 18th was the BIGGEST DAY of this tour is a statement that would cause no disagreement among our group. I’m talking about “big” in terms of not only the amount we all saw and did, but also recognizing the unbelievable stamina of the entire group, from patrons to musicians to organizers, which plowed through a wondrous wealth of experiences with a concentration and enthusiasm that was truly amazing.

Leaving the hotel promptly at 9:00am, we enjoyed a picturesque coach trip into the countryside, arriving at another Lobkowicz castle, Roudnice, at about 10:30. Roudnice (pronounced ROAD-nitz-e to the best of my knowledge) was a large family seat of the family, and by large I mean that the property is bigger than the entire Prague Castle (not just the Lobkowicz palace). The castle is four centuries old and has 250 rooms (this is a good moment both to wonder how William and his wife manage to take care of such a place, let alone the others, and to better understand why William told us that “castles are great places to give away”).

Roudnice entrance

The castle is only partly restored, and had all of it been accessible, we wouldn’t have made it anywhere else for the rest of the day. The place is huge. The mammoth central courtyard, which used to hold gardens…

Roudnice courtyard

…literally dwarfed our group as we stood marveling at the size and scale of this house that was once the Princely and Ducal seat of the family.

group in courtyard

We had a good look at the beautifully restored chapel and a couple of other rooms, including a beautifully-perched balcony on the rear side which overlooks the little town. But a main focus of our visit was what happened underneath the massive castle: the production of the Roudnice Lobkowicz Winery.

wine cellar

During the tour of the dungeon-like basement, we got a look at some of the ancient Romanesque foundations, as well as a view of the remains of a hapless one-time resident.

old foundations

skeleton

A brief walk around the castle walls led us to the Lobkowicz Winery tasting room, where lavish and voluminous cheese plates and way-too-much wine awaited us. Lunch, by the way, was still to come.

wine tasting 2

wine tasting 1

After about an hour of uninhibited eating and drinking, we boarded the bus in various states of consciousness, which unified themselves rather quickly into a solid group nap on the way to our next destination.

When we got to where we were going, what a wake-up call we had: the house where Dvořák was born.

Dvorak house

In this little town of Nelahozeves, about 20 minutes outside Prague, two of the principal arms of this tour linked together in the most extraordinary way. For not only were we in the room where Dvořák was born, but we looked out the window at yet another Lobkowicz castle. And, as we entered the little house to visit and play some music, in the door behind us came William himself, whose family, unbelievably, also owns this historic Dvořák house.

William in house

Sean and Wu Han and I quickly set up around the grand piano, and after a couple of introductory words, we played one of the most magical movements Dvořák ever composed: the third movement of his incomparable “Dumky” Trio. In our audience was not only William Lobkowicz, but also the eminent musicologist, author and Dvořák expert David Beveridge, an American resident of Prague, who served as one of Music@Menlo’s Encounter leaders last summer. Within the first notes of piece, we all knew once again that we were in the midst of a defining moment of the trip, privileged through our relationships and connections to be a part of something that few others must have ever enjoyed. To say it was unforgettable is of course an understatement, and once again, there are no words that can adequately describe the experience.

Dumky in house

Before we left the house, Wu Han coaxed Chamber Music Society board member and serious pianist Paul Gridley to join her for an impromptu reading of some four-hand music by Dvořák. His fellow travelers were amazed and delighted.

Gridley plays

Dvořák’s father was the town butcher and ran a small tavern as well. A few steps across the street from the house is the tiny church where Dvořák first performed music.

Church corner

Dvořák was baptized in the font to the right of David Beveridge, who spoke to us about Dvořák’s early life in this most contextual of settings.

Dvorak chapel

A few more steps behind the chapel, next to the Moldau River, runs the train line that was built during Dvořák’s childhood and from which, it is assumed, he developed his fascination with trains. The line was the first to connect Dresden and Prague. The corner of the Lobkowicz palace is visible to the right.

Train tracks

There was time for a quick musician portrait in front of Dvořák’s house before boarding the bus for the palace.

musicians outside house

The Dvořák birth house sits on a small street that leads directly to the imposing Lobkowicz Palace.

House street view

As one approaches the palace, its magnificence overwhelms, as it must have all the residents of this tiny town since it was built in the 16th century.

Palace

A grand courtyard greets visitors after they pass over the drawbridge and through a tunnel.

Nela courtyard

Although we were all anxious to tour the palace, another sumptuous meal awaited us, accompanied by plentiful Lobkowicz wine, and served elegantly by waiters wearing white gloves. Everywhere you looked, there were beautiful paintings to stare at, often depicting the surrounding area.

lunch at Nela

I remembered the palace well, as several years earlier William had showed me through it himself. I dutifully respected the staff’s request for no photos and all I can say is that one must go there anyway to really absorb the experience. The family very smartly chose to set this palace up as a model of how they lived there in the 19th century. The stunning exhibition, titled Private Spaces: A Noble Family at Home, is beautifully executed, with contiguous rooms allowing us to be inside the elegant dining room, the bedrooms, smoking room, drawing room, family chapel and rooms devoted to hunting and the arms required, a necessary pastime for a family subsisting off the land.

