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WH announces

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In David’s words
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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

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Lead photo

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In David’s words
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We arrived in Aspen on a beautifully sunny Saturday afternoon, excited as always but especially tired: we had left the CMS cruise in Dubrovnik the morning before.

Dubrovnik

After flights through Zürich, New York, and Denver (with a hectic overnight at home) we somehow made it to Aspen in one piece.

Waiting for us at 7pm that evening were the four ensembles from our Chamber Music Studio. This special program, inaugurated by us last summer, serves four chamber groups comprised of Aspen Festival and School students. The students are selected by us through their festival applications, and each has specifically requested inclusion in our program. Already, this opportunity has become very competitive, and the final choices are tough to make. Once we have selected the players, we group them and assign them their repertoire. The four pianists and four cellists also study with us privately during the program.

Joining us this year were pianists Adria Ye (who was in the program last summer), Carmen Knoll, Hewen Ma and Angie Zhang; violinists Will Hagen (also with us last summer), Julia Choi, Amy Blackburn and Fedor Ouspensky; violist Jossalyn Jensen, and cellists Sarina Zhang (with us last summer as a pianist), Zlatomir Fung, Erik Wheeler and Yin Xiong.

The ensemble of Carmen Knoll, Will Hagen, Jossalyn Jensen and Zlatomir Fung tackled Dvorak’s beloved Piano Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 87, composed in 1889 just before his iconic “Dumky” Trio.

Dv lesson 11

Adria Ye, Amy Blackburn and Sarina Zhang were assigned Brahms’s Trio No. 2 in C major, Op. 87, a robust work demanding full romantic sound coupled with classical style integrity, composed in 1882 when Brahms was forty-nine years old.

Brahms 1

Angie Zhang, Fedor Ouspensky and Yin Xiong delved into Beethoven’s Trio in D major Op. 70 No. 1, known as the “Ghost”. This quirky, striking work is the first of Beethoven’s two trios composed in the summer of 1808 and published as Op. 70 in 1809.

LVB lesson 4

Hewen Ma, Julia Choi and Erik Wheeler were assigned Mendelssohn’s Trio No. 2 in c minor, composed in 1845 only two years before his untimely death. It is by far the more technically challenging and emotionally complex of Mendelssohn’s two piano trios.

Mend 1

Our first session that Saturday evening allowed us not only to meet our students in person, but also to hear each group run through their assigned work from beginning to end. The fact that each of them could do so is not only a testament to their collective talent but also to early individual preparation and the three rehearsals each ensemble had had prior to our arrival. We knew, therefore, that the first two lessons of workshop had already taken place: one, always arrive at a chamber music rehearsal with your part learned, and two, solve as many problems as you can before taking your piece to your teacher.

Although every group did well in their first performance for us, we made many mental notes on what each ensemble – and each individual – would need to accomplish in order to bring these great works to higher levels by July 14th, the day of the workshop’s closing concert.

The Festival’s scheduled “chamber blocks” – times during the week when no orchestral rehearsals take place and therefore all students are free for chamber music work – provide no where near enough time for us to work at the level of detail necessary. Our model for this workshop was inspired by our many teaching experiences in the Isaac Stern Chamber Music Encounters, during which ensembles received coachings at least every other day, sometimes lasting for several hours. All the cell phones came out, and group by group, we more or less tripled their expected coaching sessions.

Scheduliing

For the groups, it meant a lot more absorption in the pieces, and a fairly constant stream of input from us, often being reminded of habits that needed to be changed. For us, it meant a much greater chance of hearing the results we were determined to achieve, albeit at the expense of hiking, playing tennis, swimming, socializing, and going to concerts – the activities most eager visitors to Aspen enjoy in abundance. But Wu Han and I are simply not made that way, and as these incredibly talented young musicians put themselves in our hands, all our thoughts turned to helping them achieve their best, and to shaping the next great interpretations of their assigned masterpieces of chamber music.

A good life in music, however, should not be devoid of life’s greatest pleasures, and, to that end, we invited our students early on to gather at our condo for Chinese food and a chance to relax and get to know one another.

Chinese food

Socializing

Wu Han and I also had other obligations, such as an interview on NPR’s Performance Today with our good friend Fred Child, held in the Irving and Joan Harris Concert Hall’s broadcast booth.

Fred Child

We manage to catch up with Fred every six months or so, and there seem to be always new projects to discuss, as well as the music we have our fingers in at the moment. In this interview, Fred asked us probing questions about the essence of chamber music performance. Fred is a great host, perhaps now America’s most familiar radio voice in classical music, and he’s earned that position through a combination of his very personal passion for the arts, his infectious enthusiasm and love of people, and an impressive knowledge of music.

After our talk, we emerged into the glorious Aspen daylight for a portrait next to a babbling stream, in front of a concert hall that carries special meaning for us: I, with the Emerson Quartet, played the first notes in the hall during the summer of 1993 while the hall was still under construction, and Wu Han and I made the first recording in the hall soon after, of the complete Beethoven Sonatas and Variations, for ArtistLed. Moreover, we are fortunate to count Joan Harris and her late husband Irving among our most treasured friends.

Fred Child outdoors

In between our closely-scheduled obligations in Aspen we always find time for some fun.

Troublemaker

The very first days of our stay in Aspen also included a recital in Harris Concert Hall with violinist Philip Setzer, in which we performed some of our own favorite trio repertoire: Beethoven’s Op. 1 No. 2, Shostakovich’s Trio No. 2 in e minor, and Dvorak’s “Dumky” Trio, works we had been performing extensively during the prior season. It’s always a pleasure to bring our best work to the discriminating Aspen audience, which includes not only astute music lovers but our students and fellow faculty and performers as well.

With that performance past, it was time for us to focus intensively on our young ensembles. We are fortunate to have access to the distinguished faculty of the Aspen Music Festival and School, as well as guest artists, all of whom we invite to contribute their insight and experience in our coachings. This summer, we were joined by violinists Masao Kawasaki, Robert Lipsett and Daniel Hope; violist James Dunham; and pianists Anton Nel and Rita Sloan, and you will see them at a work in many of the following photos.

Anton giggles

 

 

Hope, DF, Kawasaki, WH

Each work studied in this workshop poses different challenges, and I’ll go through them one by one, accompanied by photos from our many sessions with each.

Beethoven’s “Ghost” Trio is perhaps his most famous, undoubtedly because of its unforgettable name, which was not Beethoven’s idea but rather somehow got attached to it permanently. It is not inappropriate, however, as the slow movement is one of the most eerie in all of classical music. It is said that Beethoven was considering writing an opera on Shakespeare’s Macbeth at the time, and this seems perfectly plausible.

What makes this trio so difficult to play are the incredible contrasts found within its three movements. Why Beethoven chose to write only three – after having written his Opus 1 trios with four movements each – is a mystery to us, but certainly we feel nothing is missing from this incredible work.

 

The first movement is Beethoven at his most famously unpredictable: stopping and starting abruptly, alternately raucous and mysterious, jumping from one key to another. One can imagine the great composer totally high on coffee – his most famous addiction – his eyes popping from his head as they seem to do in several famous portraits.

Beethoven demands a special kind of virtuosity of which we went to lengths to explain, and this presents huge challenges for us performers: his music is often composed neither to feel comfortable nor even sound comfortable. We instinctively strive to make music in a natural way, but so often with Beethoven, the dynamic and tempo markings he insists on, let alone the notes themselves, are almost impossible to execute.

