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Exclusive interview with David Finckel and Wu Han: Feb. 5, 2010

For David and Wu Han
David Finckel

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Rel. 12 Jan 2010

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A Classical Archives' Exclusive!

On Friday, February 5, 2010, Classical Archives Artistic Director Nolan Gasser spoke with cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han – the dynamic husband–wife team who lead the esteemed chamber music programs at Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Music@Menlo. In this stimulating and inspiring discussion, Mr. Finckel and Ms. Wu discuss their incredibly active careers as performers, record executives, educators, and arts presenters – articulating their passionate approach to music–making and concert programming that is a must read for all fans of classical music!

In conjunction with this interview, Classical Archives is delighted to offer Exclusive digital access to the complete catalogue of ArtistLed – the label founded in 1997 by Mr. Finckel and Ms. Wu, containing a treasure–trove of chamber works, and specializing in the cello–piano repertory. As part of this special offering, ArtistLed is generously providing a Sampler Concert of selections from many of their releases – FREE to stream for all visitors to Classical Archives. Please enjoy the great insights and terrific music from two powerful forces in today's classical music: David Finckel and Wu Han.

“If we don't treat audiences and potential listeners with respect for their ability to be curious – to be fascinated by the idea of learning something new, something that we're interested in – then it's all lost.  Because then you're just trying to second–guess what somebody might like, and the competition is ridiculously ferocious.” – David Finckel

  • Nolan Gasser: Normally in interviews with top–tier artists such as yourselves, I'd want to dive straight in to discuss a new album or a new project on a particular repertory – and we'll certainly get there; but you two are so fascinating by virtue of your multi–dimensional career activities: as performers, educators, arts presenters, administrators, and record executives. It's really a new paradigm for the successful classical musician, it seems, and I'm wondering if this is the kind of careers – not to mention schedules – you envisioned when you two first launched [the record label] ArtistLed in 1997?

  • Wu Han: No! How's that for you [laughs]? Well, at least I can say for myself, that when we launched ArtistLed, I was not thinking at all about my career, my schedule, or about what it might bring me.  At the time, I was only thinking: "What would be the most ideal conditions to create the best CDs we can, and to play the works we love the most, without any restrictions – commercial or business–wise?"  And we were very lucky to have had the Internet around at the time; without it, none of this would have been possible.  And once it started, we just followed our intuition and our artistic instincts. But did we think about schedules back then? I think not at all. Questions like "Are we going to make money?" or "Are we going to have a career with this?" These were never on the list of considerations.

    David Finckel: Looking at it in a microcosmic way, I think there is no one–day–to–the–next that turns out exactly like you think it will. In fact, if everything fell into place exactly where I expected it to, I think I'd feel there was something wrong. And it's especially that way in the arts: you have to swim like a fish – there are always currents, there's light above and darkness below, ... and there are sharks!

  • NG: In this business, literally!

  • DF: Right, and if you're not willing to swim, you're a dead fish.

  • NG: You've got to keep yourself moving, and to always be willing to try new things.

  • WH: And don't let anybody stop you – that's also a very good principle.

  • NG: Now, at this time [1997], David already had a very strong and successful relationship – via the Emerson Quartet – with Deutsche Grammophon; and yet, when you both decided to focus on some distinct repertory, especially for cello and piano, you chose not go with DG, but to form your own label, one, as the name suggests, "led by artists" – and, as you've said, Wu Han, to center it on the Internet, rather than stores.  But at this time, digital music sales didn't yet exist, and brick–and–mortar stores were still around – faltering perhaps, but still the main game in town. So, what led you to not take that more typical road and talk with DG, and instead to create ArtistLed?

  • WH: Well, I actually do remember that our manager brought in a few offers from major labels, though not from DG.  Traditionally, we've never mixed our duo career with that of the Emerson Quartet, which would make things too confusing – even now, you wouldn't believe how many times we're playing a duo concert and people look at David and say, "You look very familiar; I've seen you before." [laughs]; so, from the very beginning, we've never mixed the two careers. 