Through the music room window, the Dvořák house is perfectly framed below. It is more than likely that the Lobkowicz family purchased meat and goods from Dvořák’s father.

view of Dv house

Our guided tour included a special presentation of important musical items from the vast collection, including a letter from Beethoven, held in front of us close enough to touch (but we resisted).

Manuscript lecture 2

It was at about this time that Wu Han and I began to receive signals from our tour organizers that we had fallen pretty far behind schedule. It was almost impossible to draw our travelers – especially the musicians – away from the music collection, but we needed to get back to the hotel to change and prepare ourselves for the evening’s concert at Vila Amerika.

That never happened. Traffic was such that by the time we got into Prague the sun was just dipping behind the famous church towers of the Town Square.

sunset

A unanimous decision was taken to forego the refreshing and head directly to the Vila Amerika for the concert. We had our instruments with us anyway, and at this point, nothing to lose.

Vila Amerika, an ornate Baroque residence once the site of numerous high-society activity, now houses the Antonin Dvořák Museum, which was established there in 1932.

Villa Amerika

The museum contains many important documents and artifacts, such as Dvořák’s own piano.

Dvorak's piano

The concert took place in a beautiful room on the second floor, where we soothed our tired travelers with the Brahms e minor cello sonata and the complete Dvořák  Dumky Trio, for which Sean Lee joined us, playing magnificently without even a moment’s warm up.

concert Villa A

Thankfully, the bus awaited us for transport to our beautiful hotel for a much-needed night’s sleep.

Friday, September 19

Rehearsals and private practice obligations necessarily deprive us musicians of the total tour experience, and we are forced to pick and choose what to see and what must wait until our hopefully eventual return to the many incredible places our tours and cruises take us. Friday’s activities constituted an all-day walking tour of the Prague city center, and I elected to only take part in a portion in order to devote time to the cello and the music I would be performing. Therefore, I apologize that my blog of a tour is never quite complete, but I do try to make up the difference when I can.

The portion of the walk that I joined wound through small streets with hidden surprises, such as this hotel where Beethoven had stayed. Such are the amazing discoveries to be made, over and over again, in this incredible city.

Arnaud and Beethoven

As we crossed the storied Charles Bridge, we looked up again, in amazement, at the Prague Castle, and the imposing palace of the Lobkowicz family, where we had dined with William and Alexandra, and where we would return for our final concert and dinner on Sunday (the yellow portion on the far right with the red pointed tower is the Lobkowicz Palace).

Prague castle view

The one portion of the day that I just couldn’t miss was the private tour of the Estates Theater (the name “Estates” refers to the Enlightenment sentiment that all classes of society (estates) should be afforded access to privileges such as cultural entertainment). This magnificent 18th century theater is one of the world’s prime musical sight-seeing destinations, chiefly because of the presence of Mozart and the historic performances of his operas, including the world premieres of Don Giovanni and La Clemenza di Tito.

Estates theater

The inside is like a jewel box, and it’s absolutely incredible to sit in it, imagining Mozart right there in front of you on the podium. We were lucky to enjoy our own private tour of the historic theater.

Estates lecture

The ceiling and the ornate box seat enclosures are enough to take your breath away.

Estates ceiling

Upon leaving the theater, we got word from our music-historian-in-residence David Beveridge that our pleas to be admitted to the manuscript collection of the Dvořák Museum had been answered in the positive. So David Beveridge, Sean, Arnaud, Wu Han and I abandoned the group (and what was apparently an amazing lunch) to rush back across the Charles Bridge to the museum. We had just enough time to see what we wanted to see before the museum closed at 3:00 pm. (In order to do this, we also had to forsake what we heard was a fascinating guided tour of the Jewish Quarter and cemetery in the Old Town.)

This visit to the museum was the direct consequence of my having been there two years prior, also at the instigation of David Beveridge (who is known and respected by the staff) during which Philip Setzer and I studied the manuscripts to Dvořák’s Dumky and f minor piano trios, and I the famous, incomparable Cello Concerto. That was a peak experience that I had vowed to repeat, next time in the company of Wu Han and more musician colleagues, and I’m immensely gratified to say that on this day, my dream came true.

Under the watchful eye of David, we cautiously removed the precious manuscripts from their boxes.