But the lesson here is that Beethoven was a composer and a human being for whom struggle and conquering were the essence of life itself. We are convinced that these qualities are what connect his music so powerfully to such a huge audience. I personally find Beethoven the most human of all the composers, the one I can relate to most immediately, and for sure, my first choice to meet if I could journey back to his time.
LVB 2

The slow movement is, for me, one of the most difficult pieces to play in the entire chamber music literature. Some of the hardest works I’ve played – the Bartok String Quartet No. 5, the Korngold Quintet – I promise are easier for me. Not that they are easy, but they are more conquerable than this single page, which looks so simple on paper. Such are the wonders and joys of great music!

The slowness, the tension, the mystery, the frightening outbursts combine to produce a movement of unsurpassed drama. Probably, this movement required as much coaching time as its other two movements combined.

LVB 3

The finale is a joyful race of relentless energy, the strings exchange fragments of melody accompanied by blindingly fast scales, arpeggios and passagework in the piano. Angie Zhang (who during our workshop performed as winner of the festival’s Mozart Concerto competition) performed her demanding part with great virtuosity, supported by lots of attention from Wu Han.

Angie

Moving along chronologically, the next piano trio in our program of chamber music masterpieces was Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 2 in c minor, composed when he was thirty-six years of age, six years after he completed his first trio. Like the first trio, this is a turbulent, four movement work that makes enormous demands on the performers.

Mend 6

Mendelssohn was one of history’s most prodigiously gifted musicians. A child prodigy in a class with Mozart, he was composing some of his finest music by the age of sixteen. He played the violin well enough to lead orchestras, mastered ancient languages, knew philosophy and literature well enough to converse with Goethe, was the finest organist of his time, founded the Leipzig Conservatory, and the list goes on. To say that nothing was difficult for Mendelssohn would be something of an understatement.

Mend 8

The enormity of his talent is reflected not only in the genius of his compositions but also in the difficulty of his piano writing. What was probably child’s play for him represents hours and days of patient and methodical work for even the most accomplished pianists of our time. It therefore fell on this trio’s pianist, Hewen Ma, to not only learn her notes thoroughly (which she did) but also figure out how to balance her extreme number of notes with the two string parts, something only the most experienced, sensitive and accomplished pianists can do.

 

Mend 2

Fortunately, Hewen had two players of tremendous capacity as her partners: violinist Julia Choi and cellist Erik Wheeler. For them, it was a challenge of projecting their parts with passion while at the same time maintaining Mendelssohn’s exquisite sense of taste and respect for classical sensibility (Mendelssohn is considered a true connector of the Classic and Romantic ages in music).

Mend 4

Doing so, for the string players, meant many things: working on sound production, down to the tiniest details of vibrato; ensuring that the fingerings and bowings for literally every note of the work were optimal; knowing how soft one can play when called for; and looking very carefully at the composer’s markings.

Mend 7

It was wonderful to witness how this work grew and blossomed in their hands, from an already-impressive run-through the first day to a glowing, touching interpretation that had the audience on its feet instantly at their final performance.

Mend 3

Next on our program was the Trio No.2 in C major by Johannes Brahms. Brahms composed three piano trios, and, as he never let anything escape his desk that didn’t meet his standards, each one is a true masterpiece of the chamber music literature. The C major – as its key implies – is by far the most joyous and free-spirited among the set.

Our extraordinary ensemble for this trio consisted of Adria Ye, pianist, Amy Blackburn, violinist, and Sarina Zhang, cellist.

Brahms 4

It is sometimes said that one has to become of a certain age before being able to play Brahms easily. I do believe that to some degree this is true, especially in the case of a composer whose music embodies the effects of profound life experiences, heavy responsibilities, and in Brahms’s case especially, an uncompromising, un-frivolous nature.

Brahms 8

Our young and vivacious trio presented us initially with a fleet-footed, transparent interpretation, which immediately prompted all kinds of visual imagery from us: the enormous, slow-moving, pot-bellied, beer-drinking and sausage-eating Brahms, sitting in Vienna’s famous Prater enjoying the food, the folk music, and enjoying the scenery.

It’s easy to ask people to play faster, slower, louder and softer, and to do all manner of things instrumentally, but unless the musician’s own imagination is engaged, unless a sound or idea is conceived of by them, then the information doesn’t really become a part of them.

Brahms 2

This trio had no problem playing the notes, but needed to get themselves into that very special Brahmsian world: his deep connection to Beethoven, his affinity for Hungarian music, his respect for “absolute” music that needs no stories to help it (Brahms never wrote “program” music like Strauss or Liszt).

Brahms 5

Yet, this trio has wonderful moments which are carefree and should bring smiles to our faces.

Brahms 9
Brahms 7

The weight and thickness of the “Brahms tone” (as one might call it) demands special work from both string players and pianists. For pianists, it has a lot to do with posture, voicing and pedaling (as I learned from listening to Wu Han and her pianist colleagues talk). And for the strings, it has much to do with developing a rich, healthy vibrato, and often slowing the bow so as to extract the maximum resonance from the instrument by playing close to the bridge (the “sounding point” in violin language).

But of course, those sound qualities must be in the imagination of the performer in order to happen. Eventually they can happen, once a musician has heard themselves make the right sound enough times to recall and reproduce it.

Brahms also requires special rhythmic integrity: you can’t play his works with the abandon or whimsy required of his mentor Schumann, for example, so one needs to combine for Brahms the strongest structures of the Classical style with the sensuousness of the Romantic era. And we must say: this ensemble totally absorbed what seemed for them to be a new interpretive ethic, so much so that by the time of the performance they truly owned the piece. We were astonished, delighted, and very proud of them.

And finally, our concert ended with the magnificent Piano Quartet in E-flat major by Dvorak. Composed in 1889, only a couple of years before his departure to America (to lead the National Conservatory) this piano quartet is Bohemian to the core, with an occasional nod to Brahms and the elegance of Vienna, especially in its waltz-like third movement.

Our group was populated with known quantities, high recommendations, and complete surprises: Will Hagen, the wonderful violinist who last year performed Dvorak’s Dumky Trio in our program, returned for yet more Dvorak, bringing with him his great spirit, eagerness and instrumental talent to burn. Highly recommended was violist Jossalyn Jensen who proved herself quickly with expert ensemble sensibility and a soulful sound perfect for the piece; cellist Zlatomir Fung was sent to us by his teacher, the already-legendary Richard Aaron, with the highest praise, and this extraordinary young cellist lived up to every expectation; and pianist Carmen Knoll, a last minute replacement for an injured Fei-Fei Dong (who has since recovered), was a great discovery for us all. A natural pianist and musician of extraordinary ability, she seems born to play music and is a totally captivating young artist.

Dv lesson 11

The Dvorak Quartet is one of chamber music’s most popular works, and with that kind of familiarity, every group has to simply try to outdo the last one that played it. I have run my own performing life just that way (and had my expected share of disappointments and frustrations) but that kind of striving – especially for such talented young people – is a healthy thing, as you are really only competing with yourself. If you set your expectations higher than anyone imagines, you are more likely to please the majority, even if you feel you fell short.

