The final week of Music@Menlo’s 10th anniversary season began with a Café Conversation which opened the eyes and ears of the audience to the possibilities of music education through the internet. As a long passion and curiosity for me, I decided to share many of my favorite videos, recordings, and web sites – focusing especially on our students. Dividing my talk into three segments – music lessons, master classes, and performance examples – the hour and 15 minutes flew by as we toured violinist Kurt Sassmannshaus’s violinmasterclass.com, Paul Katz’s cellobello.com, and my own cellotalks.com. We then moved to the masterclassfoundation.com site which offers numerous classes, and we watched Daniel Barenboim working with both Lang Lang and Alessio Bax on Beethoven. Finishing up with performances, the room sat in an awed silence as we experienced the incomparable sound of David Oistrakh in Debussy’s Clair de Lune.
The week included a fantastic series of master classes, one after the other, led by Ani Kavafian, Gilbert Kalish, Ian Swensen, and finally Wu Han on Friday. She worked magically with two Young Performers’ piano duos on Mozart and Schubert with the hall packed full of listeners. Her ability to express herself powerfully, and to inspire, always enables young musicians to rise to higher levels and to produce new and more musical sounds, right in front of the audience. And she does it all so naturally, and with such love – sometimes tough love – that it draws everyone together onto the same page- like very few artists I’ve ever seen.
Wednesday brought the season’s final Encounter, led by festival Artistic Administrator, Patrick Castillo. Focusing on the diversity of musical experiences today, and on today’s uses of music and listening habits, Patrick courageously put forth strong theories concerning the role of music in contemporary society, challenging his listeners with experimental and provocative musical examples. Declaring rightly that “Music today is inescapably everywhere” , Patrick reasoned that music is an important means of engaging with the world of our time, and his selections – from Steve Reich to Mario Davidovsky – justified his arguments. A riveting performance by Gloria Chien of Davidovsky’s Synchronism for piano and prepared tape perhaps elicited a pivotal moment in the evening, in which an audience member suddenly spoke out saying “That’s not music!” The tension was high for a few moments while Patrick deftly navigated away from a protracted argument, but as Patrick said in his opening remarks, there are more questions than answers about music today, and it is precisely the questioning that is the most important process.
On Thursday, the pressure shifted towards me and Wu Han as we presented our Carte Blanche recital program. There is nothing quite like playing in front of your students: you tell them what to do and what not to do for 3 weeks, and then it is time for you to live up to the same expectations you have set for them. We played a program in which each work represented one of the main festival program themes: Our opening Strauss Sonata was Delighted, the Messiaen “Praise to the Eternity of Jesus” was Inspired; Wu Han’s Spanish dances by Albeniz was Motivated; Glazunov’s “Minstrel’s Song” was Transported, and finally, Chopin’s Cello Sonata was Impassioned. We made it through somehow, and people seemed to enjoy it, which is the most we could ask for in the middle of our heavy festival schedule.
After the Friday night concert in Stent Hall at Menlo School, a large crowd consisting of artists and staff trekked through the back gate of Menlo school, crossed the driveway, and went through the hole in the fence that leads to the house of long-time festival friend Jack Phillips. It was the most poignant of parties, as, after hosting ten years of gatherings there, Jack has decided to sell the house. But the good news is that it was purchased by Menlo School, and we are hoping with all our might that the new Head of School – who will live there – might enjoy a party once in a while. (It was Jack Phillips who introduced us to Menlo School twelve years ago and helped us forge the relationship that began the festival. We can never thank him enough!)
On Saturday at noon, the final Koret Young Performers Concert took place in the Center for Performing Arts at Menlo-Atherton. These events have always been packed, even though we are now presenting them in our larger 500-seat hall. Unusual ensembles, including two octets (Spohr and Mendelssohn) bookended the concert, which showcased the incredible talents and preparation of the students in violin duos, piano duos, and even a selection of sublime cello quartets. We could not be more proud of our students, and of our coaches, who all emerged for a well-deserved ovation from the audience of students, staff, parents, many senior artists and IP’s, the public, and of course me and Wu Han.
The summer’s closing concert, entitled Delighted, presented music which was designed to be enjoyed. No lofty messages came off the stage on Friday and Saturday, but plenty of great music and phenomenal playing nonetheless. It’s possible that I have not heard a chamber music concert with quite so many notes, between Paul Schoenfield’s frenetic trio for clarinet, violin and piano, Mendelssohn’s Allegro Brillant for piano, four hands, Moszkowski’s virtuoso four-movement duo for two violins and piano, and the grand Chausson Concerto for violin, piano and string quartet. Ani Kavafian was the eloquent soloist in the Chausson, spinning out gorgeous lines while pianist Inon Barnatan, with the score mostly in his head but reading off an iPad nevertheless, dispatched the fearsome piano part with astounding command and musicianship. In a concert that was riddled with highlights, among them were: the triumphant violin performances of Sean Lee and Kristin Lee in the Moszkowski; the wild and funny performance of the Schoenfield by Gloria Chien, Arnaud Sussmann and Jose Franch-Ballester; and the expert performance of the festival’s made-to-order string quartet for the Chausson, consisting of Sean and Kristin Lee, Arnaud Sussmann on viola, and cellist Dmitri Atapine.
A grand closing party brought speeches, tributes and thanks to all our staff, musicians, donors, board members, and many audience members who attended the event. In what seemed like a few moments, Music@Menlo’s 10th anniversary season had ended as quickly as it began, and everyone scattered: musicians running off to other festivals, some on the evening’s red eye flights to the east coast; staff back into the offices on Sunday for debriefings and festival clean up; and Wu Han and I back to New York for two nights only.
Added Value Blog: A Great Moment
On Monday night in New York, the Emerson Quartet reconvened for a single concert at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall for a Mostly Mozart Festival concert. It was a great surprise, and delight, for me to learn that my successor in the Emerson, cellist Paul Watkins, was in the audience with his wife Jennifer, and backstage we saw each other for the first time since he accepted the position of cellist in the quartet. We gathered joyfully for what will be, I’m sure, the first of many group photos.
Stay tuned to this blog for a major post from the next chapter of our amazing summer.