Removing from boxes

Protective gloves are required procedure for anyone touching this music: These were the actual composition scores. You can see where Dvořák changed this and that as he went along, and recorded the dates that he began and finished each movement. Wu Han looked at the manuscript of the Sonatina for Violin and Piano, composed during Dvořák’s American visit, in reverent astonishment.

Violin sonatina

The discoveries one makes upon seeing the original manuscript of a composer can be life-changing. The excitement in the room was at fever pitch, as one of us poured over Dvořák’s Violin Concerto, another over his “American” Quintet, and me over the “American” string quartet, a piece I must have played a thousand times. One can only imagine the thrill I had holding the papers onto which those now-beloved ideas were first set down. We all agreed on one point as we left: as fantastic and multi-faceted as the trip had been so far, the experience we shared with Dvořák’s music in that little room would have been, for us, enough reason to make the journey right there. We all realized that we were, that afternoon, four very lucky and privileged musicians, and for that I must again thank David Beveridge for making this extraordinary moment possible.

After the briefest of stops back at our hotel, we headed out again to the National Theater (opened in 1881) for a performance of Dvořák’s most famous and often-performed opera, Rusalka, composed in 1900.  Once again, we were in an historic performance space, where the young free-lancer Dvořák had played viola in the orchestra under the direction of the “father” of Czech music, Bedřich Smetana (Dvořák had previously played viola in the Estates Theater orchestra as well).

A Rusalka is a kind of un-dead mermaid, living on the bottom of the river, who comes ashore at night and lures men to their deaths. They are, according to some legends, women who have died prematurely under tragic circumstances who return among the living to seek justice or revenge. In Dvořák’s opera, Rusalka falls in love with a prince who is hunting near her lake and all I’ll say is that it doesn’t turn out too well for him in the end. Dvořák’s music, however, is mature and masterful, this being his final creation for the stage at the height of his maturity. The evening proved to be yet another incomparable experience in a string of many since our arrival only five days earlier.

Saturday, 20th

Once again, regrettably, I had to stay back to practice for our final concert the next day, but our curious and tireless group headed out again in the morning to the Old Town for more sightseeing.

The group’s first stop was Wenceslas Square, and then to the Mucha Museum, as in Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939), the definitive Art Nouveau artist. The group then continued to the iconic Municipal House, the location of Smetana Hall and also the famous restaurant Francouska, where an elegant lunch was served.

The entire building is an Art Nouveau treasure, down to every detail. Opened in 1905, it is filled with mosaics, stained glass, sculptures and glass domed ceilings. Originally constructed as a civic building, the place is now a tourist and concert-goer’s destination. Sean Lee shared some of his photos with me which are stunning:

20140920_063546

20140920_062334

That evening, the group returned to the Estates Theater for a performance of The Marriage of Figaro, composed by Mozart in 1786 and premiered in Vienna in the same year, to a moderately appreciative audience. Later in 1786, however, it was presented in Prague to frenzied acclaim. No wonder Mozart loved this city and its people and musicians! Such was its popularity that music fans in Prague actually pooled their money to pay the composer’s way to visit and hear the production, which is what Mozart actually did, finally conducting one of the performances himself. Although we automatically think of Dvořák when Prague is mentioned, it pays to remember that almost a century before Dvořák , the famous Austrian composer set a standard for composition that has rarely been challenged, and in some ways, never equaled. Brahms called Figaro “a miracle”, and prophesied that nothing like it would ever be done again. How right he was. By all accounts, the performance was well done, and once again, I wish I had gone!

Sunday, 21
As our final day crept us on us, all too soon, our group, including the musicians, were in a state of high anticipation for the festivities of our last evening. A concert at the Lobkowicz Palace in the Prague Castle would be followed by dinner there as well, and we knew that once again, as had happened so many times during the week, we were about to experience something unique and incomparable and, for us, unprecedented.

Upon the musicians’ early arrival at the palace for rehearsal, we were stunned by the beauty of the Music Room, watched over by the definitive portrait of Josef Franz Maximilian Lobkowicz himself.

Music Room

Josef

Upon emerging from our dressing room (which happened to be the palace chapel) into our gathering audience, I was confronted with an absolutely astounding sight.

Antonin

Talking to Wu Han and David Beveridge was the grandson of Dvořák himself, also named Antonin. If there was ever a spitting image of anyone, it is him.

I think we all experienced a shocking, out-of-body experience in his presence. Especially in the period setting of the palace, it was like talking to Dvořák the composer. David Beveridge graciously introduced him, and our crowd, me included, simply couldn’t stop staring at him in disbelief as he treated us to a charming little greeting speech, in accomplished English, just like his grandfather.

David introduces

Dvorak talks
Dvorak talks 2

As soon as it was determined that Antonin III was not only accessible but lovable, he was besieged by the group, and I must say, looked very happy. There was not a soul in the room who didn’t want to get close to him and have their picture taken with someone named Antonin Dvořák, in the heart of Prague, and who can blame them?