Dv lesson 4

When playing any over-the-top Romantic era work, one has to be careful not to become so excited as to lose perspective and control. If anyone should lose control it should be our listeners! So with this ensemble we worked carefully on, for example: the gradation of crescendos to achieve maximum impact; the subtleties of vibrato and color that can touch peoples’ hearts; and the judicious balancing of the instruments so that everything could be clearly heard even in the most complex passages.

Dv lesson 3

In addition, each movement of this marvelous piece has a different character. The first is exuberant and serious, classically constructed perhaps the most like Brahms of any in the piece, and benefits from a steady tempo. The second is peaceful love song, intoned by the cello, interrupted by two turbulent storms. It’s a perfect depiction of many real-life relationships, and one of the most touching pieces Dvorak ever wrote.

Dv lesson 5

The third movement is a like a waltz-fantasy, with touches of exotic, Middle Eastern-style melodies, and a middle section, announced by a buzzing tremolo in the viola, that turns into a very wild ride. After a welcome recapitulation of the opening waltz, the movement concludes with a soulful cello statement.

Dv lesson 8

The finale is a vibrant peasant dance, in a stormy minor mode, which soon breaks into the sunshine with a loving, major-key second subject, and, for good measure, Dvorak throws in an additional theme to close the exposition in which both violin and viola soar to impassioned heights in truly memorable fashion.

 

During the week prior to the performance, we brought this Dvorak ensemble to be interviewed on Aspen Public Radio by host Chris Mohr. Chris expertly drew out their thoughts on the workshop experience, and it was fun for us to take a step back and hear, for the first time, what they have learned.

KJAX

In addition, Wu Han and I also presented a master class in Harris Concert Hall – always part of our Aspen residency – where we worked with three cello-piano duos on sonatas by Debussy, Brahms and Rachmaninov.

Before we knew it, the final concert was upon us. Because of the intensity of Harris Concert Hall’s schedule, we had to have a separate dress rehearsal for each ensemble – not ideal, but we managed.

LVB dress

The dress rehearsal in the hall is perhaps the most important session of the program, for it is only then that the real balances, tempi, articulations and other details can receive their final adjustments. And there were many, which is as true for seasoned professionals as it is for students.

Mend dress

In general, a hall with good resonance like Harris Concert Hall requires judicious control of the loud playing (sounds can easily swell to huge proportions) clear diction like any good actor or speaker, exploring the minimums (sometimes it’s difficult to play soft enough) and simple matters of stage presence and behavior.

Dv dress 5

Part of our training for young musicians – in Aspen, Music@Menlo, Chamber Music Today in Korea and elsewhere – includes simply walking on and off stage and bowing properly. There are always ways to improve one’s appearance, body language and subliminal messaging.

Brahms stage
Brahms backstage

The concert came together beautifully. Our ensembles played with great intensity, precision and awareness, and Wu Han and I sat in the audience remembering how they first sounded and marveling at the transformations these musicians and their interpretations had made over such a short time. We were very, very proud of them.

Group portrait
LVB concert

Dv concert

Afterwards we treated our graduates and their friends and families to a backstage pizza party. There was much hugging, laughing and endless picture taking.

Pizza
backstage photos

We’ve all left this powerful experience with many wonderful memories. I hope I’ve captured a good portion of them in this blog, and I hope my readers get a sense of what a privilege it was for me and Wu Han to be part of this program.

Our thanks go out to the Aspen Music Festival and School for making this possible. Many administrators worked with dedication, precision and passion towards the success of this project, and we look forward with excitement to unfolding another incarnation of this extraordinary program next summer.

Photos: Christopher Ohanian, Angie Zhang, David Finckel

 

 

 

 

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Venice intro

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In David’s words
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Tuesday-Wednesday, June 17-18

Following CMS’s return from the Dresden Music Festival, and a subsequent busy week in New York that included recitals in Rockport, Massachusetts and Albuquerque, New Mexico, Wu Han and I, joined by our daughter Lilian, stepped on a plane bound for Brussels to connect to a flight that has always been our favorite: one that lands in Venice.

Straining for views of the magnificent city from the plane window, it was difficult to contain our excitement at the coming CMS cruise, the seventh organized by our wonderful partner Travel Dynamics. Our look of relief and anticipation is more than obvious aboard the water taxi to the Hotel Saturnia.

DFWH taxi

This cruise would take us from Venice along the Dalmatian coast on the Adriatic, stopping at stunning islands and ports along the way to our final destination, the historic Croatian city of Dubrovnik. Joining us would be a group of travelers comprised of friends of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, of Music@Menlo, and others from Vanderbilt University and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Our tour consisted mostly of stops in the Republic of Croatia, now a boomerang-shaped country in the heart of central Europe with a population of 4.2 million. Its west arm, which stretches down the Adriatic coast for 3,600 miles, is dotted with inlets, reefs, and 1185 islands, of which 47 are inhabited. The east arm (which we did not visit) is landlocked, reaching far to the east, past the country’s central capital of Zagreb.

Croatia’s complex history dates back to the 7th century, with the Kingdom of Croatia beginning in the 10th century and lasting two hundred years. Subsequently controlled by Hungarians, Habsburg rulers and governed by alliances with its neighboring states, Croatia joined the socialist state of Yugoslavia after World War II. That arrangement began to crumble when Croatia held its own parliamentary elections and declared independence in 1991, leading to the four-year Croatian War of Independence (more on this later).

Other countries we visited included Bosnia-Herzegovina (Mostar) and Montenegro (Kotor) but only for the briefest of stops.

Our tour program’s flirtation with Venice – prior to embarkation – was no more than a taste, but we and few enthusiastic friends and colleagues arrived several days early in Venice to unwind and enjoy the one-of-a-kind environment. A pre-dinner Rialto Bridge photo includes Music@Menlo board member Ann Bowers, Patricia Foster and Chamber Music Society Executive Director Suzanne Davidson.Rialto bridge group

Of course, a large part of our excitement (as is normal for musicians) was over the food we were about to eat. Italian and Chinese food top our list of favorite cuisines and our favorite restaurant in Venice, Trattoria alla Rivetta (a hangout for both tourists and gondoliers) did not fail to please during our four (!) visits there in two days. Rivetta is just steps east of St. Mark’s square, on the street which offers this iconic view of the Bridge of Sighs, the infamous passageway over the Rio di Palazzo which connects the Doge’s Palace with the New Prison.

Briidge of Sighs

Rivetta

The food at Rivetta is incredible:

Fritto misto

Fritto misto

Spaghetti vongole

Spaghetti vongole

Soft shell crabs

Soft shell crabs

Squid ink pasta

Squid ink pasta

Tirami su

Tirami su

Walking the streets and canals of Venice is one of most continually captivating visual experiences to be found anywhere. The variety of beautiful scenes, and people from everywhere enjoying themselves, are both inspiring and rejuvenating to witness.

Gondola view

Canal scene

Church and  restaurant

Scallops

Friends

 

Friday, June 20

Our departure from Venice was as magical as one could imagine. All were on deck of the Corinthian to bid La Serenissima farewell as the sun set on the city, the harbor looking not much different from the way Canaletto painted it in mid-18th century.

Leaving Venice

 

Saturday, June 21: Rab Island, Croatia

By the next morning we had reached our first stop, the Croatian island and city of Rab, just off the Dalmatian coast in the Adriatic Sea. Named in ancient times after the dark pine forests that once grew there, the island was, like many in the region, ruled by Illyrians, Romans, Byzantines, Hungarians, Venetians, French, Hapsburgs, Italians, and Yugoslavians until Croatia became independent in 1991. The town’s rich cultural history and its beautiful beaches make it a popular tourist destination today, and Rab city’s charming squares and winding streets make it a fun place to explore.

Rab square

Rab alley_2_black

The Corinthian holds roughly a hundred passengers only, making its voyages intimate and luxurious experiences. In addition, the ship’s small size allows it to dock, quite often, as close to town as possible. In some locations, such as Rab, the Corinthian was hardly out of view from any part of town.

Ship in Rab

With the Corinthian docked so conveniently, it was only a few steps to our first concert venue, the tiny (and boomy) Church of the Holy Cross. Joining us for this cruise were the estimable violinists Kristin Lee and Arnaud Sussmann, who gamely doubled on viola, switching mid-concert without hesitation as needed.

Rab concert

Our first program included Dvorak’s Sonatina for violin and piano, Op. 100, a charming duo by Shostakovich for 2 violins and piano, and the Beethoven Piano Quartet. The morning concert got our public obligations done by lunchtime and we walked quickly back to the Corinthian for lunch on the deck during our departure for Split, a long journey that would put us into port at 7am the following morning.

Walk to ship

The leisurely sail took us through myriad beautiful passageways between the islands, many uninhabited, in this area of the Adriatic. There have been many true feasts-for-the-eyes to be had off the deck of our cabin, a perfect place for relaxing happy hours.

Islands

Happy hour

 

Sunday, June 22: Split, Croatia

Split is the Croatia’s largest coastal city and is famous for the spectacular remains of the palace of the Roman emperor Diocletian. In addition, Split boasts a spectacular port and a city brimming with shops, restaurants and seemingly endless glamorous people.

Split piazza

The morning tour included the villa of Croatia’s most famous sculptor Ivan Mestrovic (1883-1962), widely regarded as one of the greatest sculptors in history and the first living artist to have a solo show at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Influenced by the Art Nouveau and Cubism movements, he created many monuments and religious works, both in stone and wood. His work, truly stunning to behold in person, can be viewed at his lavish villa overlooking the coast (which is now preserved as his gallery).

Mestrovic

The central area of Split is dominated by the remains of the palace of the Roman emperor Diocletion (264-305 A.D.), and the thriving city is built virtually into what is left of the Roman emperor’s retirement home, where he lived out his last years having become the only Roman emperor to ever abdicate. Essentially, Diocletian’s palace became the core of Split. The underground tunnels and dungeons are tourist favorites.

Diocletian

Our concert took place in the Split Theater, the city’s premiere concert hall, but instead of the main hall, we used the lobby, which was not only the perfect size for our ensemble but as architecturally elegant and as acoustically perfect as any concert hall I can recall. Our program consisted of a Mozart violin and viola duo followed by Smetana’s heart-rending Piano Trio, written in the aftermath of the death of his second daughter.

Split concert

Forsaking the bicycle tour in the afternoon, the musicians once again practiced and rehearsed, but had a special party to look forward to in the late afternoon: A joint reception for travelers from both Music@Menlo and the Chamber Music Society, hosted by me and Wu Han, plus Edward Sweeney and Suzanne Davidson.

Groups party

A sumptuous grilled sea bass dinner in town –

Sea bass

– was followed by a blissful short walk to the harbor, the musicians accompanied by Music@Menlo executive director Edward Sweeney. There is little more comforting on tour than seeing your floating home glittering in the distance.

Split harbor with Corinthian

Corinthian in Split

 

Monday, June 23: Hvar

A crystal clear morning welcomed us to the dock near the ancient town of Stari Grad, on the island of Hvar (pronounced “Var”).

Ship in Stari Grad

The Croatian island of Hvar (the name derived from its original Greek name Pharos) is one of the most fascinating places I have ever visited. To begin, the island is 42 miles long and only 8 miles at its widest.

Hvar map

The morning tour proved impossible to resist (we musicians frequently needed to decline sightseeing opportunities in order to prepare for our concerts) as we were told that our buses would take the scenic route, traversing the top of the east-west limestone ridge, surrounded by fields of lavender, on the way to the picturesque Hvar Town on the island’s eastern tip. The quick ascent soon revealed breathtaking views.

Hvar view

While Hvar’s history is as interesting and complex as many of its neighbors, I personally found the island’s geography and botanical features, plus the remains of human activities, captivating.

The first unusual feature of the hillsides is the presence of numerous, wide stone walls.

Stone walls

Hvar island has no surface water: no lakes, ponds or streams, and very little fresh water coming from springs or wells. Therefore the island’s inhabitants depend heavily on rainwater, which soaks quickly into crevices in the dry ground, and there is little of it as the island boasts claims to be “the sunniest place in Europe” with over 300 clear days per year. The stone walls, now on mostly-abandoned farm land, were built to contain the flow of rainwater within growing areas, stem erosion, and keep herds of animals separated.

The island has interesting vegetation, with bare patches and scrub at higher altitudes, and lavender fields and pine trees lower down. Hvar is known as “The Island of Lavender” which is used to produce soaps and other aromatic products.

Lavender

Although we didn’t have a chance to try any, there is a busy wine-making industry on Hvar, famous for both its reds and whites.

On our ascent we stopped at an ancient lime kiln. These were built to melt the mountains’ ubiquitous lime rocks into quicklime, used for plaster, cement, pigment, pavement material, agriculture and other uses.

Lime kiln

The early kilns were built with small doors at the bottom through which the lime stones were placed and air flowed to fuel the fire. The fire heated the built-up layers of lime above it, which gradually dropped to the floor and cooled. (The kilns were small, as one too big would collapse as its insides burned away). The whole process, from loading the lime to its eventual removal, took about a week’s time.

Yugo

During our stop at the kiln, the positioning of gigantic buses on the side of the narrow road was challenged by a rugged-looking gentleman at the wheel of a Yugo, a now-extinct, hand-made automobile that was first produced by the Yugoslav/Serbian company Zastava in 1978. Famous for its unreliability, it became a novelty/fad and was imported by an entrepreneur between 1985 and 1991, who sold Americans 141,511 of what was voted one of the 50 worst cars of all time. They were widely used in Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and many can still be seen there, jerry-rigged to continue running, as original parts are long unavailable.  Cars like these are often found on Hvar island, as many of the residents use Hvar as a summer home or commute to the island for work, and find it easier to have second cars and trucks on the island.

Descending into thick forests dotted with limestone boulders, we soon reached the city of Hvar, the largest on the island. Hvar city was a center for trade and culture during centuries of Venetian rule, and the Venetian lion can be seen still on the fortress which dates from the 13th century. The ancient walls survive as do many historic buildings and churches.

Hvar fortress

The views of the harbor from the fortress are breathtaking.

Hvar port view

The town of Hvar is a place I could have stayed for months.

Hvar square

Hvar harbor

Hvar market

The Franciscan Monastery at the far end of the harbor hosts a chamber music festival in its courtyard, steps from the beach.

Monastery

Courtyard

Beach_2_black

Regretfully boarding the bus for the “fast road” back to the ship, we were nevertheless treated to spectacular views from a winding mountainside highway, as well as the customary warm welcome from the extraordinary staff of the Corinthian.

