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.


In David’s words

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.


In the space of a few hours, history was made at The Chamber Music Society, as David and Wu Han signed a new contract to continue to lead the organization through the 2018-19 season. This, their third contract, makes them the longest-tenured Artistic Directors since the Society’s founder Charles Wadsworth retired in 1989.

The signing, on the stage of Alice Tully Hall, was presided over by Board Chairman Peter Frelinghuysen, with incoming Executive Director Suzanne Davidson and David and Wu Han’s attorney Stanley Plesent looking on.

Back: Suzanne Davidson, Peter Frelinghuysen, Stanley Plesent

Back: Suzanne Davidson, Peter Frelinghuysen, Stanley Plesent

David and Wu Han issued the following joint statement about their contract extension:

“As we put pen to paper again, at the gracious invitation of our Board of Directors, we are both thrilled by their faith in our vision, and at the same time humbled by the responsibility of guiding this rapidly evolving organization.  Over the past seven years, CMS has become our artistic home.  Our hard-working, inspired staff, our generous and visionary Board, and the incredible artists coming from all over the world to perform, truly make CMS ‘such stuff as dreams are made on.’ We are deeply grateful for the opportunity to continue our work for CMS, and we pledge to the task our lasting commitment and deepest dedication.”

A link to the press release can be found here.

Immediately following the signing, David went backstage to prepare for another “first” in CMS history: the first concert by the Cellists of Lincoln Center, a collection of cellists from the Lincoln Center campus performing music for solo cello, and cello ensembles of up to eight players.  As the brainchild of Metropolitan Opera Orchestra principal Jerry Grossman, the program was several years in the making. Although a major departure from the standard chamber music repertory, this was one of the season’s most popular offerings, including a wide variety of works by Villa-Lobos, Gabrieli, Dutilleux, Tansman, Schickele, Stravinsky, Carter, Casals, Pärt and Bach, the Cellists of Lincoln Center brought the house down and left everyone hoping they will someday play again.

Cellists of Lincoln Center in rehearsal: Fred Sherry, Frederick Zlotkin, Dorothea Figueroa, Carter Brey, Eileen Moon, Nicolas Altstaedt, Jerry Grossman, David Finckel

Cellists of Lincoln Center- Left to Right: Fred Sherry, Frederick Zlotkin, Dorothea Figueroa, Carter Brey, Eileen Moon, Nicolas Altstaedt, Jerry Grossman, David Finckel

The week spanning January and February, 2013, featured an unusual variety of events which prompted the following report by David, taking followers of this blog along for a one-of-a-kind week in the life of a touring musician.


In David’s words

Without a doubt, one of the things I enjoy most about being a musician is the endless variety of touring experiences.  Almost every tour is different, some more than others, and this week was one of the most unusual I have ever experienced.

To set the week in proper perspective, I’ll rewind a bit to Friday the 25th, to my concert with the Emerson Quartet in Salzburg’s famous Mozarteum.  Part of the annual Mozartwoche festival, the concert gave us the opportunity to collaborate with our longtime colleague and mentor, pianist Menahem Pressler, in both Mozart Piano Quartets. Menahem, at 89, is going strong, and left soon after our performance for a recital in the large hall at Vienna’s Musikverein. The experience of playing those works alongside a master musician, only a block or so from Mozart’s home in Salzburg, was truly unforgettable.

Andras Schiff greets Menahem Pressler backstage following the concert.

In a truly rare occasion, I bypassed New York the next day, connecting all the way to Minneapolis, meeting up with Wu Han along the way.  Why the rush? We had a duo recital the very next afternoon at the Music in the Park series, where we have appeared many times.

We were greeted in St. Paul by the warmth of the St. Paul Hotel, the Ice Carnival in the square outside, and a delicious dinner at the St. Paul grill hosted by our friends from American Public Media.  The hotel, the meal, and the company have been part of a long tradition for us, dating back to our first appearances on the legendary radio program “St. Paul Sunday”, hosted by Bill McGlaughlin.

Music in the Park is an organization with a distinguished history, leading all the back to its founding by Artistic Director Julie Himmelstrup in 1978.  In 2010 the series merged with its fellow Twin Cities presenter, The Schubert Club, a similarly distinguished organization that dates way back to 1882. The merger allows Julie to concentrate on her artistic planning while the Schubert Club handles logistics. Be that as it may, Julie was still the last one out of the church after the concert, locking up herself.

Julie Himmelstrup is a member of America’s elite society of individual presenters, whose passion, intelligence, insistence on quality, courage and vision have propelled the series ever forward.  Her presence is felt throughout, and as Wu Han said, her audience of 500 friends shows up faithfully to hear the artists and programs she brings to St. Paul.

