Renowned musical duo strikes a significant chord with Shanghai audience
Cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han traveled to four Asian cities last month, taking six flights and performing the same number of concerts.
One of these was staged at the Shanghai Concert Hall on Dec 14, when together with their colleagues from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York, Finckel and Wu played works by Beethoven, Schoenfield and Schubert.
The audience in Shanghai was fantastic, Wu said. “We could sense they were listening with such intense feeling. It proves Shanghai has a significant audience for chamber music.”
Finckel and Wu have been artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center — the largest performing arts complex in the world — since 2004. The society, the largest presenter of chamber music in North America, will celebrate its 50th birthday next year.
Finckel said, “There is no other organization like this in the world.”
The 67-year-old musician from the United States was cellist with the renowned Emerson String Quartet from 1979 to 2013. He is also producer of Cello Talks, a series of mini internet lessons, and professor of cello at the Juilliard School in New York.
Wu, a 59-year-old pianist from Taiwan, said: “Each of us will take the art form as our responsibility to create an audience, groom young musicians, and do everything to preserve and celebrate the art form. The idea is that we should take the best musicians, who come from all over the world, to perform at the Lincoln Center.
“We make a foothold with great concert presentations, music releases and hopefully speak to conservatories that have the same interest in chamber music.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, Finckel and Wu are renowned performers, music directors, educators and the “power couple of chamber music” in the US.
By bringing the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center to Shanghai and other cities around the world, they aim to show “what is possible in programming, performance level and inspiration through teaching and through the different types of repertoire,” the newspaper said.
Wu went to the US as a young musician. She played many solo concerts, and her teacher told her, “You are a good pianist, but you won’t be a great musician without chamber music.”
Wu said: “I didn’t understand then, but now I do. Chamber music teaches you how to listen. When you are trained as a soloist, your teacher tells you what to do, but with chamber music, you have to understand not just your own part, but also all the other people’s.
“You have to listen and make decisions for yourself. The people you play with change all the time, so you have to be able to listen, respond and have control of the relationship in a split second.
“For example, when I performed with David, who played this beautiful singing melody on the cello, I had to do the same on the piano.”
Wu said that being colleagues in chamber music means that you find out what the other players are like in a pressured situation, whether they are supportive colleagues, how good they are as musicians, and whether they have good rhythm. “You find that out fast,” she added.
As well as directing the CMS, Finckel and Wu are co-founders of the independent record label ArtistLed, and Mu[email protected], an annual summer chamber music festival in Atherton, California. They are also artistic directors of Chamber Music Today, an annual festival in Seoul, the South Korean capital.
According to Finckel, a great piece of music is different from other artwork, such as a painting. “You put it (a painting) on the wall and you don’t have to do anything about it. It won’t be any less great.”
But he said that for music, you have to make it happen. “It is like a living thing. Schubert died soon after writing his last piece, the String Quintet in C major, one of the finest pieces of music ever composed, as though he felt it necessary to give this thing to the world,” Finckel said.
He feels his mission is to keep great music such as this going. “That’s what we have to do as musicians — perform these pieces, share them and keep them alive,” he said.
“The incredible thing about music is that on the day we played this Schubert quintet in Shanghai, it was possible that many other people in other parts of the world would play the same piece, keeping it alive.”
Speaking about chamber music in China, Finckel said: “One of the primary missions of the CMS is to popularize chamber music around the world. We would love to come back to China more often to perform and to help people understand what chamber music really is.
“If I had a dream, maybe it would be that within one generation, say 20 or 25 years, chamber music can be something that everybody can do. Everybody — all musicians in Shanghai and throughout China — should play chamber music.”