Coastline

Crew welcome

 

Tuesday, June 24: Mostar

The city of Mostar is one-and-a-half hours from the sea by bus. Our port, therefore, was the quaint if unremarkable town of Ploce on the Adriatic. Perfectly picturesque but seemingly deserted, Ploce is the main port city used by Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mostar is one of the major cities of Bosnia and Herzegovina lying on the trade route between the Adriatic and the country’s mountainous areas.  It is also a cultural capital of the region. The city is named after the keepers of the famous Old Bridge (Stari Most), built during the Ottoman period in the sixteenth century, then a wonder in its own time, and now one of the most iconic landmarks in the region. In former times, young men would jump into the river as a rite of passage; today they do it for money!  This stunt is just one component of the lively tourist industry that helped rebuild Mostar after the devastation of the Croatian war, and sustains Mostar’s economy today.

Stari Most

The group also visited the beautiful Tabacica Mosque, one of the many mosques in Mostar.  Afterwards, there was a typical Bosnian lunch that consisted of chicken soup, stuffed grape leaves, stuffed peppers and beef.

Mosque

Some of our guests continued on a post-tour extension to Sarajevo after our final day in Dubrovnik. Those involved in the Sarajevo trip were taken to the Croatian towns of Ston and Mali Ston (Little Ston), two historic sites where they were treated to a boat ride, oyster, olive oil and cheese tasting. Why we didn’t get to go I don’t entirely understand, but those who did said it was terrific.

Our sail-out in the evening included gorgeous views, a textbook Finckel Happy Hour on the balcony, and lots of nice warm wind.

View

 

Happy hour 2

Wind
While dining that evening, the Corinthian completed its 29 mile sail to the Croatian island of Korcula. As the meal wound down, and people were saying their goodnights, I decided to step off the ship to check out the town, as we were docked right alongside. Even before descending the gangplank, I could tell we were in an incredible place. A quick walk of one block convinced me to return to the ship and coax the passengers – I think almost all of them – to join me on a late evening walk through one of the most magical, vibrant and picturesque stops on our entire tour.

Descending ganplank2

The first unbelievable sight was the sterns of some of most inviting yachts I’ve ever seen, backed in right next to the Corinthian.

Yacht

The Corinthian was snuggled in, a stone’s throw from the old city walls and defensive tower.

Corinthian in Korcula

The late town visit included a stroll by Cathedral of St. Mark’s, which would be our concert venue the following day.

St. Marks night_2

A brief pause before returning to the ship turned into a photo-op.

Photo op

 

Wednesday, June 25: Korcula

The following morning greeted us with our first clouds and rain of the trip. However, a break from the hot sun was something of a relief, and the intermittent showers did not compromise the attractiveness of the town. As you can see from this photo, taken with a telephoto lens from the cathedral steps, the Corinthian was always waiting.

Cloudy day_2_

Korcula is the second-most populous and the sixth-largest Adriatic island, although the town of Korcula feels most intimate. The island also includes around a dozen other cities that help house its population of 16,000; roughly a third of them live in Korcula town.

Despite the rain, the town was crammed with tourists visiting the beautiful historical sights, such as the Cathedral of St. Mark (1301), the Franciscan Monastery, various palaces and of course the impressive fortifications.

St. Marks

The concert, which began at 5 p.m., was a challenge for those on production duty. First, a torrential downpour drove half of our audience into the church early, and we had to abbreviate our only dress rehearsal for the concert. In addition, the church staff members were less than adept at keeping curious tourists from entering noisily, and Suzanne, Edward, our daughter Lilian, and Tour Director John Frick and Tour Managers Brian Goyette and Toni Silic did their best, as diplomatically as possible, to try to maintain a concert-level environment.

Silent behaving

In addition, for some reason the church heated itself to what seemed like record levels of heat and humidity. My colleagues performed amazingly while I missed just about every left hand shift in the Dvorak due to an uncontrollably wet fingerboard.

Wu Han began the program with Brahms’s late Intermezzi, Op. 118, about which she gave an enlightening talk before playing.

Wu Han talks

The cathedral provided a truly stunning setting.

St. Marks concert 1

Dvorak’s ever-popular Piano Quartet closed the concert, and our series of performances on this cruise. Kristin Lee played the violin part with fire, passion and technical perfection, while Arnaud Sussmann once again amazed with his apparently effortless ability to play the viola, out-classing all but the finest players of that unjustly-maligned instrument in the world.

St. Marks concert 2

Immediately following the performance, all the church staff descended on the scene to move the piano, the chairs, the altar rug, in a great hurry. Apparently our concert had lasted 30 minutes longer than expected, and I hope our transgression does not prevent future performances in this beautiful setting.

Sure enough, as we returned to ship, the clouds began to break, a warm glow came from the west, the restaurants started to fill up, and we enjoyed a picturesque sail-away from Korcula as the town lights came on.

Korcula departure

After a spectacular sunset,

Sunset

we gathered for the Captain’s Farewell dinner (one night early as some passengers were departing early the next day). The lobster tail dinner concluded with the Corinthian’s traditional Baked Alaska*, and a chance for us to applaud in appreciation of Chef Rey Canlas and his kitchen staff. The cuisine on the Corinthian (and before that on the Corinthian II) has been superb, every meal, from sumptuous breakfasts to eclectic and tasty outdoor lunches to sublime and elegant dinners.

Baked Alaska

*Baked Alaska is an ice cream cake encased in meringue which is cooked quickly at a very high temperatures, allowing the meringue to crust while it insulates the ice cream from melting. The name was applied to the dessert (which had been around long before in Asia, Europe and America) to aptly commemorate the Alaskan territories acquired by America in 1876.

Rey Canlas_2

 

Thursday, June 26: Kotor and Dubrovnik

After a turbulent all-night sail, the Corinthian entered the winding, picturesque Bay of Kotor at 6:30 a.m., passing through the narrow strait that was once defended by an underwater chain stretching between its shores.

Strait

Popularly referred to as Europe’s southernmost fjord (but technically a “ria” or submerged river canyon) the bay is surrounded by steep mountain slopes, its shores dotted with attractive dwellings and churches, and its hills with mysterious and intriguing ruins. The bay’s beautiful towns make it a major tourist attraction, and its many churches, monasteries make it a site of religious pilgrimages.

Shore

Ruins

Making a right turn to sail to Kotor at the end of the bay, one passes the jewel-like islands of Our Lady of the Rocks and Sveti Đorđe (St. George).

Islands (2)

A brief glance at the history of Kotor and the bay reveals that just about everyone who was anyone in European history had control of or at least a go at it for most of its 2000-plus year history.

Kotor

The ruins of a fortress built by the Roman Emperor Justinian in 535 dominate the city.

Fortress_2

The cozy, walled town offers everything from sublime churches to enticing pizza to street cats.

Church Kotor
Pizza

Cats

Departing promptly at 11:30, we began a long afternoon sail to our final destination, the world-renowned city of Dubrovnik, arriving at port by 4 p.m. and quickly transferring to coaches that would bring us to town alongside the city’s massive walls, considered among the world’s most extraordinary.

Since its founding in the 7th century, the city has been known by its Italian name Ragusa, but now goes by its Croatian name of Dubrovnik which dates from the Middle Ages, and was officially adopted in 1918 at the end of Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Dubrovnik’s spectacular harbor has been a coveted strategic location for centuries, fought over and possessed by the Ostrogoths, the Byzantine Empire, the Venetians, the Kingdom of Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Napoleon’s Kingdom of Italy.

Dubrovnik map

Under the sovereignty of Venice, the Republic of Ragusa (founded 1272) made strides civil and social strides that put it way ahead of its time. Medical services were provided in 1301 and the world’s first pharmacy, opened in 1371, is still in business.

Pharmacy

Slavery was abolished in 1418, 447 years ahead of the United States. In 1377 a hospital was founded, and in 1432 an orphanage. The Republic’s statutes included town planning and sanitary laws.

One commonly enters the walled city through its gate next to the harbor, and is immediately struck with spectacular scenery.

Harbor view

Dubrovnik’s vibrant streets make it difficult to choose between shopping, eating, or sightseeing.

Street 1

Street 2_black

Capital

Historic fountain

With only a bit more than two hours to absorb one of Europe’s most incredible cities, our several groups, all led by vastly experienced guides, did their best to soak in overwhelming history of Dubrovnik, all the while navigating the crowds, avoiding the hot sun, and dealing with the aforementioned pleasurable distractions. Several wise travelers had elected to stay an extra day –among them our violinist Kristin Lee, on her way post-tour to Naples and Positano for further music-making. She made us all a bit jealous.

On the way back to the bus I was surprised to hear an unfamiliar voice cautiously calling my name. It turned out that in fact I have a Cello Talks student who is a native of Dubrovnik and plays the bass. It’s still hard for me to believe how far and wide that project has reached.

Cello Talks fan

It was indeed wonderful to have the company and support of CMS’s and Music@Menlo’s executive directors Suzanne Davidson and Edward Sweeney. Edward and I paused for a last scenic photo in front of the harbor.

Edward

Boarding the Corinthian for our final evening of merriment, Wu Han and Lilian looked down from our suite on the top deck.

Deck 6_black

Deprived of a final sunset sail (as we were all disembarking at Dubrovnik the following morning) we were nonetheless entertained by the always-thoughtful and resourceful Travel Dynamics staff. A band of Croatian musicians performed on board for us, and master tour-documenter John Frick recalled the week’s incredible adventures with a beautiful slide show.

Enough cannot be said for the Corinthian’s staff. From John, Brian and Toni, to our elegant and gracious chambermaid Elena, to expert maitre’d Renato, to vigilant hotel manager Bogdan, to our attentive butler Michael, to the ship’s brilliant pianist Eddie, to the world’s most wonderful bartender Jerome, and so many others who over many cruises have learned our names and treat us like family: to all of them we express our deepest thanks and admiration for their work, on behalf of the Chamber Music Society, Music@Menlo, our staffs and our musicians. Without them, the Corinthian would be just another cruise ship.

We also are so grateful to violinists Kristin Lee and Arnaud Sussmann for the time they invested in this project, and for their deep artistry, stunning instrumental gifts, supportive enthusiasm and professional adaptability to the variety of performance situations encountered on such adventures. They were inspiring colleagues and simply a lot of fun to be around – an opinion held by all on board.

And finally, to our crowd of devoted traveling companions, we express our gratitude for their participation and company on this voyage, and for their support of the musical institutions so dear to us. We wish all of our friends safe journeys home and at sea and look forward to our next adventure together.

http://www.chambermusicsociety.org/support/2015_cruises

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In David’s words
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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:

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In David’s words
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The Festival’s third week began with two “dark nights”, with no evening concerts or events; however, the days were packed with rehearsing, coaching sessions, and our daily 11:45a.m. master classes and Café Conversations.  The annual ping-pong tournament reached fever pitch.

Wednesday brought the highly anticipated Motivated program, which brought together a  diverse collection of music that was created for, or inspires, dancing.  Bach’s Suite in b minor for flute and strings opened the program, led by Music@Menlo favorite, flutist Carol Wincenc. Wu Han made (according to her) her U.S. debut as a harpsichordist.

The program continued with music of Schubert, Debussy, Strauss, and Bartok, before a large cast took the stage to close with program with Aaron Copland’s all-time-greatest-hit, the ballet music for Appalachian Spring, written for the Martha Graham dance company.  Performed in its original version for thirteen instruments, without conductor, it is still truly a magical experience to hear and perform. Some of us – like myself and Carol Wincenc – actually played in orchestras led by Copland during our early free-lancing days.

After the Motivated program, what seemed like a huge number of artists departed. This is always a sad moment, as we wish all our artists could stay for the whole festival. We bid them farewell with great food and toasts at Menlo Park’s Café Too.

The next day, all of our Institute students, plus the lucky members of the public who attend our free master classes and Café Conversations, were treated to a fascinating lecture and masterful performance by cellist Laurence Lesser.  Having recorded all of the solo cello suites by Bach just last year, Larry is very absorbed with them. In this instance he enlightened us on the differences between two versions of the Suite No. 5 in c minor, as Bach also wrote the piece for the lute.  The lute’s ability to play chords – and therefore harmonies – more easily than the cello offers us a window on Bach’s harmonic design behind the notes, and Larry miraculously somehow manages to incorporate much of the lute chordal writing into his performance on cello.  It was one of those defining sessions that truly shapes Music@Menlo an extraordinary and unique learning environment.

After the International Performers presented a beautiful Prelude Performance of piano trios by Ravel and Beethoven, it was time for the Encounter that focused on the spiritual power of music.  Michael Parloff, who last summer stunned our audience with a masterful talk about Brahms and the Schumanns, returned to tackle the tricky, ephemeral subject. He did so with great depth, while simultaneously laying out a thorough background for the next evening’s performance of Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ.

Haydn composed his “wordless oratorio” in 1787 for Good Friday services in the Spanish town of Cadiz, which is located on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. Haydn did not journey there for the premiere, but described in detail his challenging assignment, which was to compose seven slow movements, each illuminating the meaning of each of the last seven utterances of Christ as he was dying on the cross.

For the service, the lavish interior of the church in Cadiz was draped in black, and a single light illuminated the musicians and the celebrant.  We attempted to replicate this setting in one of my personal favorite venues, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto- a home to festival concerts since our first full season.

We succeeded to an astonishing degree, due not only to the dignified and spiritual atmosphere already present, but also to practical advantages, such as a marvelous and willing stage and tech crew, who figured out how to darken the space and position our special concert lights (the “Finckel” lights) directly above the musicians, creating a highly dramatic effect.

But the truly extraordinary part was the performance itself, by a “festival quartet” composed of extraordinary players, who, before last week, had never played in a quartet together.  Violinists Erin Keefe, Jorja Fleezanis, violist Richard O’Neill and cellist Laurence Lesser truly gave one of the finest quartet performances I have ever heard. On top of the challenge of learning the nine movements from scratch, I threw at them the Emerson Quartet’s transcription of the work which incorporates many elements from the orchestral score which are inexplicably missing from the later quartet version (I still don’t believe that Haydn himself made the quartet version).

Between the movments, Michael Parloff read brief excerpts from the various gospels which recounts the crucifixion of Jesus, and quote His last words.  It was profoundly moving.

Saturday brought another extraordinarily rich selection of events and opportunities for listeners, students and performers.