With Julie Himmelstrup

Sunday afternoon’s concert was accompanied by a snowstorm that left a hefty 8 inches of snow on the roads. Nevertheless, Julie’s audience was undeterred, and the church was completely packed. We played on of our “unfolding” program for them, consisting of Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 5 No. 2 (1796), Brahms Sonata No. 1 (1865), the Debussy Sonata (1915),  and the Britten Sonata (1960).

Fueling the Twin Cities’s current hunger for music, undoubtedly, are the twin lockouts of both the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.  ArtistLed’s former longtime employee, Patrick Castillo, is waiting out the dispute, as is violinist Erin Keefe of CMS and Music@Menlo fame, who only last year assumed the position of concertmaster at the Minnesota Orchestra, succeeding the legendary Jorja Fleezanis. Both of these faithful friends and colleagues showed up at our performance.

After a delicious and delightful reception in the company of board members of both organizations and Barry Kempton, the executive and artistic director of the Schubert Club, we boarded Erin Keefe’s car for an unusual post-concert destination: the nearby Super Target, in search of snow boots for me. Fortunately, we were successful, and for good reason, as you will soon read.

With Erin Keefe

Before our departure the next afternoon, we had the pleasure, once again, of taping a performance and interview with American Public Media, to be broadcast on the Performance Today show (check your local American Public Media listings for broadcast times on February 14).  Our host was Fred Child, whose mellow voice is now one of the most recognized in radio. Fred’s regular hosting appearances also include NPR’s Creators @ Carnegie, among countless others. The taping, in St. Paul’s historic Fitzgerald Theater included performances of Brahms, Debussy, and Rachmaninov, as well as discussions on the music and on our diverse activities.

With Fred Child and Suzanne Schaffer

After a quick farewell to our good friends, we headed to the airport for our first flight to Chicago, and then to the winter destination which resides in the dreams of many: Aspen, Colorado.

The extraordinary circumstance of our trip to Aspen is entirely the result of the ingenuity and determination of the Executive Director of Aspen Public Radio, Andrew Todd.  Spying on our concert schedule via our duo web site (all of our performances are listed there), Andrew determined that I had no concerts between our recital and St. Paul and a quartet appearance in Vancouver one week later.  He inquired if we might be available to perform in a benefit for the station during the week, and after determining that all of our business commitments during that week could be fulfilled by phone conference, we agreed to go.

Making all this possible was the hospitality of Aspen Public Radio, which used its good relations in town to make the five-day stay comfortable and productive, among them, our favorite summer accommodation The Aspen Alps, and the Christ Episcopal Church, where Wu Han had flexible practice hours at her disposal.

Soon after our arrival, we met Andrew Todd at the radio station to tape an extended interview, during which we spoke of course of our long history at Aspen, and, very excitedly, of our coming chamber music program at the festival this summer (stay tuned).  Andrew is the most engaging of hosts: energetic, articulate, informed and passionate about music. He was an accomplished piano student of the late Herbert Stessin at the festival during the 1990’s.

With Andrew Todd

The next evening, we performed for an audience of seventy-five at an extraordinarily beautiful home on Aspen’s Red Mountain.  Playing both the Strauss and Brahms E minor sonatas, we talked not only about the music but about our long history with, and support from, Aspen Public Radio.  It was a tremendously rewarding experience, and a great opportunity to provide some support for an institution both expertly-run and committed to quality programming.

After the performance, we enjoyed an intimate dinner with close Aspen and Chicago friends, the authors Judith Barnard and Michael Fain, in their home.

The following day included both a dinner, hosted by Aspen Music Festival board member Mike Murray, and a late afternoon tour of the festival’s school campus. The site is undergoing a $35 million construction, which includes new buildings for practice, rehearsal, and administration. It is the most ambitious construction project for the festival since the construction of the Joan and Irving Harris Concert Hall in 1993, and it was a further pleasure (an something of an honor) to be guided through the almost-unrecognizable school, where we have taught for almost thirty years, by Aspen Music Festival president and CEO Alan Fletcher.

Alan Fletcher gives us a tour of the new Aspen Music Festival campus.

We also had the excitement of a planning session for our coming chamber music workshop this summer with Vice President and Dean of Students Jennifer Johnston. Coming out to give us warm greetings were, left to right Asadour Santourian, Mary Rechlitz, Deborah Barnekow to the right of Wu Han, and Jennifer Johnston in the front.

And now: a departure for this music-based blog.  While Wu Han and I are determined to use this outlet to share experiences we consider worthy of the time of those interested in the arts, we have to acknowledge that there is a certain amount of curiosity out there about our non-musical activities.  Our experiences during Friday and Saturday were completely unprecedented, and, as they can be accompanied by stunning visual documentation, I’ll describe them here.