Dvorak besieged

I finally gathered everyone for a group shot, and, not to be left out, “photoshopped” myself in later.

Group shot

The musicians quickly ducked out and back into our ornate warmup room to get ready for the concert. Sean and Arnaud were appropriately inspired by our surroundings.

Warmup

It was quite a setting for the musicians: Josef Franz Maximilian Lobkowicz watching us from the back, and Antonin Dvořák III a few feet away in the front row. There are times when we can all sense an experience of a lifetime, and this was definitely one of mine. David Beveridge spoke about the music we were to perform: Smetana’s heart-rending Piano Trio, and Dvořák’s beloved Piano Quartet.

Josef behind us

Dvorak in front row

To the best of my knowledge, the concert went off without a hitch. Our colleagues Arnaud and Sean performed magnificently, as they had in every instance on the tour despite its hectic schedule. They are artists in the truest sense of the word: great instrumentalists, deeply committed and probing musicians, and two of the nicest people and dearest friends we’ve ever had.

We are used to greeting well-wishers after concerts, but this sight will remain among the most moving memories of my entire life. To think she had, moments before the photo was taken, performed one of his grandfather’s greatest chamber works.

Dvorak and WH

Group portraits like this don’t happen every day. Notice that even Prince No. 7 is in there as well.

Musicians and Dvorak

We moved to the next room, which was set up for dinner.

dinner speeches

No matter what room you are in at the palace, you are surrounded by portraits of William’s family. The presence of family is strong among them: William and Alexandra’s daughters and son refer to their family as “we”, saying things like “During the French Revolution, we did….”

Speeches began to acknowledge those who had contributed so much to our trip. Among them was Peter Straus, head of The Grand Tour travel company (www.thegrandtour.com) which organized everything and did a spectacular job. Peter’s company specializes in cultural touring and we were lucky to have the personal attention of Peter himself on our tour.

Peter Straus

During a break between courses, Antonin came over to our table with small gift for us.

Antonin hands photo

It was a copy of a rare photo of him seated with his Grandmother, the composer’s wife.

Dvorak wife

He then backed up, whipped out his camera and took my picture. I can now tell people that Antonin Dvořák took a picture of me and I’m telling the truth. How cool is that?

Antonin takes my picture

There were a lot of long goodbyes at the end of this dinner, among them a heartfelt one between us and Antonin. He asked “May I call you David?” to which I responded “Yes, and may I call you Antonin?” putting me on a first-name basis with Antonin Dvořák. I guess I can only excuse my obsession with this gentleman as based on my tremendous love and reverence for his grandfather’s music, for all the pleasure (and work!) it has provided me during my life, and that perhaps, because of the setting, uncanny resemblance, and identical name, well, it was like talking to the composer himself.

Dvorak goodbye

Before closing this long blog, I owe thanks and recognition to many. First goes to our dedicated travelers, who joined us so enthusiastically and tirelessly for a whirlwind week. Here they all are, table by table:

Table 1

Table 2

Table 3

Table 4

In addition, I’d like to thank:

David Beveridge, who supplied us with privileged information, connections, insight and his personable company, cannot be thanked enough. He provided an essential scholarly element for which there is no substitute, and did a magnificent job.

Annie Rohan (Music@Menlo) and Sharon Griffin (CMS), who bore lions’ shares of communication with our travelers and were there, tirelessly, to assist during our tour with every need our patrons had.

Alexandra and William Lobkowicz, for opening their residences to us for special access, authorizing and providing for extra talks and informative exhibits, and for our continued friendship and mutual interests in music and the Lobkowicz legacy. The wonderfully helpful staffs of the Lobkowicz locations – Prague Castle, Roudnice and Nelahozeves – were equally essential in making our visit extraordinary.

Our colleagues Sean Lee and Arnaud Sussmann: I can’t imagine playing with more wonderful musicians and better friends. They inspired us all beyond words.

Although the amazing week came to a sudden end, the resonance of the visit to Prague is still ringing loud and clear in my head, and I imagine in many others as well. All during the fall season, Wu Han and I have been receiving thanks and compliments and testimony from those who were with us. It was our first music tour project, designed by us in collaboration with Peter Straus and his company, and was inspired directly by our own extraordinary experiences in Prague, our wonderful relationship with the Lobkowicz family, our working friendship with David Beveridge, and of course our intimate involvement with the music of the great Czech composers. It was an enormously gratifying experience, and it has inspired us to dream of what we might do next in this vein. Certainly, it’s a new product line for me and Wu Han, in addition to performing, programming and teaching, but no one seems surprised at our restlessness and willingness to extend ourselves into new territory for something in which we believe so strongly.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »