The Violin Channel recently chatted with David Finckel & Wu Han, Co-Artistic Directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
The virtual event will take over The Violin Channel’s homepage, Facebook and Instagram pages on September 8th and 9th and will feature 8 full-length concerts, masterclasses, and lectures from the CMS archive.
Tell us about your long association with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center?
We have known and admired CMS since our earliest days as professional musicians, before we even met. David was part of CMS during the 1980’s as a member of the Emerson String Quartet and performed the Society’s very first Beethoven Quartet cycle. As a pianist, I was first invited to perform as guest artist in the 1990’s but by that time I had already collaborated elsewhere with many distinguished older CMS artists as well as with CMS Two (now Bowers Program) Artists who were my age. We assumed the positions of Artistic Co-Directors in 2004 and our first fully-programmed season was in 2006-07.
How would you describe CMS’s philosophy? And how have you seen the Society evolve, change and expand over the years?
The answer is yes, CMS has changed over the years. Different Artistic Directors have had slightly different personal viewpoints as to what was necessary at the time to best serve the art of chamber music. For example, when cellist Fred Sherry became Artistic Director in 1990, his mission was new music and living composers. Clarinetist David Shifrin, who succeeded him, built the artist roster dramatically and began many wonderful traditions, such as the CMS Two program and our annual performances of the complete Brandenburg Concertos. Founder Charles Wadsworth had twenty marvelous years during which he put chamber music on a glamorous pedestal (where it deserves to be) and positioned CMS at the top of the field. And we maintain a dual focus on the repertoire itself and maintaining an evolving international and inter-generational family of great performers which increasingly appears on tour in American, Europe and the Asia.
Are there any moments or experiences from your time with CMS that really stand out for you personally, above the rest?
It is wonderful to see that listeners still hunger for the great classics of the repertoire. But it has also been enormously gratifying to have gained the trust of our audience when it comes to lesser-known but deserving works. It is no surprise that Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet regularly fills the hall, but to see people fighting for tickets for the Bartok Quartets, cheering for Ernest Bloch’s first Piano Quintet and Enesco’s Octet, and fighting for tickets for a concert of mass cello ensembles have been wonderful surprises.
What do you see as the overarching role of chamber music in the 21st Century?
Chamber music has always been the only form of great ensemble music that one can play for one’s self, at home, with friends, in out-of-the-way places, for work or for leisure. Right now, with the pandemic having shuttered the doors of so many large performing arts groups, chamber music is beginning to come up through the cracks. So the role of chamber music, right now, has shifted suddenly and
dramatically since last March. It is now not only the great music that it always was, but a music of hope and possibility that will likely lead the way back into the concert halls.
What is your process for putting together the programming?
It’s very simple. It’s all about the repertoire: we know exactly what our audiences have heard since Day 1, and we make sure that their listening diet is healthy. Keeping repertoire as the highest priority ensures integrity and builds trust with our audience, and fitting our players to the music and with each other is a complex but marvelously rewarding activity that is perhaps the second most important part of what we do.
How important for you is intergenerational chamber music playing and learning? What extra elements do you feel it can achieve?
There’s only so much that one can learn about music from lessons and school. At a certain point, you just have to get out there and to it. And chamber music affords young musicians the chance to learn works alongside people who have performed them many times, with a whole cast of characters in a variety of circumstances. We say to our young colleagues all the time: We may not play this piece any better than you do, but we have played it more, lived with it longer, and learned more about it. Let’s share those experiences.
What is your main piece of advice for young artists leaving college today to embark on a performance career?
All aspiring musicians, at whatever age they happen to be, need to remember that especially now the arts is area of challenge. People who present music deal with obstacles on a daily basis. If you want to succeed in music today, you need to bring those people not your problems but your solutions: interesting programming, raw enthusiasm and passion, polished skills and reliable artistry. Make yourself a valuable commodity and make sure people know about you and your assets. Gather as many assets as possible – you will need them, and those who have more will simply have more opportunities.
What concerts are you most looking forward to at this year’s VC festival?
We look forward to all of it, but can we say selfishly how proud we’ll be to hear our names announced as some of the performers, among such great colleagues? There has never been anything quite like the Violin Channel’s CMS festival, and we look forward to absorbing the totality of it as we step back and take it in like our fellow listeners.