The early afternoon KYPC concert, at the Menlo Atherton Performing Arts Center, offered another round of amazing performances (and pre-performance speeches) from the festival’s youngest musicians.  It is an enormous credit to both the students and coaches, that in such a short amount of time these young players are able to take complete control of themselves and their music in a professionally-produced concert setting, in front of a highly attentive audience of almost five-hundred listeners.

The evening offered one of the festival’s most unusual Carte Blanche concerts ever: Violin Celebration featured four diverse sonatas for violin and piano, performed by a cast of eight musicians, making up four different duos.  Erin Keefe and Wu Han began with a sonata by Beethoven, and were followed by Jorja Fleezanis and Gilbert Kalish in Copland’s seldom performed sonata, a work composed in 1943 and soon taken up by some of the greatest violinists of the day.  Following the intermission, Ian Swensen took the stage, partnered by pianist Hyeyeon Park, for Janacek’s gripping sonata, and the concert concluded with a blazing performance of the exuberant Strauss Sonata by Arnaud Sussmann and Gloria Chien.  The concert was not only a triumph for the artists but also for the festival, which took something of a risk presenting a program so highly unconventional.  The final ovation went on and on, and our listeners are still talking about it.

On Sunday, Wu Han was again on stage in yet another role: the demanding Piano Quartet in g minor by Gabriel Faure. Partnered by violinist Arnaud Sussmann, violist Richard O’Neill, and cellist Dmitri Atapine, their performance capped off the Impassioned program: a collection of pieces were inspired by the deepest human emotions, and which elicit charged responses from listeners time after time.

Opening the program was the magical Märchenbilder of Schumann for viola and piano, beautifully performed by Gilbert Kalish and violist Richard O’Neill, who make his Music@Menlo debut in fine style. Before intermission, Gilbert Kalish, Arnaud Sussmann and I offered Dvorak’s extraordinary Piano Trio in f minor, one of his most heartfelt and popular works, and one of a pair of giant trios that he composed just before leaving for America.


After a marvelous party at the Knudsen residence – one of my favorite places here in California – we all went to bed rather late- eager to catch some sleep to prepare for the festival’s final week, which seems to have come, as it always does, far too soon.

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In David’s words
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After a weekend packed with events, each one seemingly more momentous than the last, Monday’s dark night provided us all the chance to focus on the coming programs, to explore and experience more aspects of this multi-dimensional festival.

Wu Han and I largely immersed ourselves in the ongoing work of our Chamber Music Institute students, visiting classrooms for most of the day to either coach or to observe our faculty and artists at work.

The Institute this summer comprises forty students; twenty-nine Young Performers and eleven International Performers.  The International Performers, ages 18 to 28, perform hour long concerts before most of the festival’s ticketed events.  The intensity of this program results from its repertoire demands: the International Performers repeat each work once, sometimes on consecutive concerts, and in a matter of days will reappear on stage again with yet another piece.  The repertoire, which we select for them, includes some of the most demanding chamber music ever composed.  This season, for example, IP ensembles are tackling Bartok’s 2nd Quartet and the Ravel Trio, as well as works by Beethoven, Mozart, Dvorak, Brahms and Shostakovich.  The Young Performers, who hail heavily from the Bay Area but also include students from far-away places, perform three major concerts during the festival, which usually take place in the Concert Hall at Menlo-Atherton before packed houses.

Monday brought the first of this festival’s Listening Room sessions, a series devised and hosted by our Artistic Administrator Patrick Castillo.  Although Patrick has grown to become one of the industry’s most respected artistic administrators, at heart he is a composer with a keen and adventurous ear that is always exploring innovative ways of hearing both new and old music.  The Listening Room, held in Martin Family Hall, affords all comers the opportunity to experience a pure, communal sonic experience.  In this session, listeners were treated to recordings of Bach for guitar, choral music by Finzi, the Agnus Dei from the Stravinsky’s Mass, Ligeti etudes, and Bill Evans’s “’Round Midnight”, preceded by the brief introductions by Patrick.
  

Tuesday’s 11:45 a.m. event slot was filled with the festival’s annual Poetry Reading, hosted by Patrick Castillo, Assistant Artistic Administrator Isaac Thompson, and violinist Jorja Fleezanis. Begun by the late Michael Steinberg in the festival’s early years, it has become a beloved and unique tradition in which the audience – comprised of all the CMI students and a large following of the public – are invited to the stage to read poetry that the festival collects or poems of their choice.  Following the conviction – voiced initially by Michael and reprised eloquently by Patrick – that the experience of live poetry can greatly expand emotional and intellectual horizons, Music@Menlo proudly presents this event as one of the unique facets of its profile.  Often, some of the festival’s most inspiring moments occur, as perhaps a very young student, or maybe a shy one, will suddenly blossom during the delivery of a thoughtful, funny, or profoundly moving poem.

Tuesday evening, after another heavily-attended Prelude Performance, saw the Pacifica Quartet deliver the festival’s Illuminated concert.  The perfect program to illustrate the ways in which music can bring listeners into the worlds of composers, the concert featured three classic, autobiographical string quartets:  Beethoven’s Op. 135, his final completed work, Janacek’s quartet Intimate Letters, and Smetana’s quartet, From My Life.  Each work tells stories from the composers lives, some funny, some poignant, and some quite provocative.  Having never combined these works in my own quartet experience, I was more than pleased to hear from the Pacifica how much they enjoyed performing this program, and that it even appears in their concert offerings for the coming season.  Indeed, the audience came away having truly gotten to know three great personalities of classical music, through performances that were as emotional and committed as one can hear anywhere.

Even before lunch on Wednesday, our Institute students and public were treated to a fascinating Café Conversation between soprano Susanne Mentzer and visiting BBC Music Magazine Editor Oliver Condy.  Titled “The Art of the Voice”, the two discussed Suzanne’s evolution as a singer, and the relevance of the vocal arts to instrumental music.

Before the repeat of Concert Program II, our International Performers presented an extraordinary all-Shostakovich Prelude Performance consisting of his Cello Sonata and Eighth Quartet.

Thursday brought a Master Class from pianist-conductor Jeffrey Kahane, in which he worked with our Institute students on the Dohnanyi Piano Quintet and the Mendelssohn d minor Trio.  Jeffrey, always an amazing artistic and intellectual, shared his wisdom generously, bringing his vast musical experience to his teaching as well as his performing.  We will never have too much of him here at Music@Menlo.

The evening brought an unprecedented event to the festival: an Encounter in the large Menlo Atherton Concert Hall. The reason for the change from our usual Encounter venue, Martin Family Hall at Menlo School was the Encounter’s unique requirements: a large movie screen. And the person who needed it was our Encounter Leader, pianist-composer Stephen Prutsman.  Tackling the subject of how music affects visual drama, Stephen brought with him his own works composed to accompany two silent films: Charlie Chaplin’s One A.M., and Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. Joining Stephen at the piano on stage were clarinetist Jose Franch-Ballester (for the Chaplin film) and the Escher Quartet (for the Keaton).  In between the films, Stephen was interviewed on stage in front of the large crowd by Artistic Administrator Patrick Castillo, who coaxed out of Stephen his amazingly diverse musical background, which includes, in addition to the most rigorous classical training, improvising in bars and nightclubs (to put himself through school), composing in all styles, and performing in concert a wide range of repertoire.

