On a visit to Prague, David Finckel visited one of the palaces in the old city. Wandering through the galleries amidst the tourists and the treasures, Finckel was awestruck when he realized that William Lobkowicz, whose family had owned the manse for 600 years, was right there in the room.
Why the excitement from Finckel, the cellist of Emerson Quartet and co-artistic director of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center? Because back in the 18th century, this family _specifically Josef Franz Maximilian Lobkowicz _was responsible for commissioning a slew of major works by Beethoven, including the Fifth Symphony and the Opus 18 string quartets.
Thus was born the idea for Immortal Investments, the Chamber Music Society's Winter Festival, celebrating the enduring results of artistic patronage.
Finckel had no trouble coming up with music for a program honoring Lobkowicz's contributions to the classical canon. He and co-artistic director, Wu Han, settled on two of Beethoven's string quartets: Opus 18 No. 6 and Op. 74; Beethoven's song cycle An die ferne Geliebte and the Haydn String Quartet Op. 77, nicknamed "Lobkowicz," all of which were made possible by Lobkowicz family commissions. The concert kicks off the Chamber Music Society's Winter Festival on Friday, February 12, 2012.
"The excitement of becoming connected to this family inspired us to take a look at some others without whom we would not have some of the great works in the classical canon," says Finckel. "We became just as amazed delving into the life work of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. We feel like I have gotten to know her in a virtual way, by playing at the hall in Washington, DC, that bears her name."
The daughter of a rich industrialist, Coolidge was musically inclined. When she was widowed at a young age, she found an outlet for her grief by dedicating her life to music. "The number of composers she worked with was astounding," says Finckel. Her support was felt by nearly every leading composer of the early 20th century _ a prestigious list that included Copland, Barber, Britten, Poulenc, Prokofiev, Ravel and Stravinsky.
Coolidge felt it was important for our nation's capitol to have a great hall for chamber music, and so she supplied the funding to build one at the Library of Congress. "Coolidge Auditorium is one of the finest chamber music halls in the country," says Finckel, who has performed there many times. Chamber Music Society's February 26 program (repeated on February 28) features Coolidge's most famous commission, Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring. Other Coolidge commissions on this program include the Flute Sonata by Poulenc, Bartok's String Quartet No. 5, and Chansons mad_casses for Voice, Flute, Cello and Piano by Ravel.
Around the same time Coolidge was in the United States enriching the world's chamber music catalogue, Winnaretta Singer, heir to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune, was creating her own legacy in Europe. Singer was born in New York at the end of the Civil War, but her family moved to Paris, and ultimately settled in England. Singer took on the title "Princess" when she married Prince Edmond de Polignac, her second husband, who was an amateur composer and with whom she shared a love of music. The new Princesse de Polignac hobnobbed with and supported significant composers, artists and writers, like Faur_, Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky, Cocteau, Monet...The list is almost endless. She presented the works of many of the composers at public concerts at her home, which comfortably seated 200. She ran her salon series for over 50 years, until her death in 1943. Her influence on major composers of the time was evident: Ravel dedicated his Pavane pour une infante d_funte to her and Prokofiev wrote his Piano Concerto No. 3 especially for her. CMS's program on February 24 includes Faur_'s Piano Quartet No. 1, Stravinsky's Pastorale, Francaix's String Trio, selected songs by Dowland, and Seven Popular Songs for Voice and Guitar by Manuel de Falla.
Another program on February 12 celebrates Joseph Joachim, a great violinist of the 19th century. "He actually didn't commission anything, but because of his amazing musicianship as a violinist, and close friendships with composers, he inspired an incredible number of pieces, all of them masterworks, most notably the Brahms Violin Concerto," says Finckel.
For this program, Finckel and Wu Han appointed the eminent violinist Daniel Hope as curator. "Hope's fascination with Joachim's contribution to music is absolutely infectious," says Finckel. "Through it he's brought to light pieces by Joachim, written for Joachim, and pieces famously played by Joachim."
According to Finckel, Hope and Joachim share similar musical sensibilities. "Like Joachim, he has a real penchant for folk and Gypsy music. So, of course, he throws himself into the Hungarian folk music element of Joachim's world completely naturally," he says. Several works written by Joachim are paired with the F-A-E Violin Sonata movements by Brahms and Schumann, selections from Dvorak's Cypresses arranged for string quartet, Brahms's G minor Piano Quartet and a smattering of Hungarian Dances for Violin and Piano.
Present-day commissions will also be represented in two Kaplan Penthouse concerts that celebrate contemporary music, made possible by the benefactors Stuart and Linda Nelson and Klaus Lauer. Lauer is one of Europe's most distinctive contemporary music organizers and patrons through his long-running series at his family's hotel in Badenweiler, Germany. "He was the first to present Elliott Carter's music in Europe, he is a friend of Pierre Boulez, Wolfgang Rihm, Luciano Berio, the list goes on and on," says Finckel. The New Music in the Kaplan Penthouse concert, on April 5, 2012, highlights Lauer's contributions and will showcase works by Widmann, Benjamin, Mantovani, and Rihm. "
Linda and Stuart Nelson are a soft-spoken, outof- the-spotlight kind of couple whose passion it is to hear new music and to be responsible for the creation of pieces. Their style is to approach their commissions as collaborations between specific performers and composers, so it's a very synergistic relationship," says Finckel. The couple has commissioned well over two dozen chamber works, so it was easy for Finckel and Wu Han to put together a program reflecting their legacy. The New Music in the Kaplan Penthouse concert on April 26, 2012 features a small representation of the Nelsons' commissions: Joan Tower's Rising; William Bolcom's The Hawthorn Tree and Gabriel Kahane's Little Sleep's Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight.
"This project has been an exciting discovery process," says Finckel. "To rewind through these commissioners, through the eras and the scenarios of creation, I think is a fantastic exercise. We already love this music, but knowing these stories and associating with the patrons who made it possible, has made us love it even more."