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

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In David’s words
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Saturday, May 4   Reneé Fleming in Carnegie Hall

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 5: The Trio plays in Montreal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And by April, it looked like this:

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

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

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

A video of the performance can be found here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cellist Tim Eddy

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

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

James Austin Smith, Gloria Chien

James Austin Smith, Gloria Chien

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

Joan Harris, center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Tristan Cook

Photo credit: Tristan Cook

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wu Han with Fred Child

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

Fredrica Adelman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please enjoy the concert, and thank you very much.

David speaks from stage.

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

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

Rob and Gerri, left

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

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

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

Bill and Valerie Graham, Charlotte, VT

Marty and Sarah Flug, Aspen, CO

Jeehyun Kim, Seoul, Korea

Judith Barnard and Michael Fain, Aspen, CO

Joan Harris, Chicago, IL

Robert and Diana Hardy, St. Louis, MO

Ben Larsen, New York, NY

Harold & Jann Slapin, Basking Ridge, NJ

Irvine and Elizabeth Flinn, New York, NY

Freddie and Irwin Staller, NY

Harvey and Alisa Eisenberg, Newport Beach, CA

Robert and Shirley Kenny, Richmond, VA


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


Matthew Zelle, New York, NY (IMG Artists)

Linda Petrikova, New York, NY  (IMG Artists)

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

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

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

… and our family members

Margaret Lim (Boston, MA)

Kim Lim (New York, NY)

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

Linda Setzer (South Orange, NJ)

Katia Setzer (Philadelphia, PA)

Wu Han (New York, NY)

Lilian Finckel (New York, NY)

Alisa Eisenberg, Margaret Seetoo, Harvey Eisenberg, Irvine Flinn

Efrem and Michael Calingaert, Eugene Drucker, Diana Hardy

Kim Lim, Efrem and Michael Calingaert, Philip Setzer

Emerson Quartet group hug

Emerson Quartet group hug.

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David Finckel and Wu Han, deepening their involvement with chamber music in Korea, performed in and presided over the first Chamber Music Today festival in Seoul. The festival’s mission is to bring the finest musicians on the international chamber music scene to perform in Korea every year. As a result of their ongoing relationship with the LG Chamber Music School, David and Wu Han were recruited by the festival’s organizers to lead it artistically.
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In David’s words
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It had seemed to us that our commitment to the wonderful LG Chamber Music School, including annual visits to teach and perform and a schedule of educational video productions, would be the extent of our involvement with chamber music in Korea.  But we were wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Emerson Quartet and Wu Han with Sunghyun Kim

Paul Chung

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Leaving New York well in advance of its record-breaking October snow storm, David, Wu Han, Arnaud Sussmann, Lily Francis and Gilbert Kalish flew to Munich and Salzburg, the closest major airports to the little German town of Bad Reichenhall. Waiting for them was the AlpenKlassik Festival, and CMS’s second European residency of the year.
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In David’s words
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The 2011-12 season is one in which The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center is spreading its name and artistry in foreign countries at an unprecedented pace. Having returned from its second residency at the Mecklenburg Festival in late August, CMS journeyed almost immediately to its first tour of Colombia as guests of the Cartagena Festival (see previous blog August-September 2011: CMS Intercontinental).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schloss Elmau

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

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

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

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

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

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

Italian debut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wu Han recently headed west to the San Francisco Bay Area for the opening of Music@Menlo’s 2011/2012 Winter Series, which featured a stunning recital by the sensational young pianist Inon Barnatan. A musician of remarkable imagination and creative breadth, Inon captivated Music@Menlo’s audience with his poignant program and musical skill.

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In Wu Han’s words…
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The first weekend of October, I had the great opportunity to travel out to the Bay Area to launch Music@Menlo’s second annual Winter Series. The Winter Series was created in 2010 to bring world class artists and great chamber music to the Music@Menlo audience throughout the year. This season, our audience was in for a special treat as the remarkable young pianist Inon Barnatan opened the winter series with an imaginative program entitled Darknesse Visible.  Having last appeared at Music@Menlo during the summer of 2010, I was eager for our audience to experience Inon’s special artistry in this solo recital.

