Tag Archive: Dvořák

An Interview with Wu Han and David Finckel: Life after the Emerson Quartet and an Upcoming Concert at South Mountain Concerts

David Finckel and Wu Han

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.



The Amazing Daniil Trifonov with The Russian National Orchestra

One of the joys with a visiting orchestra is to experience new sonorities—to be swept richly downward, perhaps, to unanticipated string depths—to hear brass playing grainier or more golden than you thought possible in the hall—or wind passages lighter and more personal than you might have dreamed. More importantly, you come to sense the ensemble’s psychology, as individual in its way as the conductor’s. Listen to an orchestra like the Mariinsky, and you experience shivers of delight. How Russian it seems!





Dvořák and Shostakovich with Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Sydney Symphony, Jian Wang, Cello, Plus Some Extra Cellomania

Is Dvořak, to paraphrase Dr. Leonard McCoy, really that beautiful? Really so much more beautiful than other music you’ve heard? Or is it just that it acts beautiful? If it comes down to the performance to go more than skin deep, the musicians must play very convincingly indeed. Beauty in music has proven to be diverse. For a sound to be music rather than mere sounds, however pleasing, the it needs the broadest possible aesthetic idea of beauty. An ugly sound, it has been pointed out, can be “beautiful” if used so fittingly by a composer that nothing but that sound could be desired at that point in the music. For human beings, this has included the rasping shawms and the regals, and the augmented fourth of the middle ages and renaissance, the harsh use of the usual orchestral brass by Mahler, and all the freely used ugly sounds and outbursts in 20th century music and its terrible dissonances. I would draw the line at physically painful sounds, either through loudness or shrillness or both, as ugly in a destructive way, and so incapable of beauty, even betraying the faith of the listener who trustingly opens their ears to the music, though some do seem to find pleasure in the ginormous 19th century organs played at full volume with all the stops out. Free expression in a musician or a composer can be beautiful in itself, of course, though when that expression becomes gratuitous or self-indulgent, or sentimental (which can betray a certain narrow emotional rigidity) or arbitrary (which can betray a self-imposed or self-persuaded intellectual rigidity) it can become ugly. Music in a straight jacket can be ugly too. A masterful fugue in transcending any thought of a dichotomy between these two extremes can be most beautiful of all.





The New York Philharmonic; Alan Gilbert, conductor; Yefim Bronfman, piano; at Davies Hall, San Francisco, play Dvořák, Lindberg, and Tchaikovsky

Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic. Photo Chris Lee.

I caught recently one of the concerts given in Davies Hall by the New York Philharmonic, my old hometown band, as part of our 100th Anniversary Season. It was enough to set me thinking again about the role a good hall plays in shaping the fame of an ensemble.

Fifty years of struggle with the Lincoln Center acoustic has clearly left its mark on the New York orchestra’s reputation — though I must say not on the quality of its playing — which remains stunningly world class. But one is surprised to find in the sonority a burnished warmth and tonal delicacy similar to that of the Cleveland Orchestra. Understated tonal virtues have seldom been possible at Broadway and 65th Street. At least in the way we think of the orchestra. But they were notable here and speak well of Alan Gilbert’s Music Directorship.



The New York Philharmonic; Alan Gilbert, conductor; Yefim Bronfman, piano; at Davies Hall, San Francisco, play Dvořák, Lindberg, and Tchaikovsky

Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic. Photo Chris Lee.

Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic. Photo Chris Lee. The New York Philharmonic Alan Gilbert, conductor Yefim Bronfman, piano Davies Hall, San Francisco Sunday, May 13, 2012 Dvořák – Carnival Overture, Opus 92 Lindberg – Piano Concerto No. 2 Tchaikovsky –…
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The Berlin Philharmonic and Sir Simon Rattle at Carnegie Hall: Debussy, Dvořák, Schoenberg, Elgar, Bruckner, Wolf, and Mahler

A U.S. tour by one of the great European orchestras is a a costly endeavor—for everyone concerned—and, even if it is a biennial occurrence, it should be nothing less than an important event, especially in New York. I find it a severe disappointment when an orchestra offers routine programming on tour, no matter how well it shows off their glories. These are missed opportunities. The Berlin Philharmonic and their Director, Sir Simon Rattle, therefore deserve our thanks for sticking with the “curated” programming which made their last visit to Carnegie Hall such a memorable esperience. Back then, they combined a cycle of Brahms symphonies with works by Arnold Schoenberg. This year they have taken a step forward and a step back, narrowing their range, to explore the origins of the modern in music in the 1890s. On the way, they have also managed to include some of Sir Simon’s signature repertoire in Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations and Mahler’s Second Symphony, both among the works with which he made his reputation early in his career.



Mark Wigglesworth, Stephen Hough and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra play Lutosławski, Mozart and Dvořák, and a Note on the Separateness of Math and Music

Witold Lutosławski when he conducted himself preferred programs consisting solely of his own music to avoid entrapping the audience members who just wanted to hear again a classic (invariably put at the very end) and to encourage listeners who wanted to hear his music. However cynical you want to be about making the audience sit through avant-garde music to get to the ultra-popular Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony, this was actually an adventurous program in being such a mixture. Risking the melomanic equivalent of the bends, somehow just avoided by virtue of the performance, specifically the Sydney Symphony’s style and close cooperation with visiting Britons Mark Wigglesworth and the very intelligent and feeling pianist Stephen Hough, the musicians made it all seem to hang together naturally, if loosely.





In Praise of Herbert von Karajan, with a Selective Critical Discography

My immediate reaction to Michael Miller’s commentary on the Karajan centenary [Oh no! He’s not back again, is he? – May 2, 2008] was rather choleric, but I’ve settled down a bit since then and can write this from a relatively balanced perspective.



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