CHAMBER MUSIC AND ROMANCE IN LA JOLLA

Outside there was a beautiful sunset over the Pacific.   Inside, on Saturday evening May 12, there was an even more romantic scene, as the La Jolla Music Society featured a concert of chamber music by Beethoven and Brahms, staring the world-famous duo of cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han.

The two, recently named 2012 Musicians of the Year by the on-line publication “Musical America,” have been married since 1985 and their mutual admiration had to be obvious to everyone who could plainly see them repeatedly turn over their shoulders to the other with smiles of appreciation and more.

While the program aimed to focus on the theme of how Brahms responded to Beethoven, even one trying hard to focus on the composers and the performance had to know that there was also a long-time love affair being played out on stage.

As this captivating event was being prepared for the stage, at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s Sherwood Auditorium, already under way was prelude lecture on music history by the highly informative Eric Smigel, music professor from San Diego State University.  His 30-minute talk, titled “Hearing a Giant’s Footsteps,” set the scene for an evening of serious chamber music, although, arguably, the Brahms-Beethoven competition was probably overstated.

Johannes Brahms, who lived from 1833 to 1897, and was known to be intimidated by his predecessor, had somehow to cope with Beethoven’s everlasting brilliance.  Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827), of course, knew he was good.  He has been quoted as saying he was certain his compositions would have a long life, perhaps being remembered for fifty years after his death. This may count as the all time understatement of musical history.

As it turned out, though the historical, cultural and musical precedent of Beethoven was in the air, according to the evening’s program notes (co-written by cellist Finckel), Brahms revered Johannes Bach above all other composers.  So, while the concert was titled “Brahms as the Next Beethoven,” the four pieces on the program could be seen as stand-alone works.

The concert never lived up to it’s billing of a competition between Beethoven and Brahms.  In fact, the two Beethoven works—Sonata No. 2 in G Minor and 12 Variations in G Major—did not bring the magnificent sparkle one normally associates with the world’s finest composer.  On the other hand, Brahms Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1 and Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2, were clearly favorites of the performers and the audience.

Han took the stage in a cloak of many colors, anchored by a pair of blue suede high heels.  Comparatively Finckel was understated in a black suit with red bow tie.  Seeing these two world famous musicians made one want to know more about their personal lives.

Finckel and Wu have been long-time artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and are also co-directors of the Music@Menlo Festival, now in its tenth year in the Bay Area.  They have an 18-year-old daughter, Lilian.   The family portrait from the video linked here,  and shot at the Aspen Music Festival in 2008, is helpful.   Lilian was then a very young teenager:

http://youtu.be/wpE-e8h1rak

At the evening’s end, the extremely charming Han announced an encore by  saying, “And now we would like to play a Chopin sonata, the very first song we learned to play together, and the story goes from there.”

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply