Q&A: David Finckel and Wu Han | Playbill

Classic Arts Features Q&A: David Finckel and Wu Han
With a gala performance tonight at Alice Tully Hall in New York, cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han, who were appointed artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in 2004, begin the first full season they have programmed for CMS. The concert will be a sort of season preview, with works by composers featured throughout the year, from Vivaldi to Kirchner and from Maw to Mendelssohn.

Finckel and Han, who are partners in life as well as in chamber music, recently talked to PlaybillArts about their latest joint venture.

What was the ethos behind your programming for the upcoming season?

WH: Ultimately we felt a tremendous responsibility to take care of the art form. There are things that needed to be done — like creating new pieces for the genre, presenting composers who have made significant contributions to the repertoire and [highlighting] specific art forms crucial to chamber music, such as the string quartet.

DF: We like to choreograph the experience for the listener as carefully as a chef making a meal in a fine restaurant. It's not easy, as you can't just take people who happen to be available that night and put them together. We are looking for something that makes more of a journey out the evening. We believe that people want to go away having learned something.

What are some of the highlights of the upcoming season?

WH: We are doing the incredible Leon Kirchner string quartet cycle this season, which has never before been done. He is very important in American musical history, and these four string quartets cover his whole life. Then there are specific time periods we are excited about, such as the Baroque series in December. We are also presenting unusual repertory that hasn't been presented in a comprehensive way before, such as the works in our February series, which is called "An English Musical Renaissance, 1900-1930." Another program is connected to finishing up the Debussy sonata cycle, for which we commissioned new works from Steven Stucky, Kaija Saariaho and Marc-Andr_ Dalbavie.

New music seems to be an important focus of your programming.

DF: If we had a whole season to program the music of living composers, it wouldn't be a problem, as there are so many of different nationalities writing in different styles. Leon Kirchner, Nicholas Maw and Bright Sheng somehow emerged from a teeming mass.

The birth of a new piece is like the birth of a baby — you want to give it the most welcoming environment possible so that it has the greatest chance of survival. Composers who go to the trouble of writing a new piece should get more of a chance to introduce themselves and familiarize their voices prior to a premiere. So we are playing repertoire by all three composers that will culminate in the premiere of their new works.

We also wanted to allow the composers to have a say in which composers surround them — those whose music has sympathetic vibrations or who were active influences.

WH: Three concerts called "New Music in the Rose" [referring to the Rose Rehearsal Studio, located on the 10th floor of the Rose Building at 165 West 65th St.] take care of new and unusual journeys in the chamber music world. Younger composers like Avner Dorman and Kevin Puts will come together for a discussion with masters like Nicholas Maw, Bright Sheng and Leon Kirchner.

Education also seems to be a priority.

WH: We have two sets of incredible lectures, one of which is already sold out. Both will help our audience understand more about the Baroque and the [second] English renaissance. We also have a new series called "Chamber Music Essentials," which will discuss what chamber music is and how to better understand it. The last lecture will be about new music. This supporting education component is very important, and we'd love to have CMS become a place to not only enjoy music but to learn about it.

And it looks like there will be many new faces performing at CMS this year.

WH: We have 17 young artists joining the roster who will be working side by side with senior musicians and two young resident quartets this year. This intergenerational roster is a way not only to celebrate the achievements of our members but also to invest in the next generation.

In every concert there will be new faces introduced along side familiar ones. There will also be five masterclasses; last year we did four. Three times as many musicians applied for the young artists program this year, because it's an exciting time for the organization. I am very happy that young musicians continue to want to play chamber music and are taking the genre seriously. I think also that word-of-mouth is important in our business, and people know that David and I care deeply about the next generation.

What was your goal for the season?

WH: We want to make sure the programming is balanced. We hope that our audience will establish trust in our judgement; we want them to realize the richness of the repertoire and, going through a season with us, what kind of journey it might be.

I learned from the late Issac Stern that this art form teaches you to play well, and you need an incredible way of listening to each other. You have to have the most positive energy and the most incredible suggestions and be inspired and inspire others.

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