    But the most important thing that happened when we got those initial offers is that we immediately realized that we would not have the freedom we were looking for – in that the labels were looking for cello–piano repertory to fill out their catalogue, as opposed to looking for artists who want to make a statement, which is the way we like to do it.

    But, we were very lucky; we figured there had to be a way for us to connect directly to our audience – and it was there with the Internet!  This allowed us to do what we wanted without restrictions. We know how to make great recordings, and we didn't want anyone forcing us to follow their directions.

  • NG: You didn't want to be forced to fulfill the catalogue needs of a label; rather, you wanted to be able to record the repertoire that you wanted to, and to do it your way.

  • WH: Exactly. Now, a lot of musicians are very happy to work with the labels like this, and that's perfectly okay – it's just not the way we wanted to do it. By this time, we already knew quite a bit about making a recording; we were recording digitally, using all the cutting–edge technology... I can remember that the Emerson Quartet was still using the older [analog] technology at the time, and ArtistLed was already way ahead of that.

  • NG: Well, you certainly were prescient in all this, as the nature of the music business – both on the production and the distribution side – has increasingly moved in this digital / Internet direction, and getting more so all the time. It must be gratifying to know how ahead of game you were.

  • DF: I don't know... sure, it's nice to see people imitating you, but I can't say that I wouldn't actually be happier if there were a thriving commercial classical recording industry, with companies recording musicians left and right, and selling CD in stores – I would be happier if that were happening.

  • NG: Yes, it does seem that many of the classical record labels are still not embracing the prospects and dynamics that exist in the Digital / Internet age, often fighting the very systems that are poised to help them.

  • WH: Yes, and the beauty of ArtistLed is that we know this music, and we believe in the power of it. Through ArtistLed we can connect directly to the die–hard classical music audience, who has incredible faith in this art form – and this faith is not necessarily transferred into the traditional recording industry. And to place your recording life in the hands of a company that doesn't necessarily believe in the great power of the music is, to my mind, not a good idea.

  • NG: It's perhaps also in the nature of chamber music – which is not necessarily the musical "big guns" that the labels think of when they're trying to sell records.

  • WH: Yes, but at the same time, I think the labels often ignore the fact that classical music has a much longer shelf life than other kinds of music – we're still buying recording from [violinist Jascha] Haifetz! It's not a business model that's limited to weekly charts or even yearly sales: the sales can go on and on because the recordings are often incredible. For example, I know that the sales of ArtistLed recordings increase a few years after they're released, as their reputations pick up. It's all a community of sorts, traveling by word of mouth; and I don't think this is a consideration of the commercial market. But it's different with ArtistLed: I know what repertoire I can best record, and so having the market dictate what I do is a backwards–way of thinking, in my opinion.

  • NG: Now, a vast majority of ArtistLed releases feature the two of you; but a couple of releases – for example the one entitled Derek Han Plays Mozart – feature others; are you, as time goes on, considering expanding the roster of ArtistLed artists?

  • DF: That's actually a little misleading: the recording with [pianist] Derek Han is in fact not an ArtistLed release – even though it's on our website; and neither is the recording of the Dvořák Cello Concerto with the Taipei Symphony. They were both recorded by our engineer, Da–Hong Seetoo, and each went through the same editing process that is a trademark of ArtistLed. And so, they're hybrids of sorts, but not truly ArtistLed releases.

    WH: And also the artists we select to be involved in these few outside projects are ones that share our ArtistLed philosophy; Derek and I recorded the Mozart concertos [for two and three pianos and orchestra] because we've known each for a long time, and we've always wanted to record these works. And then we received an invitation from the Royal Philharmonic to record with us, and so it became one of those projects – how could we turn it down? A similar thing happened when we performed the Tchaikovsky Piano Trio [Op.50] with Da–Hong Seetoo on violin: the concert we did was unbelievable, and we were so happy with the results; and so we said, "Let's get it on tape." It's our company and we have the artistic freedom to do that.

    DF: When we first started ArtistLed, somebody asked me, "So, how many people are you going to record?"  I said, "We're just going to record our repertoire."  And this person responded: "Well, then people are just going to call it a vanity label." I thought for a minute, and said: "So, when a painter paints, is he creating a vanity painting?" Just because you want to do something that's your own doesn't mean it's a vanity exercise.

    The label needs to serve our artistic impulses, and if that happens to be for chamber works that include other people, then that's fine.  But if we were to create a new policy that says: "Starting now, ArtistLed is going to be open to the entire chamber music repertoire," we'd have a line around the block. There are so many musicians who are dying to make a recording – of any kind, with anyone – but who don't have the opportunity, because the industry is not really there.  So, while we certainly don't record others as a policy, if we know it's the right thing, then of course it will happen.

  • NG: Well, I'm sure that some interesting opportunities will arise in the future, especially as the label becomes more and more well known.

    So, let's move on a bit to some of the other hats that you wear. You two have rather become authorities on the ups–and–downs of chamber music performance in America, especially through your capacity as Artistic Directors of both the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center [CMS] and Music@Menlo [in Menlo Park, California] – as well as through your involvement at various festivals such as Aspen and Savannah.

    Now, Wu Han, you wrote in a recent blog of the sense of pessimism and concern that reigned at a recent APAP [Association of Performing Arts Presenters] conference, and of your frustration with a seeming willingness on the part of some of the presenters to compromise quality for the sake of "out–of–the box" strategies to sell tickets.  Can you elaborate on this sense, and maybe give us a sense of what strategies you two are finding most successful to keep the performance well attended?

  • WH: I think the best strategy is to be really honest about what you are trying to do – and to bring your audience as close as you can to the music itself, which is the core of the magic.  For instance, some presenters would want to tell people, "If you come to the concert, you can relax, you can text–message, you can have a night–out with your girlfriend, you can have a glass of wine and a lovely dinner... But none of these things is why anyone wants to go to a concert – to be touched and moved, and to walk away feeling inspired.  Those other things may make it nice and convenient, but it's not really the true reason we all devote our lives to this art form.

    I hear this kind of talk all the time, but it's not truly bringing people to the music itself in the deepest way; and I much prefer that my audience understand this from the start. A case in point is with Music@Menlo: I can remember in our first year [2003], the marketing department asked us "Can we say in the announcement: 'Come relax and enjoy an evening of beautiful music?'" And we said, "No, don't relax! If they want to relax, they should go to see a movie, or go fishing."  No, coming to a concert is great exercise – a great challenge; you'll know more about the music and you'll get more out of it. I've never heard any of my friends that are really devoted to music say that they had "a relaxing experience".

  • NG: No, it's quite the contrary: when it's a success, a concert is the most intense and stimulating experience, where people come out inspired to go paint the house or something...

  • WH: Exactly! That's the kind of the marketing we need. And how can we bring people to that point, to that true point of inspiration? I would love to find that magic bullet. If this is our goal, what do we need to do? I don't think it's to encourage people to text–message, or join a social network. I understand that this is a good way to build a community, but in the end, that's not what we want to do.  I think that was my point when I was listening to some of these conversations: as fascinating and as interesting as they are, the true fascination has to be the music!

  • NG: And I assume that you made that point in your capacity as a panelist at the conference?

  • DF: Well, I wasn't there to witness it, but I assume she did [laughs]. You know, we were educated in music ­– and to a certain extent in life – by a generation of musicians who felt so deeply about the music they played... Do you remember in the movie Titanic, when the boat went down? Well, the orchestra just sat up straight, continued playing, and went down with the ship – and the musicians who educated us felt about music like that! Their generation was buttressed, preserved, and augmented by presenters, promoters, record executives, and managers, who felt absolutely as deeply about music as they did. And we're kind of like that too: we tend not to compromise because we don't see the point of it. 

    But I think that what the music industry – and also the press – is responding to is the huge social pressure that's out there today. Now, I'm not embarrassed to say that I have an iPhone, but in truth I have a problem with the whole "I" thing: "It's all about me, it's about what I want, it's my iPod, my iPhone; my Facebook, it's all about me, me, me..." It's a whole self–focus thing that's a big part of our culture right now, which is really antithetical to the way I look at the world.  I don't look at myself as being very interesting; I look at everything else as being more interesting than me.  So, if I change the iPhone to a "youPhone" I'd feel much more comfortable with the whole concept.

    And unfortunately, things like classical music have been funneled into this "tube of satisfaction" that everybody is supposed to have connected to them all the time. But whatever comes through that tube is only what you feel like at a given moment – and I just don't find that to be very interesting. I'd rather go to a concert and hear people play music that's interesting to them; I'd rather go to a museum and see an exhibition by a curator that's found something fascinating that I don't know anything about – that's where my choices would be.  And if we don't treat audiences and potential listeners with respect for their ability to be curious – to be fascinated by the idea of learning something new, something that we're interested in – then it's all lost.  Because then you're just trying to second–guess what somebody might like, and the competition is ridiculously ferocious.

  • NG: I think you're absolutely right that there was an aesthetic that was more prevalent in times past: where the majority of arts presenters – the impresarios – were as passionate as the performers.  I recently gave a pre–concert lecture for the Friends of Chamber Music in Kansas City – I'm sure that you know their director, Cynthia Siebert; as passionate as they come, and a great performer. She too was lamenting how her own competition in Kansas City may have more money to entice big–name performers, but there's not the passion ­– not the interest in creating this kind of inspiring concert experience for the audience.

  • WH: Yes, and I think, that sometimes our industry misses the mark – it underestimates the audience's intelligence, or perhaps we underestimate our own belief in ourselves to say, "Let's become a leader," and talk about why we're doing what we're doing. And so, when I see presenters getting desperate and willing to try anything, I'd much prefer to spend my energy on things that really matter to me.

    DF: We're very fortunate because we have a couple of institutions that support us: at Music@Menlo, for example, if we feel like sticking our necks out to say, "No, we can't dumb this down", or "We have to tell the truth: this might be a depressing concert", they have the stomach to back us up; its not always easy for marketing, you know? And God bless them; for we're in these places where I can say, "No, this concert is not going to sell a whole lot of tickets, but it's important that we do it," and they'll stand behind us.

    The number of people who come to a concert, or the number of people who buy a record, doesn't have anything to do with whether it's great art or not – and all great art is not for everybody. There is great art where it's fine if you don't like it; not everybody has to like everything.  And not every concert has to be a sell–out to be an important artistic event. It can be just as meaningful for a few people to come hear the five Elliot Carter String Quartets as for thousands of people to come hear the Schubert 'Trout' Quintet for the four hundredth time. But, that's not to take anything away from either of those groups.

    WH: So, you can see that my note on our blog is actually a very condensed version of our thinking; there's so much to talk about.

  • NG: That's why I wanted to bring it up, and I'm so glad that we did. Those of us involved in the arts are all facing the same sorts of challenges; it really is all about creating a movement, about doing something that's for the collective and it takes everyone to be inspired by this same message.  You two are very fortunate, but obviously also gifted, in being able to rally your marketing troupes to sing in harmony with you, so to speak.

  • DF: But in the end, you know, we're going down on the Titanic [laughs].

  • NG: Hopefully not, but if so, at least you went down trying.

  • DF: Yes, we are willing to stick our necks out for the sake of art.

  • NG: Now, another component that has been part of the success of CMS and Music@Menlo – and part of your individual drives as artists – is the realm of education.  I'm impressed with a number of the initiatives you have – with CMS–Two and the "Chamber Music Institute" at Music@Menlo; and also on the web, with the "Cello Talk" video series, for example; I'm a pianist, not a cellist, but I was riveted with a number of these – I especially like the one in Denmark, with the boats behind you, giving a nice aesthetic pep talk on artistic "greatness".

  • DF: Oh, that's good to hear.  You know, people do have their favorites.

  • NG: So, I'm first wondering, Wu Han, when the "Piano Talk" series is going to be launched?

  • WH: Well, you have to know: when David said he was going to do his "Cello Talk" series, I laughed so hard.  "Forget it," I said,  "you will never get me to do that [laughs].

  • NG: I don't know – I think that you'd have a lot to say.

  • WH: Yes, I do have a lot to say; but, you know, I think that David is one of the most organized people on earth – in terms of the way he knows how to discuss his instrument; and he can create an incredible line of thought on the basic principles of music–making –like the one he posted on how to prepare for a chamber music coaching session.

  • NG: Yes, that open letter – I saw it, it's wonderful!

  • WH: Yes, he has always had that ability to turn the most complicated issues into good, simple principles – and you can always come back to this letter for inspiration; that takes talent.  He also has an incredible command of the language; it's very unusual for an artist or a musician to be such a good writer. So, I take my hat off to him.

  • NG: It's nice to hear that your wife is so impressed with you, David.

  • DF: It's the first time I've ever heard her say these things; thanks for getting it out of her [laughs].

    WH: Usually, I tell him to go wash the dishes...

  • NG: Well, it's good to have balance; you can't be praised all the time.

    So, clearly, the whole realm of education is central to your approach. Can you talk about some of the philosophies and strategies you've adopted in how to integrate the educational component into the CMS and Music@Menlo programs? Does this come out of your own experiences as students?

  • WH: Well, one thing you have to know is that both of us have rather unusual backgrounds: none of us has any major conservatory training.  My main training was in Taiwan, in the special music–tracking program when I was very young; and my music education was fairly independent – boarding school when I was twelve, and all that. I had one or two incredible teachers; but I had to be very resourceful and analytical.  And David had the same experience: normal high school, no major conservatory training.  He went to the Manhattan School of Music for about six months and then quit.  So, we both have an unconventional background. 

    And one thing that we try to instill into all the kids around us, that we got out of our own paths, is that basic curiosity: the quest for new experiences and new knowledge; the basic attitude in life to not be restrictive; to look for new things, and to not complain. Be proactive and adventurous: if you believe in something, just do it and see what happens. I know that this attitude benefited me – which I picked up from the many musicians I was lucky enough to spend time with, including David.

    And I see this in the programs we run, where we meet a lot of incredibly talented young musicians: just this morning, we were working with a young string quartet that was auditioning for Menlo, and they were just so fantastic; so inspired and interesting! It's amazing when you see the next generation of musicians coming up, and you want to spend so much time with them – to make sure they can pick–up some of these principles that we ourselves have been fortunate to have learned through many great influences.

    In my own case, I've had many great mentors in my life that gave me that "DNA" of how to become a musician: how to be independent, how to find your own way, how to set your own repertoire, to be always resourceful; always to go to concerts, and check out other interpretations – that you wouldn't have found any other way.  These are the basic principles I use right now when we're running our program; these are the ones we require from all the kids around us.  And I think it's that particular mind–frame that will save classical music. 

    It's like when you go to a concert: you will never really be touched by somebody who just plays all the notes perfectly. You'll always be touched if somebody takes a chance, by doing something that is beyond the norm – or by having that extra ounce of commitment.  So, in this way, it becomes a "life situation"; you don't just teach so that they'll know the instrument – it's more than this that will touch people's hearts. Of course, personally, we have many, many inspirations from the past: we have seen a lot of the previous generation of musicians pouring their knowledge into the younger ones.   And as a musician, there is a need for me to do that as well.

  • NG: It is interesting that since both of you have had a less than conventional conservatory training, you are giving your students an awareness of the all–important individual journey, and of the vital personal connections that came through the mentors you've learned from.

  • DF: Yes, we really received our musical education – and we're still receiving it – from direct contact with individual great musicians; we're learning all the time from people, rather than from institutions.  What's great about having an institution with which to provide education is that the institution can collect people; and likewise, we make these collections every summer at Menlo. You just look at all the talented young musicians coming through, and you ask yourself: "How can I not offer my guidance, experience, and artistry to the next generation?"  In fact, that happened as soon as we took over our first festival – in La Jolla, back in 1997: we saw this large group of young musicians coming, and we said "We have to do an education program – we can't have these young people here and not teach." 