Musicians possess varying amounts of both free time and athletic skill.  Wu Han and I have very little of either.  But that did not prevent us from seizing the opportunity to partake in, during Thursday and Friday, Aspen’s most famous winter activity: skiing. Aspen is truly blessed with a wide selection of ski areas within a few mile radius: Ajax or Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk, the Highlands, Tiehack, and nearby Snowmass.  For our once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience skiing at its best, we were advised by Emerson Quartet ski fanatic Larry Dutton to choose Buttermilk, the ideal area for beginners, and he could not have been more right.

For this historic exploit, Wu Han and I were blessed in all ways: with a kind, gentle and phenomenally gifted private instructor, Ned Ryerson; with the unbelievably beautiful Buttermilk ski area; three days of fresh snow which ended just before our lessons began; perfect temperature, sunshine and calm winds; very few others on the mountain; and two luxurious six-hour ski sessions that included instruction, gourmet lunches atop the mountain, and, for me, at several solo runs from top to bottom on various intermediate trails.

Although I had learned to ski in my early teens through the Far Brook School winter program in New Hampshire, I had only skied once since in the mid-1980’s.  I was somewhat terrified but did not show it because Wu Han, who had never skied, was more than terrified. It took a tremendous amount of determination to pull this off: although I reserved our instructor by phone days in advance, I had very little idea what I was doing. But it seems the very nice people at the ski area, and in the equipment and clothing shops, had all encountered novices like me, and made it all seem simple.

Equipment has changed a lot since the last time I was on the slopes, and the new skis – shorter and with curved sides, copied from snowboard design – gave me more control than I could ever remember.  With a few helpful pointers and a good dose of mental training from Ned, I got going much faster than I had anticipated, and Wu Han, for whom, as Ned put, we had “low expectations but high hopes”, looked very natural after a short time, and was skiing solo by lunch.

Check it out!  You are the first to see Wu Han ski.

We credit Ned with Wu Han’s amazing progress.  He was a completely supportive instructor, full of knowledge, insight, history, and of course, skied with inspiring ease and beauty.

Our visit concluded with a delicious dinner at Aspen’s famous restaurant Cache-Cache, with our close friends Sarah and Marty Flug.  Marty has been a vital supporter of the Aspen Music Festival for as long as we have been there, and has directly sponsored many of our duo recitals.  It was a joyful way to cap off five days of rejuvenating experiences.

On Saturday we split up, Wu Han heading east to New York and me to Vancouver where I joined up with the Emerson Quartet.  It was my final appearance for the Vancouver Friends of Chamber Music and its amazing organizer, Eric Wilson.  Unfortunately, I had to forego the traditional post-concert dinner, always at a different and fantastic restaurant, as I just barely made my 7:30 pm flight to San Francisco with a continuing redeye to New York. On Monday evening, it was time to officially unveil the 2013-14 CMS season.

Arriving from opposite sides of the world, David and Wu Han met in Seoul on December 5th to perform in and preside over the second season of Chamber Music Today, the annual three-day festival they inaugurated last year in collaboration with the Korean company Casual Classic. During the same visit, David interviewed the finalists of the first Mendelssohn Fellowship and announced the recipient of the Fellowship.


In David’s words

Arriving from a chilly Moscow December, one would expect warmer weather in Korea, but not so on December 5th in Seoul. The temperature was approaching single digits, but the clear air and the cheerful atmosphere of Seoul’s Insadong district was a delightful change in environment.

Our mission in Korea last week saw us in at least four roles: as performers, as Artistic Directors of Chamber Music Today and of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (whose artists performed on two of the concerts), and for me, as Artistic Director of the Mendelssohn Fellowship.

Chamber Music Today, inaugurated exactly one year ago, is a three-day festival that brings chamber ensembles and individual performers of international renown to Seoul. The festival consists of four concerts, including one special donor’s concert that kicks off the festival on Saturday night.

After a rehearsal with David Shifrin in a very small studio near the hotel, we showed him around what has become a very familiar neighborhood, filled with shops, restaurants and stands selling alluring street food.

During the day, our CMS musicians spent time teaching the many wonderful students of the LG Chamber Music School, our other major project in Korea.  They came back with glowing reports of the level of talent and dedication, which we have seen develop steadily over the five years we have collaborated with the program. It was shocking to hear, however, that the school we have taught in (usually in hot weather) lacked heat, and that these very special young players are learning under extremely adverse conditions. There are always things we can do better for our musicians of the future, and we pledge to work at it.

The evening brought our first event, the donor’s concert, held this year in Seoul’s Hyatt Hotel, which is positioned on a hill overlooking the city.  The festival is organized and administered by the Casual Classic arts company and its dedicated staff, presided over by director Jeehyun Kim, an irresistible, force-of-nature woman who is passionately dedicated to promoting classical music. Without her extraordinary vision, none of us would have been there.

Wu Han welcomed the small crowd comprised of distinguished guests, many from sponsoring corporations.

With an introduction from Wu Han, the St. Lawrence String Quartet took the stage perform a Haydn quartet.  Geoff Nuttall delivered verbal program notes in his own inimitable and engaging style.

Following the Haydn, Wu Han and I ran through the Brahms e minor sonata to conclude the program, and we moved to the dining area for an elegant Chinese meal.  Near the end, it was time for me to announce the winner of the first Mendelssohn Fellowship. Representatives from the three finalist groups stood by me, tensely, while I kept them waiting for the results, explaining to the crowd the story and mission of the Fellowship (see my blog from June at the time of the Fellowhip’s announcement).

After extensively interviewing all the finalists the day before, assisted by several of my Advisory Committee members, we came to the conclusion that all three were deserving of the prize, and it was a great joy – and relief to all the applicants – that I was able to congratulate them all in front of the enthusiastic crowd.

Left to right, Jeehyun Kim, Wu Han, cellist Yumi Nam, Animas Trio pianist Younkyung Kim, David Finckel, Classikan Ensemble violist Shinkyu Lee, and Animas Trio cellist Sae Rom Kwon

During the event, day had changed to night, and we were treated to a transformed view of Seoul before leaving. Cellist Chris Costanza made friends with the curious looking sculpture in the lobby.

Sunday brought a busy schedule with two concerts. Around lunch time, David Shifrin, Wu Han and I rode to the Seoul Arts Center to the hall where I first played in Korea with the Emerson Quartet many years ago.  This marvelous hall was also home to the festival last year during our first season.

Backstage, Casual Classic pampered us, as usual, with delicious and beautiful snacks.

Our trio concert with David Shifrin consisted of the repertoire on our recent ArtistLed release: Beethoven’s Trio Op.  11, Four Pieces by Max Bruch, and the magnificent late trio by Johannes Brahms. After the concert we hurried out to the lobby, where we experienced one of the most heartening moments in our tours to Korea: meeting the audience.

There are more young people going to our concerts in Korea than I have seen anywhere in the world, in any concert I have performed or attended.  There were probably as many, if not more, listeners under the age of twenty than above, so many that it prompted David Shifrin to joke that Korea seems to have a problem with a declining OLDER audience.  From the demographics of all three audiences at this festival, one could make that a serious argument.

In a short time, it was the St. Lawrence Quartet’s turn to take the stage.

In a few moments, the quartet launched into a galloping first movement of  Beethoven’s Quartet Op. 18 No.  6,  led by violinist Scott St. John. Scott also led the fascinating second work on the program by Osvaldo Golijov, Chamber Music Today’s first performance of a work by a living composer.

After intermission, Geoff Nuttall took the first violin chair for a high-octane performance from start to finish of Mendelssohn’s spectacular quartet, Op. 44 No. 2 in e minor.

The lobby scene after was just as wild and just as young. The St. Lawrence Quartet was ecstatic, and they signed countless autographs for the young listeners.

A delicious dinner of pork barbecue ended late with a photo of some happy and well-fed musicians.

Although Wu Han and I were done with performing by Monday, we had a very busy day, beginning with a long strategy meeting with the winners of the Mendelssohn Fellowship. Our purpose was to identify the young musicians’ strong points and to help them by guiding their projects forward.  Wu Han joined me in talking with the young musicians, and we shared with them a lot of conventional wisdom gleaned from our years of entrepreneurial work. Stay tuned for a next chapter on the exciting work of the new Mendelssohn Fellows.

With cellist Yumi Nam

  The third and final concert of this year’s Chamber Music Today festival was presented entirely by a stellar group of artists of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. It was CMS’s Korean debut.

Traveling all the way to Korea for this single appearance were violinists Kristin Lee and Erin Keefe, violist Paul Neubauer, cellist Nicholas Canellakis, and pianist Gilbert Kalish. David Shifrin joined them and was the only artist of the Society to appear in two concerts, besides us.

This performance took place in the more intimate Sejong Hall, near to our hotel and the historic palace.

The performance began with Dohnanyi’s fantastic Serenade for string trio, performed spectacularly by Kristin Lee,  Paul Neubauer, and Nicholas Canellakis. For Kristin, a native Korean, it was a special moment for her to play there with CMS for the first time, especially with the musicians who have now become her regular colleagues and friends. Her parents and many family members and friends attended, and throughout our visit, she proved the perfect hostess, tour guide and companion.

The string trio was followed by David Shifrin and Gil Kalish in a performance of Debussy’s Premiere Rhapsody, a showpiece for clarinet which we have heard David perform on numerous occasions. David’s unequalled capacity for variety of color and nuance makes his performance of this work, for us, definitive, and the audience’s vocal response was indeed appropriate. Our listeners here, though young, seem to know what’s good, and they certainly got a lot of it in during the evening.

Erin Keefe then joined these two musicians for a bracing and uncannily accurate performance of Bartok’s Contrasts for clarinet, violin and piano.

After intermission, a performance of the Brahms piano quintet concluded the program.  In the opinion of many, Gil Kalish is one of the great Brahms interpreters of our time, bringing to the table his unbelievably rich tone, solid musical reasoning, crystal-clear articulation, natural phrasing, and an enormously powerful sound. Playing Brahms with him – and I’m lucky to have had many opportunities – is a chamber musician’s dream, one that certainly came true for his collaborators in this performance.

After being rewarded with numerous curtain calls, the ensemble quickly made its way to the lobby to greet Chamber Music Today’s signature audience. One of our musicians commented that it felt like a grown up concert with a children’s concert audience, and he could  not have been more correct.

The temperature outside (and also in the lobby – none of the Korean lobbies seem to be heated) had dropped to the lowest mark of our visit so far, yet we braved the elements for a very brisk walk to a restaurant only a block away, for a meal organized and hosted by LG executive Sunghyun Kim. Sunghyun is, without a doubt, the most musically literate CFO we know, and he astounded our performers during dinner with the combination of his relaxed personality and enormous knowledge of our art form, not to mention, entertaining us with a true insider’s perspective of one of the world’s largest and most successful media companies.

Sunghyun Kim, left

True to tradition, everyone had early flights the next morning, but that stopped not one of us from enjoying absolutely mouth-watering barbecue, with all the Korean trimmings, and an astonishing amount of Shoju.

The evening ended with a photograph that included the whole cast, including Sunghyun Kim and his fellow LG executive Jun Yung (center), Jeehyun Kim and her staff, and of course, all of the musicians. Somehow the night didn’t feel so cold anymore, and I believe I speak for all of us when I  say that we left Korea inspired by the audiences, warmed by the friendship, and eager to return to continue playing and teaching chamber music in this extraordinary society.

In little more than 24 hours, the Emerson Quartet blasted in and out of Moscow to perform at the December Nights Festival for the first time. Despite the exhausting travel schedule, David took every opportunity he could to fully experience this amazing city.


In David’s words

Not many soloists or ensembles from America plan and execute run-outs to Russia. The fact that Moscow sits on the east side of the vast country does little to make it seem any closer.  Having flown into Boston Sunday morning, rehearsed, and played a concert for the Celebrity Series, the quartet shared a few hurried minutes with the series’ donors, well-wishers, and autograph seekers.  The Celebrity Series, always the efficient and thoughtful host, had a car waiting to rush the quartet to Boston’s Logan Airport for a 7:45 p.m. Air France flight to Paris.

My formula of avoiding alcohol or coffee, plus a sleeping pill, worked like a charm, and I slept the whole way over. At Charles de Gaulle, there was another mad dash for the connecting flight to Moscow. During the long flight, the new-found daylight faded to dusk and eventually the sky turned dark as we had changed time zones into Monday evening (Russia has nine time zones).  And the days are short during the Moscow winter.

Getting through customs at the airport is a crazy prospect for anyone carrying an instrument.  The officials, wanting to make sure you don’t take any instruments out of Russia that aren’t yours, insist on a long, drawn-out procedure that requires musicians to arrive with sets of detailed photos of instruments and bows, plus papers stating ownership and value.   There have been recent stories of musicians not having had the proper paperwork and going through nightmares, so we were all well prepared.  I am thankful every day that I have a crackerjack staff who takes care of most of the work for me; I don’t know how other musicians manage to find the time. Maria, our charming host from the festival, was waiting for us at customs, ready to explain everything we needed to know. Without her, one torturous hour could have easily turned into three.

After the very slow process of customs agents examining our instruments, copying passports, stamping documents, etc., we emerged into the cold Moscow night, cramming ourselves into a van. We were warned of traffic going into Moscow (at 7:30 p.m.) and sure enough, we sat on the highways for nearly two hours on a trip that should only take 30 minutes.

Arrival at the elegant Marriott Tverskaya was a relief.  I was quickly in touch with my good friend Igor Naidin, violist of the Borodin Quartet, and within 40 minutes he arrived at the hotel, ready to take us out to dinner. We enjoyed a brisk walk to the famous Pushkin Café, a reconstructed, historically-informed environment that harks back to the days of the founder of modern Russian literature.

Alexander Pushkin lived roughly during the time of Beethoven, and was the first to introduce international concepts into Russian literature, excelling in every genre he tackled.  Such was the magnetism of his work that it became the inspiration for composers such as Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Rachmaninov and Stravinsky.  The stories of the famous operas we know – Eugene Onegin, Boris Godunov, the Queen of Spades – all came from Pushkin’s pen.  He died tragically in a duel at the age of 37.