The Keaton film, the longer of the two, is especially funny and has a complex plot, which kept the audience alternately rapt and in stitches.  Stephen’s incredibly imaginative score was performed with consummate style and virtuosity by the Escher Quartet, with Stephen at the piano, all of them staring at the screen and keeping in sync with the film.  It was quite something, certainly the first of its kind at this festival.


On Friday I had the opportunity – the first in at least several summers – to give a master class.  I heard a wonderful Young Performers ensemble play Beethoven’s Trio Op. 11, and a group of International Performers play Beethoven’s “Ghost” Trio.  Having Beethoven as the composer at hand provided me too much of an exciting opportunity and I wound up talking way too much. Hopefully the students learned something that will help their performance, but I’m not really sure.

After another great Prelude Performance, which this evening included the marvelous and seldom-heard Dohnanyi Piano Quintet in Eb, we presented Concert Program III, entitled Transported, featuring music that takes listeners to sometimes-distant places and cultures.  Barber’s Dover Beach was beautifully performed by baritone Kelly Markgraf and the Escher Quartet, after which Jorja Fleezanis and Jeffrey Kahane quickly took us from the English Channel all the way to China with Chen-Yi’s Romance of the Hsaio and Chi’n. Following this brief, mesmerizing piece came a performance of Sibelius’s String Quartet by the Escher Quartet, an extraordinary work that paints vivid pictures of the Finnish land and culture.  Filled with sonic effects that bring to mind images of snow, ice, Vikings, the feel of the wind’s icy bite, being rocked at sea in a storm, the work is indeed one of the most transporting pieces that I know, and a work upon which this entire program was conceived and built.  The Escher gave it the performance we expected and more: a display of quartet technique that was astonishing – even for a quartet veteran like me – coupled with intensity, daring, beauty of sound, and deep understanding of the work.  It was easily one of the best string quartet performances I have ever heard, of anything, and the audience – especially our Institute students who are immersed in chamber music challenges daily – rose to its feet in awe and appreciation.

Following the intermission, the stage was taken by Wu Han and Jeffrey Kahane for an absolutely entrancing piano-four-hand performance of Debussy’s Six Épigraphs antiques, an incredible work that illustrates Debussy’s fascination with other cultures, in this case, ancient Greece and Egypt.  Wu Han then left Jeffrey alone to tackle excerpts from Granados’s Goyescas, a pianistic tour-de-force that was given a stunning performance, filled with color, atmosphere, and astounding virtuosity.

The final work on the program was also a Music@Menlo first: a piece by Gustav Mahler.  In the 1920’s, composer Erwin Stein made an arrangement of Mahler’s 4th Symphony for large chamber ensemble, and the final movement, with soprano soloist, is a sublime vision of heaven through the eyes of a child.  The work was performed with enormous depth by Suzanne Mentzer, and the ensemble, expertly led by Jorja Fleezanis. The concert closed on a calm, and indeed transported, note.

The festival’s second Saturday is always a big day for our Institute, as the first KYPC (Koret Young Performers Concert) takes place in the afternoon.  These are marathon events that are led up to by not only numerous coachings during the preceding week, but also speech writing and delivery coaching, dress rehearsals including speaking, stage deportment and complete run-throughs.  The YP’s, as they are called, vary in age from ten to eighteen, and although they are grouped somewhat according to age, ability and experience are the dominating decision-makers when it comes time to assign them their repertoire and colleagues.

The Young Performers program is directed by pianist Gloria Chien, herself an International Performers graduate. Gloria is a remarkable pianist and musician who continues to expand her horizons and is steadily building an unassailable reputation.  Her recital last week with Anthony McGill, delivered in the midst of her intense teaching schedule, displayed her stunning capacity for musical discipline and flawless performance under pressure.  All of us are still trying to figure out when she had the time to practice.

Gloria is assisted in her work as Institute Director by a team of teachers, each of whom is also an IP Program graduate: violinists Kristin Lee, Sean Lee, and Hye-Jin Kim; cellists Dmitri Atapine and Nicholas Canellakis; and pianists Hyeyeon Park and Teresa Yu.

Overseeing the complex International Performers program is pianist Gilbert Kalish, who fills this newly-created position this year with poise and wisdom.

Saturday evening brought a long-anticipated Carte Blanche performance by mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and her husband, the baritone Kelly Markgraf, in the beautiful acoustics of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, one of the festival’s original venues.  Partnered by Gilbert Kalish, one of the world’s leading vocal collaborators, the duo performed together and individually a wide range of repertoire, from Schumann and Poulenc to fascinating songs of Grieg and a powerful, anti-war cycle by Ned Rorem.  The evening finished with a bit of Broadway musical theatrics featuring love duets by Jerome Kern, and everyone went away very happy.

Sunday morning brought another extraordinary Carte Blanche concert, this one by Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen.  Music@Menlo has been fortunate this summer to have this remarkable artist in residence since the opening concert (in which we played the Beethoven Op. 70 No. 2 trio together).  Juho finished off his stay with a bang, concluding his recital with Liszt’s fearsome Dante Sonata, a pianistic tour-de-force that left the capacity audience in Stent Family Hall agape. Preceding the Liszt was a fascinating pairing of music by Beethoven and Mozart with Scriabin, in a program that highlighted the idea of fantasy in music.  We thank Juho not only for this spectacular concert but also for the special programming which contributed yet another perspective to this summer’s festival theme.

Sasha and Kelly’s magical recital, the inspiring KYPC concert, and Juho’s display of pianistic wizardry would have been enough for any festival weekend, but Music@Menlo is not just any festival.  At six p.m. Sunday, Concert Program IV, Enhanced, began with the haunting sounds: the suite of movements by Bernard Herrmann composed for Alfred Hitchock’s classic film Psycho.  Scored for strings only (for a movie shot in black-and-white), the suite is all the more remarkable to hear without looking at the film, as the sophistication of Herrmann’s writing emerges on its own.  Following the creepy Psycho Suite was an equally chilling and more extended musical accompaniment: Andre Caplet’s The Mask of the Red Death, a fantastic work that narrates the Poe story in vivid detail, using a string plus harp.  Performers Kristin Lee, Sean Lee, Paul Neubauer, Dane Johansen and Bridget Kibbey gave it a breathtaking and chilling performance.  Following the Caplet, the mood turned more peaceful as Suzanne Mentzer took the stage for a sublime performance of Respighi’s Il Tramonto (The Sunset), accompanied by a quartet made up of Jorja Fleezanis, Sean Lee, Geraldine Walther, and Dmitri Atapine.

The concert’s second half was given over entirely to a performance the likes of which has never been mounted at the festival: Stravinsky’s classic, The Soldier’s Tale, performed in its full version, which lasts just over an hour.

Scored for solo violin, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, double bass, and percussion, the piece tells the story of a soldier who is coerced by the devil into trading his violin for a book that tells the future.  Three actors narrated the script: Kay Kostopoulos was the Narrator; Max Rosenak, the Soldier; and James Carpenter, wearing a suggestive red necktie, played the Devil.  It was another first-of-its-kind extravaganza for the festival, which in its tenth anniversary season, is extending itself a bit in many directions in celebration of the milestone.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog which promises to be just as packed with reports.  And do visit the festival web site for reports and videos too wonderful to miss.

*A special advisory: if you have not already, please visit the festival web site (www.musicatmenlo.org) to see the daily reports of the festival’s events and especially the spectacular videos created by Tristan Cook and his media team.

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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)
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in David’s words…
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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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