    So, it's a sort of natural, musical reproduction cycle; it kicks–in when you get to a certain age, and I think it happens to most of us.  Actually, there are very few musicians that I know who are not interested in teaching, who are not passionate about it in some way.  I mean, you see me: I even find time to teach in the back seats of cars, and on the beach.  And if I weren't passionate about teaching and sharing, I wouldn't be making those videos; we each do it in whatever way we can.

  • NG: And you're doing it in part by creating these wonderful environments and setting at Lincoln Center and the Menlo School, and with great and wonderful artists; the list of advisors you have for CMS–Two, for example, is pretty extraordinary [Emanuel Ax, Richard Goode, Itzhak Perlman, Richard Stoltzman, etc.]

  • DF: Yes, they're all very helpful.

    WH: Another thing with music education: you can't teach it in a big class; if you really want to create an artist – it's a case–by–case situation, on an individual basis. It's not something you can do with a computer lecture, since not everyone will have the same results. So, for us to spend a summer, a part of our career, to help them, it's great. I actually feel I learn so much from them.

    The other day we performed the Beethoven cycle [the complete cello sonatas; on Sunday, January 31 at Alice Tully Hall]. Now, we had played this music so many times before, for so many years now; and the Chamber Music Society asked us, "We know how passionate you are about this music; would you consider doing a Master Class that we put on tape?" And we said, "Sure." So, on Saturday, we spent all day going through the five Beethoven [Cello] Sonatas – we had five groups...

    DF: And, I will actually put up a report on this in our blog; I was just talking about that as we came into the office today...

    WH: We perform all over the world – and it's great, and very inspiring. But when I have to put my thoughts into words, when I have to explain the reasons behind some of the things I'm doing – I'll tell you, I push myself. And when I went home on Saturday night, I probably changed four thousand things for the Sunday concert – because, during my teaching and explanations to the students, something happens in the process: the re–development; the re–thinking of the phrases; the actual execution of the principles that lie behind what you need to do onstage – all become reinforced.  So, I consider myself very lucky if I can teach, because it's an inspiring act.  It's something that reaffirms or reconfirms everything you believe in.  Or sometimes, it's a great opportunity to re–question everything you are doing.

  • NG: Yes, I just read the review in the New York Times about that concert, and beyond discussing your great performances of the Beethoven, the writer [Vivien Schweitzer] talked about how wonderful the concert was by virtue of your commentary, and the historical context you provided.  So, I'm sure that you drew from some of the things you garnered from the teaching experience into your notes to the audience.

  • WH: Yes, absolutely.  In fact, we were debating whether or not I should talk about the music at the concert, and in the end I felt like it could be more illuminating to introduce the artists' thinking within the concert itself; it could give the audience more guidance and understanding about why we are playing five sonatas in one shot.  It's not the act itself; it's not "Whoop–de–do, we're going to play three hours straight of Beethoven – how incredible."  No, the whole idea behind listening to this particular order of works is to explore Beethoven's language and his musical development.  And once you understand that, you listen to the concert in the very different way: you really notice how the compositional style has changed over time; you notice how the structure has tightened, his changing sense of melody, the changing way he uses all the musical elements...  And this all makes the listening experience more interesting.  I was so happy that the audience was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.  And, that's what I mean:  I would prefer to spend my time preparing things like that for my audience, instead of telling them they can get on Facebook, and get to know all their neighbors who might be at the concert...

  • NG: I think it's true with any performer who has a verbal interaction with the audience on what they're about to hear – the audience always responds favorably.  They get so much more out of the music when they have a little context and background on it.

  • WH: Yes, agreed.

  • NG: Well, before I let you go, let's at least touch upon some aspects of repertoire –which, of course, is another main consideration you have to think about, as Artistic Directors of CMS and Music@Menlo. What are some of the strategies you follow as you think about defining an upcoming season? Do you think about specific distinctions between these two festivals, on the two opposite coasts – that maybe the audience at Lincoln Center would get more out of a particular repertoire than in California, or vice–versa?

