Over the past months chamber music lovers have found a few important changes in their universe, above all the retirement of the Tokyo String Quartet and David Finckel’s departure from the Emerson. Both of these developments made themselves felt in the summer festivals. The Tokyo played their farewell concert at Yale’s Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, where they have been a fixture for years. It was a characteristically unsentimental affair, although one could see that fans had travelled considerable distances to fill the Norfolk Music Shed on that stifling summer evening. The Emerson played at Tanglewood with their superb new cellist, the distinguished soloist and conductor, Paul Watkins, and David Finckel appeared at the South Mountain Concerts with his wife Wu Han and violinist Philip Setzer of the Emerson, marking his even busier schedule as a member of a duo and trio. Listen to my interview with David Finckel and Wu Han for a full account of the changes in his life.
Along with the retirement of the Tokyo String Quartet, the departure of David Finckel from the Emerson Quartet has been one of the most discussed events in the world of chamber music over the past eighteen months or so. As people who have heard their concerts know, both David Finckel and the Emerson Quartet, now with the British cellist, Paul Watkins, in place, are as rich as ever in their contributions to our well-being as humans. Wu Han and David Finckel spoke with me just today about their new post-Emerson life, which allows David to travel and play more regularly with Wu Han as a duo and as a trio with Emerson violinist Philip Setzer, who will join them at the venerable South Mountain Concerts on Sunday, September 29, 2013. They will play Beethoven Op. 1, No. 2, Shostakovich’s Trio No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 67, and Dvořák’s Trio in E Minor, Op. 90, the “Dumky.”
I hope you enjoy our conversation about their past, present, and future as much as I did.
On looking over this program of familiar works for cello and piano, the last thing one would call it is challenging. Yet, this past Sunday evening, David Finckel and Wu Han made it into something extremely challenging and enlightening. The duo — a husband-wife team, as is well-known — put so much feeling and energy into each piece that each became a world unto itself, formed by such radically different personalities, that it seemed miraculous that the players could make the transition from one to the other within a single evening. As for listening to such performances, I found myself so deeply immersed in these varied planets, that the journey between them seemed vast. Finckel and Wu Han approached them as differing thought processes in different languages.
The saving grace of “music for children,” I find, is that it is never really composed for children, but about them — or more usually about the part of us which traffics in irony, yet yearns to remain simple and pure. There are few lullabies effective for sleep which would long engage an adult mind, so I know Sasha Cooke will forgive me for saying that her stunningly effective rendition of Britten’s Charm of Lullabies last Tuesday at Music at Menlo, outwitted Morpheus.
With David Finckel and Wu Han’s program of Beethoven Cello Sonatas at Union College coming up, I thought it a good idea to take a look at their recording of Beethoven’s complete Cello works, which I’d never heard before. I was even surprised to learn that it dates back to 1997, making it one of the earliest recordings they made on their pioneering label, ArtistLed. Like today, they functioned as the producers of the recording, and Da-Hong Seetoo, the extraordinary sound engineer, who works with personally modified hardware and software, made the recording. They purposely chose Harris Hall at Aspen, Colorado as the venue, because they were struck that its particular acoustics were ideal for recording Beethoven. “Built from wood, with a high ceiling, it has a resonance which is warm, clear and brilliant.
The Tannery Pond Concerts, founded in 1991 by the renowned photographer and musician, Christian Steiner, is still in its youth, compared to its elders in Norfolk, Music Mountain and Marlboro, but it is true to the mold, such as it exists, and shows no signs of diffidence. Beginning in the 1960’s, Mr. Steiner’s position as the preeminent portraitist of musicians has given him a unique knowledge of the musical world. He is as much in contact with young, emerging artists as with the most established figures in the field, who have included Herbert von Karajan, Maria Callas, and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. As director of Tannery Pond, he is especially proudof the debuts or early appearances he has sponsored of musicians who have since risen to the top of the profession. Another feature of Tannery Pond is the beautiful old tannery, built in 1834, now the chapel of The Darrow School, which occupies the site of the New Lebanon Shaker Village. Its acoustics are remarkably present and intimate, and, since it seats only 290, its atmosphere is equally intimate. The audience, on the whole, appears to be composed of keen and educated music-lovers who have been attending loyally for some years. Many appear to know each other, and this enhances the family-like atmosphere of the concerts.