Monument of Pushkin in Pushkin Place

Igor Naidin is both the youngest and longest-tenured member of his quartet.  The Borodin Quartet, famous and beloved by audiences the world over for its definitive performances and recordings of a wide range of literature, has had many personnel changes since it was founded in 1945 at the Moscow Conservatory. The original cellist was none other than Rostropovich, who soon left to pursue, understandably, his unparalleled career as a soloist. His replacement, Valentin Berlinsky, was a fantastic cellist, one of the best in a quartet ever. His tone, technique and musicianship helped guide the group throughout its history until he passed away in 2008. (Several years ago, I became the proud owner of Berlinsky’s bow, which he used for concerts for duration of his career).

Having a tireless, generous and fun-loving local as a guide in a foreign city like Moscow is an indispensable asset if you want to make the most out of a short stay.  After dinner, we headed back to the hotel where we took Igor up on his offer to drive us around Moscow during the late-night, low-traffic hours. The sights were so extraordinary that I hardly noticed the bitter cold.

Our first stop was the street monument in memory of Rostropovich.  The stunningly realistic sculpture was unveiled in 2012, five years after the great musician’s passing. What a triumph for Slava and his family to be so embraced by the government which once persecuted them and stripped them of their citizenship. Slava is positioned facing the building in which he and Shostakovich owned apartments, with the Conservatory where he learned and taught only couple of blocks behind him, and a beautiful old church to his left.

Although Slava is hunched over his cello in a way that I never saw, the perspective from the street is a familiar one that so many people experienced while sitting below him at a concert, staring up his unbelievably intense face and long fingers running over the strings like a giant spider.  The statue certainly brings back memories, and captures Slava the way so many hundreds of thousands remember him.

It was a very short hop from Slava’s memorial to that of another great Russian musician, Tchaikovsky, who is imposingly positioned directly in front of the Moscow Conservatory.

From there we headed directly to the Kremlin, passing the magnificent Bolshoi Opera House on the way.

One of the great tourist sites of the world, the Kremlin looks even more spectacular at night, and perhaps more friendly as well. We returned to the hotel exhausted but dazzled and inspired.

Up early the next morning, I squeezed in several hours of practicing before being met by Maria and our faithful driver Maxim, who had volunteered to take us to the Novodevechy cemetery, one of, if not the most legendary cemetery in the world. Literally all of Russia’s cultural heroes lie there, including the recent arrival Rostropovich.  I simply had to go, but unfortunately, my colleagues in the quartet were either too tired or busy to go (some of them had seen it on our last visit here, seven years ago). On the way we encountered stunning sights like this one-of-many Stalinist-style buildings (now a Radisson Hotel) and the Russian White House.

But the sight of the beautiful Novodevechy Convent (once a 13th century fortress) heightened anticipation of a profound experience.

There was a gentle snow falling, the light was on the dim side, and upon entering the cemetery one is captivated by its magic.

With headstones chiefly black in color, it is somber without being depressing.  Most of the tall stones have sculpted heads on them, so the place feels full of personalities. The capping of snow made many of them look like cone-heads, for those of you who remember these characters from Saturday Night Live.

Slava being Slava, unstoppable and refusing any answer but yes when he wanted something, somehow posthumously secured for himself the absolute prime site in the cemetery for his grave, right on the corner, halfway down the main pathway.  You can see his headstone from the street.  They must have moved someone out of there for him.

It is still shocking for me to see his dates written. They delineate the earthly life of a man who all of us expected, somehow, to be around forever. Thankfully, Slava’s great legacy is one of the most well-documented in musical history, and I need only to put on his early recording of the Saint-Saens Concerto to recall the excitement and inspiration I felt when I first heard it at ten years old.

Next, we went to see the grave of Shostakovich, and it makes one realize how much changed in Russia between 1974 and 2007.  Off to the side, in another area walled off from the main part, Shostakovich’s plain stone block sits on a narrow path that had not even been shoveled.  It is, however, completely in character with the composer: simple, not wanting to call attention to itself, modest and withdrawn.

The cemetery map, even after one wipes the snow off, is almost impossible to read, and then proves inaccurate once you do find your destination.  We had to ask the snow-shovelers where the grave of Shostakovich was.  There are no markers directing you to famous people.

After paying my respects to the composer whose music I’ve played perhaps more than any composer save Beethoven, we circled around to find the grave of the violinist David Oistrakh, a colleague of Rostropovich with whom he performed often.  One of the great violinists of all time, his legendary recordings still set the standard for beauty of sound, for the most heartfelt renderings of the major classics such as the Brahms Concerto, and for the great works he premiered by Shostakovich.  His grave, although not well marked, is relatively hard to miss, as a sculpture of him playing is positioned atop the stone.

On our way out I happened upon a gravestone with music on it, and instantly recognized the beautiful first phrase of Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations.  The grave, I learned, belonged to the great Russian cellist Sviatoslav Knushevitsky, who performed in a piano trio with David Oistrakh and pianist Lev Oborin.

