on the go
CHAMBER MUSIC SOCIETY OF LINCOLN CENTER
The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center gave its first concerts in 1969, bringing to fruition a plan that reached back four years beyond that, to the time when composer William Schuman was conceptualizing Lincoln Center as America’s most wide-reaching arts center. The Chamber Music Society (CMS for short) was not the first American organization devoted to music for small ensembles, but it established an unaccustomed model for the field. Instead of merely presenting recitals by self-standing string quartets, piano trios, and so on, it would operate as the musical equivalent of a theatrical repertory company, with a defined circle of committed players forming a core ensemble that could be eked out by guests as needed to explore a vast range of musical literature.
On Monday, April 6, four of the organization’s Artists — that is the term reserved for the core performers — will appear at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, presented by Performance Santa Fe. By chambermusic reckoning, it is an all-star lineup: violinist Daniel Hope, violist Paul Neubauer, cellist David Finckel, and pianist Wu Han. Finckel and Wu Han, who are married, have served as the artistic directors of CMS since 2004. They also jointly oversee Music@Menlo, a chambermusic festival and institute in California; the Chamber Music Today festival in Seoul; and a chamber-music incentive at Aspen Music Festival and School. Beyond that, they have pursued busy performing careers in their individual directions, Finckel having spent 34 years as cellist of the Emerson String Quartet and Wu Han being a partner of choice for many self-standing chamber groups that want to explore repertoire that involves piano. Hope, who enjoys an extensive career as a violin soloist with orchestras, also has an organizational commitment on the outside, as he has served since 2004 as associate artistic director of the Savannah Music Festival. Neubauer, whose résumé similarly brims with concerto engagements, astonished the string-playing world when he was appointed principal violist of the New York Philharmonic at the tender age of twenty-one, a chair he occupied for six years before deciding to devote more time to chamber music.
Although the “repertory company” ideal of CMS has now flourished through three and a half decades, the organization today operates on a far larger scale. “In that initial 1969-1970 season,” Finckel said in a phone interview with Pasatiempo , “Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center consisted of nine artist members, with lots of guest artists moving in and out. Now we have some 40 regular artists, plus frequent guests, so our family has grown much bigger.” That first season comprised 16 concerts; this season, there will be 122. More than half of those 122 — 68, to be precise — are taking place in locations other than New York City, either on one-show-per-stop tours or in residencies the organization has set up in eight widely dispersed cities throughout the country.
Finckel considers touring an essential component of the group’s artistic life. “There is no world-class artist I know who does not tour,” he observed. “Even if your institution is in New York City, it is still possible to be provincial if you don’t get around. As an artist, you’re different when you go play in Europe, when you go to other cities and other countries. When you come home, you realize how that experience has kept you developing, how it has made you a richer person. It goes to the heart of what it means to be an artist, to be a successful musician. We like to keep our artists growing.”
The field of chamber music characteristically attracts many musicians who may disappear into the larger identity of their ensembles, deriving great satisfaction from their work but not necessarily much personal fame. “When we came to CMS in 2004,” Finckel said, “the organization wasn’t doing much touring, and they asked us to revitalize that area. The manager back then felt you could only send out players who audiences would already know. But we thought, Why wouldn’t audiences be excited to hear people they don’t already know as long as they could be assured the performance would be great?” Transferring the “recognition factor” from the individual musicians to the umbrella organization would prove all the more important as Finckel and Wu Han expanded the activities of CMS Two, a program crafted to fast-track unusually promising young players to full status within the chamber-music community. In nearly all CMS concerts, these up-and-comers sit elbow to elbow with more experienced artists.
The group set to perform in Santa Fe is one of four different CMS ensembles that is touring this season, and it is unusual in that all of the performers enjoy such high profiles. Its playlist includes two incontestably top-drawer items from the piano-quartet repertoire — Schumann’s Piano Quartet in E-flat major and Brahms’ in G minor — as well as the less frequently aired Piano Quartet in A minor of Gustav Mahler, a one-movement piece from the outset of his career. In addition to the live concerts — two in New York and one each in 11 other cities — the three pieces are being turned into a CD for the Deutsche Grammophon label, with impressive alacrity. The group’s two New York concerts were recorded (on March 1 and March 3); acclaimed record producer Da-Hong Seeto “worked a solid seven days on the editing” (Finckel reported); the musicians and the producer thrashed through to a finalized master; and Deutsche Grammophon began producing the physical CDs immediately, packaging them with program notes and graphics that had been completed prior to the concerts. The CD will be released for national distribution on April 21, less than two months after the recordings were captured, and early copies will be available for the players to autograph for attendees at some stops on their current tour, which keeps them on the go through April 15. Santa Fe is the fourth tour stop, and hard copies may just land in the lobby of the Lensic by Monday night. CMS is nothing if not organized, so you might keep your eyes peeled just in case.