As I shared with the audience before Inon took the stage, David and I are so proud that Music@Menlo has played such an integral role in supporting the careers of many aspiring young artists. Anthony McGill, now principal clarinet of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; Arnaud Sussmann, an upcoming concert violinist; and Erin Keefe, recently named Concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra (a post that was most recently held by longtime Music@Menlo favorite artist, Jorja Fleezanis); are just a few of the artists presented on Music@Menlo’s main stage before their respective careers have blossomed. David and I both remember years ago, when we were young artists, receiving valuable support from a few key presenters. The chance that they took on us helped build the careers that we sustain today. We are passionate about supporting exceptional young artists in this way, and it is wonderful to see the Menlo audience enthusiastically embrace and support these extraordinary musicians.

As Inon explained to the audience upon taking the stage, several of the works he performed were inspired by poetry and are connected by a sense of darkness lying beneath the music. His program began with Debussy’s lovely Suite bergamasque, a piece that was inspired by the poetry of Paul Verlaine. One of Debussy’s most beloved works, the suite is perhaps most famous for the third movement, Clair de lune. The Debussy was then followed by Thomas Adès’s wondrous and haunting Darkenesse Visible, based on John Dowland’s lute song from 1610 entitled: In Darknesse Let Me Dwell. Thomas Adès is one of the most exciting and imaginative composers writing music today and I was thrilled that his music was being introduced to Music@Menlo’s audience. Before the intermission, Inon skillfully tackled one of the piano literature’s most challenging works, Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit. As a pianist, I was glad at that moment to be in the audience! The second half of the program featured the wonderfully imaginative Fantasy on Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten (arranged by Ronald Stevenson), and culminated in a commanding performance of Schubert’s poignant Sonata in A Major, D. 959, one of the last works Schubert wrote before his young death.

I am extremely proud of Inon’s intelligent programming and artistic vision that he brings to each and every one of his performances. He is a pianist of remarkable imagination, as manifested in his curating of  “The Schubert Project” — an exploration of Schubert’s late solo song, piano works, and chamber music, originally conceived for The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Inon has also presented this project to great critical acclaim at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw and the Library of Congress.  It was thrilling to hear Inon play this extraordinary program so beautifully, and it was gratifying to see our audience brought to its feet. After the performance, Inon signed CDs and was greeted warmly by many of our audience members who commented on his powerful performance which truly brought the music to life. In 2012,  Inon will be releasing a CD entitled Darkness Visible, featuring many of these same works. It is certainly a disc you will not want to miss.

Inon greets audience members following his recital.

It was a very moving experience to see the Menlo audience embrace this extraordinary young musician, and David and I both look forward to featuring and taking the chance, so to speak, on other exceptional young artists in seasons to come.

Music@Menlo’s Winter Series continues Feburary 12 when festival favorites pianist Alessio Bax, clarinetist David Shifrin, and flutist Tara Helen O’Connor join forces with an ensemble of the world’s elite wind players from The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center—including Stephen Taylor (oboe), Peter Kolkay (bassoon), and Radovan Vlatković (horn)—in a program that features the extraordinary chamber music written for winds and piano by French composers.

April 29, the Jupiter String Quartet, one of America’s most exciting young chamber ensembles, returns to Music@Menlo for a special afternoon of masterworks from the string quartet repertoire: Haydn’s String Quartet in F Major, Prokofiev’s Second String Quartet, and Schubert’s final quartet, the colossal and expressive String Quartet in G Major, D. 887.

Photos courtesy of Music@Menlo: Tristan Schulz, photographer

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

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

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

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

Photo Credits:  Pete Zivkov and Cynthia Yock

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