I dashed to the hotel just in time to gather things for the rehearsal and concert. Cramming into the van again, we drove a short distance to our venue, the Pushkin Museum.

The Pushkin Museum is one of Moscow’s great art museums; it has nothing to do with Pushkin save the name, which was given to it in 1937 on the hundredth anniversary of the writer’s death.  The grand building houses a stunning collection, including the only painting that Vincent van Gogh ever sold, and the famous trove of gold looted from Troy by the German archeologist Heinrich Schliemann. The museum has been the home of the December Nights Festival since the festival’s founding in 1981.

The concerts take place in a large, high-ceilinged rectangular room with a stone floor and booming acoustics.

The pre-concert preparations included all kinds of challenges (no music stands, no cello platform, a wandering recording engineer setting up microphones hovering precariously over us, etc.)

But we were rewarded at the end of the rehearsal with a dressing area in one of the sculpture galleries, with food graciously laid out and many people to tend to our needs.  It was truly a unique backstage scene. The bathroom is two long flights down.

Larry consulted Igor about note discrepancies in the viola part of Shostakovich Quartet No. 12. Igor told us that his quartet – the leading authority on the works – has discovered many inconsistencies and questionable notes in the cycle.

The concert went off without a hitch and the public was very appreciative; the Shostakovich Quartet carried an understandably special intensity. (I will describe in detail, experiences of playing under heightened, extraordinary circumstances, in a forthcoming Huffington Post blog, sometime after May.)

At the conclusion of the concert, the audience and musicians all race to get through the same door which is about 10 feet wide.  It was quite a challenge.

Igor was backstage ready to whisk us off to dinner, but not before we met two distinguished ladies: Irina Shostakovich, the third and final spouse of the composer, and Natalya Solzhenitsyn, widow of the great dissident writer whom Rostropovich housed in his dacha during the writer’s banishment from Moscow.

Irina Shostakovich, right

Dinner was at the Tchaikovsky Restaurant near the hotel, a musician hangout, where we all had lots of good food and vodka. As we ate, violist Yuri Bashmet, the director of the December Nights Festival, passed by after his dinner, saying a nice hello without apology for having missed our concert.

I’m not sure when or if I will return to Russia in the future.  But on this visit I accomplished some important missions and had a very wonderful time.  A future trip, if it happens, will be for much longer duration, and will provide many mre opportunities for playing, teaching and learning.

St Cecilia's Exterior

After two years of intensive planning, the St. Cecilia Music Center of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center launched a three-year partnership with a concert by Wu Han, Philip Setzer, and David Finckel. The performance took place before a wildly enthusiastic crowd in the stunning hall at the Music Center.


In David’s words

One of America’s great classical music stories began in the year 1883, when a group of women in Grand Rapids decided to begin a musical organization named the St. Cecilia Society, after the patron saint of music. The organization’s mission was to “promote the study and appreciation of music in all its branches” and that vision is still at work today.  Initially performing for each other in their homes, the women eventually raised the funds to build the magnificent building which is now St. Cecilia’s own, and they began importing internationally renowned musicians to perform. Today, St. Cecilia offers music education and activities for musicians of all ages and abilities, as well as performances by distinguished artists.

The idea of a relationship with St. Cecilia entered my thinking when I first played there about ten years ago with the Emerson Quartet. Returning with a duo recital a couple of seasons later added fuel to the idea, especially when Wu Han laid eyes on the extraordinary hall, and after both of us had learned the Center’s inspiring history.  Under the dynamic leadership of Executive Director Cathy Holbrook, the Center is thriving and expanding its vision, and CMS was there at the right moment to offer the center a seasonal selection of some of our most exciting programs from the New York stage.


Left to Right: Cathy Holbrook, Executive Director; David Finckel and Wu Han, Artistic Directors; Chuck and Stella Royce, the namesake of the Royce Auditorium at St. Cecilia Music Center.

A lively donor reception and dinner the evening before our concert allowed us to thank and acknowledge the contributions of all, to explain the project, and to get to know the Center’s most important supporters.  As is so often the fact, this group of patrons comprises a collection of smart, passionate and dedicated people who are determined to ensure that the institution is secure and will allow our partnership to thrive.  We were very impressed with all of them and look forward to building these new friendships over the residency’s three-year period.

As Philip, Wu Han and I are playing our Dvorak Trio program in Alice Tully Hall in January (as well as a substantial number of other places this season) we decided to kick the series off with this romantic program, which includes the last two great trios of Dvorak, the f minor and the “Dumky”.  As an opener, Wu Han and I offered Brahms’ first sonata in e minor, which connects the many dots between Brahms and Dvorak that resulted in a great friendship and whole-hearted support of the young Czech composer by the Viennese master.


The explosive vocal greeting we received entering the stage after Cathy spoke (we can’t imagine what she must have said!) led the way to a thoroughly satisfying experience on the stage of this fantastic hall.  Seating about 500, it is the perfect size and acoustic for chamber music, and we know that all our musicians from CMS will come home with rave reviews about the concert hall, the public, and the organization and its people. We look forward to the next opportunity we will have to play there –I hope it’s soon– but I am equally excited to be sending so many stellar players from the CMS roster to share in this joyful and exciting project.

Check on the Center’s many activities at www.scmc-online.org

Squeezing in a two-night stop between the CMS cruise and the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Festival, the duo found its way to Sarajevo to perform for an exciting and original chamber music festival, inaugurated just last year. It was something of a family gathering: read on.


In David’s words
Jumping hurriedly off the Corinthian II in Barcelona in the early morning, and racing past the tantalizing cityscape, we headed straight for the airport for the first of the day’s three flights that would land us, well after dark, in Sarajevo’s Butimir Airport.  For our first visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, we were very excited to be among the performers of the second Sarajevo Chamber Music Festival, organized by the Manhattan String Quartet, in which my cousin Chris is the cellist.

The festival was born in the previous year as a common inspiration of my cousin and Sarajevo musician Dino Mulić, a tireless, passionate advocate of the arts dedicated to bringing the best to his home city.

Dino, between me and Wu Han

Sarajevo’s rich history of course includes the assassination of Archduke of Austria in 1914 which sparked World War I, and the horrendous siege during the Bosnian war for independence, 1992-96, in which the city was relentlessly bombarded from the surrounding hills.

With food supplies cut off and utilities scarce, the city held its own until United Nations forces finally defeated the aggressors in 1996, ending the war.  But the city had lost thousands of its citizens, its historic buildings were either completely destroyed or pock-marked by snipers’ bullets, and a generation of young people who had been shot at while traveling to school (like Dino) set about to rebuild their lives and their city.

Indeed, Sarajevo thrives today and offers visitors a vibrant historic center filled with shops, restaurants, and historic sights.

After the siege, many musicians visited Sarajevo to bring the joy of music into the lives of its war-ravaged citizens. But rarely have they returned on a regular basis, and Dino described his dream to Chris at the festival’s conception: that the concerts should be free to the public, and that somehow, the festival must find a way to survive and to continue for many seasons.

It is obvious that although many years have passed since the war, the city is still in need of sustenance. The Manhattan Quartet began the festival last year by performing the complete cycle of fifteen Shostakovich Quartets, a body of music in which the composer revealed not only his innermost self but which chronicles his turbulent and challenged life as an artist in the Soviet Union.  Undoubtedly, this music had special resonance with listeners in Sarajevo, and the first festival was a stunning example of imaginative and visionary programming.

Narrowly missing the opening concert, we caught the open-air reception behind the concert hall, attended by many from the audience, including local dignitaries.  The place was buzzing with the kind of enthusiasm that we were to experience non-stop over the next forty-eight hours.

Our contributions to this festival, due to our very tight schedule, had to be squeezed into a single day, beginning the next morning with a master class at the Sarajevo Academy of Music.  The building has all the qualities of a quintessential European 19th century conservatory building: spacious rooms and hallways, a sense of history, and a well-worn feel that is further accentuated by still-obvious damage from war.  The top two floors are the college division, first floors elementary division, middle is high school.

The students, part of the festival’s chamber music workshop who come from nearby towns, were both talented and eager.  We spent the better part of the morning working with three gifted ensembles. A total of fourteen chamber groups performed in the Institute’s final concert, which concluded with the Dvorak Serenade for Strings, conducted by Deborah Wong.

Wu Han stayed on to practice, framed here by the rocket-blasted hole in the wall which has been preserved as a reminder of the city’s trials.

The afternoon brought our dress rehearsal in the stunning concert hall, known as the Dom Armije, which is located in a building owned by the army and used chiefly for army events.  The remarkable hall has hosted concerts for many years by artists the likes of Heifetz.

With the Manhattan Quartet, Wu Han rehearsed the Dvorak Quintet and I the Arensky Quartet; the program began with a performance by the duo of Beethoven’s sonata in A major.  That evening, the hall was literally packed with some of the most excited listeners of all generations that we’ve ever encountered.

The post-concert arrangement included an alfresco dinner with the quartet at a family-run restaurant on the side of the hill high above the city. The views, the food, the atmosphere, and the company were all delightful and unforgettable.

With Chris Finckel and spouse Deborah Wong

Although we left hurriedly the next morning, the festival continued on at a fast pace, offering  performances of Schubert’s Winterreise in an all-Schubert concert, an all-Mozart concert with Slovenian clarinetist Boris Rener, a recital by pianist Christopher Taylor, plus other masterpieces of the literature.  In future seasons, we hope to once again take part in this inspiring project, and we thank the Manhattan Quartet and the festival’s organizers for their invitation, their hospitality and friendship.