  • WH: That's such a great question.  Yes, we think about this very much. First of all, they are two very different projects: Music@Menlo is an intensive summer series – to me, it's much like going to a retreat; you have an intensive study course, and by the end of the three weeks, you walk away a different person; that's what the festival experience can give you.  In a year–round situation, like here at Lincoln Center, it's totally different; it's sort of a balanced diet situation.  You don't see each other every day for three weeks, but you do have – once a month – some type of meal together, and you need to decide what would be the best meal to offer. And so, there are very different considerations for how we choose the repertoires for each audience.

    And in fact, the audiences are very different: at Menlo, they are brand new; it's in the middle of Silicon Valley, it has a different sensibility. We are always at every event, and so we have a clear sense of what the audience is experiencing – that's the main job description for any artistic director. Our attention at the concerts is tuned–up so high, you have no idea – we are constantly taking notes, picking up little things from the audience, and saying, "Ah, I can sense that the audience is going this way or that way." And you learn from those experiences – and you think about how to lead them to the next level, or, what would be the next thing that they could really enjoy after what they have just experienced – how do you bring them from point A to point B? I think those are the things that are very important in programming – because what you're trying to do is to eventually build up their trust in you and in your judgment.

    DF: I would agree: that is the most crucial thing, no matter where you do it – that building of trust.  I think Wu Han hit the nail on the head there.  If they trust you, they'll come to hear anything. We can't promise them – as I've said before – that they're going to like everything, but if they don't like a particular concert, they also can trust enough to forgive us.

  • NG: Right, they may not like this one, but they'll probably like the next one. Or maybe the next time they hear the same music, or different music by the same composer, they'll like it a bit more because they've been acclimated a bit.

  • WH: Exactly. It's a lot of that constant re–thinking and re–examining; and also developing that sort of a sixth sense: trying to predict things, and trying to build that trust.  So, I think all these things are very important in our jobs as programmers, or presenters. You also need to have the stomach to take a chance, to present pieces that you really believe in, that maybe nobody knows – and trying to find the things that can support such ventures – finding the right artist to play the right piece at the right moment, to be ahead of the curve. And this takes a lot of research: a lot of listening, a lot of going to concerts, understanding each individual artist – their strong and weak point; helping them walk on the stage and do their best. Those are just part of our jobs, and we exercise on this all the time – just like practice.

  • NG: Well, it makes me think how fortunate you two are to be able to have these great venues, these wonderful opportunities, to make such connections with the audience and with the performers; it's a real blessing.

  • WH: We are so grateful – you have no idea.

  • NG: Yes, but well earned and well deserved; it's good to know how lucky we are when we have good opportunities.

    So, continuing on the theme of periodically challenging the audiences: an active part of both series – and of your careers, in general – is not only promoting the great master works from the past, but also supporting new composers and new works. I'm assuming that although the marketing team may give you a bit of resistance, you're getting good support from audiences and patrons at Lincoln Center and at Menlo for your efforts to introduce new works.  Is that generally the case?

  • WH: Absolutely, and we're very fortunate: in the Menlo situation, the audience has trusted us, and we have a really good track record.  Whenever we've presented a whole concert of contemporary music, people have shown up.

    Our first season there was a sort of musical history tour, with five programs on Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Twentieth Century, and Contemporary music – with each program repeated twice. I can remember that when we talked about the Contemporary program, the marketing team said, "I think we can only sell one concert, because this is not music that you can sell–out."  And I said, "No, let's do two; if you do one, people will think it's not good enough; let's take a chance, and sell the idea during the festival."  It became really important – once they went through the whole historic journey, how could they miss the very last one?  They would totally lose the point.  And do you know what? We sold out both those concerts!

  • NG: Well, all right!

  • WH: I was so proud of our audience and our community – and that's a typical example of sticking to you guns, and taking a chance.  And I'm very, very grateful: everyone in our staff, in both organizations, is totally first class and understands these principles to the deepest degree!

  • NG: So, then, it was a long time in coming for you, via the ArtistLed label, to release a recording of all new works – with your latest disc, featuring four works written expressly for you [by Pierre Jalbert, Lera Auerbach, Bruce Adolphe, and George Tsontakis]. That must have been a thrill.  What sort of criteria did you have in mind in selecting those four composers? Did you give them any particular instruction, or just let them do their thing?

  • DF: Well, we got to know them all – although, I barely knew Pierre Jalbert before we asked him to write for us; though, I'd heard so much of his music that there was no question in our minds but that we wanted him to write for us.  But they all knew us, and had heard us play. In fact, with Lera Auerbach: the first thing she ever heard us do was the Beethoven [Cello] Sonatas cycle, and she marched right backstage, saying "I want to write a piece for you." And I said: "Who are you?"  Then we proceeded to learn about what a phenomenal artist this person is.  So yes, there was a fair degree of synergy in one or both directions.  In the case of some of them, they would talk to us a little bit about what we like, where the others went off on their own; we didn't want to interfere too much.

    WH: Yes, you never know what the composer –– the creative force – has in mind.  At the same time, I remember that Pierre, Lera, and George all requested all of our CD's, so we sent them the entire catalog – and said "good luck" [laughs].

  • NG: It seems to me that – in addition to creating a great record, and giving these composers a great outlet – you're fulfilling an important role for someone in your position: to help create the new cello–piano literature for the 21st century. Beethoven and Brahms clearly had the opportunity to work with their favorite artists to create their masterworks, and so this is part of the mandate that you have.

  • WH: Absolutely, and with the Chamber Music Society too, there is long history of commissioning new works – I think there are over 140 pieces that have been created though this organization; and we are just continuing the responsibility – we have to do that.

  • NG: Okay, so I have one last question – one perhaps on a bit more personal note for you, David: one of the ArtistLed discs that was wonderful to discover was that which features the music of your father, Edwin Finckel. Now, I'm a jazz pianist and composer myself, so I went straight to the Variation on a Theme: Willow Weep for Me; these are terrific, and I enjoyed learning more not only about your father's work with jazz greats like Buddy Rich, and Gene Krupa, but also about his serious music – which is wonderful.  It must have been a great thrill for you to record this album.  I saw that he passed away in 2001, which is the same year that the CD was released – did he get a chance to hear it?

  • DF: Yes, yes, he did – thanks for asking. In fact, the CD was recorded quite a bit earlier – back in 1994; it was actually the first cello–piano recording we made in the ArtistLed model. It was part of a grand family plan to bring the family back together, because my parents had made the mistake of moving to Florida, and my father was very stubborn about it.  But he cared very deeply about his music, and sometimes I think it's the only thing that really meant anything to him – it was what he was going to leave behind.

    And I said, "Ok, Pop, I'm going to record your stuff."  Well, back up to New York he came – to be at the recording session.  My mother came along, and started to look at real estate; and then they moved back.  And the next year we had our daughter, and the grandparents were now there. So, the recording sort of brought the whole family back together.

  • NG: How great.

  • DF: Of course, it was the right thing for me to do – I mean, basically, he had written all these cello pieces for me!  Whether I was his son or not, I should have recorded them. And it gave me a great deal of satisfaction. You're right, that many people go first to the jazz piece, because they know the title of the tune, and then they become increasingly absorbed in the other music, which is all very different.

  • NG: Yes – I particularly liked the Suite 'Of Human Kindness' and Pastorale. I wouldn't be surprised if more of his music gets performed and recorded.  So, you were a good son, and you've done a good thing.

  • DF: Thank you, thank you.

  • NG: Well, it's been terrific to speak with you both, and I probably could ask you ten more questions that would be of great interest to our readers. So, we'll make this Part 1.

  • DF: That's great; we can do that.

    WH: Yes, we could do that; just call us up any time.

  • NG: Thank you both so much for your generous time.

  • DF: Likewise – it was stimulating and inspiring to talk with you as well.

 
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