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Music@Menlo Festival 2011: Through Brahms: July 10, 2011

“Maps & Legends” Sampler
Play a FREE "1-Click Concert™"
“Through Brahms” Preview Sampler
Play a FREE "1-Click Concert™"

Music@Menlo, the San Francisco Bay Area’s premier chamber music festival, is set to begin its 2011 season on July 22, continuing with a delightful set of concerts through August 13. This season’s festival is entitled, “Through Brahms”, and is devoted to both the composer’s genius as a chamber music composer, and his considerable impact unto the present day – by embracing tradition and forging a pathway to new and genuine artistic expression. Under the leadership of Artistic Directors, cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han – the dynamic husband and wife team also behind the acclaimed Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the ArtistLed record label – have created a set of six rich programs that view four centuries of great music, from Bach and Mozart to Schoenberg and Leon Kirchner, though the lens of Brahms’ art.

In celebration of Music@Menlo 2011, Classical Archives is pleased to provide an overview of the new season, along with a 1-Click Concert of works to be featured at the festival. We also highlight the outstanding set of recordings from the 2010 season, “Maps and Legend”, released on the Music@Menlo LIVE label – including a Free Sampler of tracks from the set for all visitors to Classical Archives. Enjoy!

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The 2011 season of the Music@Menlo Festival, “Through Brahms”, is devoted to the chamber music output and historical position of the 19th century master Johannes Brahms (1833 -97). In the words of Artistic Director’s David Finckel and Wu Han: “Transmuting the tradition of his forebears into a distinct and powerful voice, Brahms produced a body of chamber music, including a vital catalog of piano music and lieder, that arguably remains the greatest since Beethoven. In his embrace of tradition as a pathway to new and genuine artistic expression, Brahms has continued to sustain the most forward-looking composers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.”

In six concerts, Music@Menlo explores the musical trajectory “through Brahms” – each dedicated to a different aspect of Brahms’ musical thought and his relationship to the historical orbit around him. Brief descriptions on each concert are given below. For further information on the concerts, and to purchase tickets, visit the festival’s website at

Concert 1: The Young Eagle (July 23-24)
This opening concert explores the impressive early maturity of Brahms – nicknamed “the Young Eagle” by Schumann – and the initial influences upon his creative output: the Classical poise of Mozart and the early Romantic expression of late-Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Schumann. The program begins with diverse chamber works by Mozart, Schubert, and Schumann, and concludes with Brahms’ scherzo contribution to the famed “F-A-E” Sonata, a collaborative work conceived by Schumann in honor of the great violinist Joseph Joachim. The concert features Finckel, Wu Han, clarinetist Carey Bell and violist Yura Lee, among others.

Concert 2: Brahms the Prismatic (July 26)
This concert explores the dual historical prism conjured in Brahms’ music – back to the mastery of J.S. Bach (the Cello Suite No.2 in D-, BWV1008), who Brahms idolized and emulated in several works, and forward to the influence he cast on composers ranging from Rachmaninov (his Vocalise, Op.34, No.14, to Schoenberg (the Phantasy for Violin and Piano, op. 47) and contemporary American composer John Harbison (his Piano Quintet). The concert concludes with the Brahms’ prism reflecting on himself – with the “blueprint” for his epic Piano Quintet, Op.34: the little-known Sonata in F- for 2 Pianos, Op.34b. The concert features cellist Laurence Lesser, violinist Jorja Fleezanis, and pianists Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung.

Concert 3: Veiled Symphonies (July 29-30)
This title of this concert stems from Robert Schumann’s description of the power and grandeur of Brahms’ chamber works – perfectly embodied by the latter’s String Sextet in Bb, Op.18, which closes the program. Preceding it are works that represent Brahms’ past and contemporary influences: by Bach (the Trio Sonata from his Musical Offering), Vivaldi (“La folia” from his Trio Sonata in D-, Op.1, RV63Piano Trio in G-, Op.17 of Clara Schumann – for whom Brahms held a conflicted, yet powerful emotional attachment. The concert features flutist Sooyun Kim and violinist Yehonatan Berick, among others.

Concert 4: Songs of Love (August 2)
This program highlights a major part of Brahms’ chamber output – his lieder. It once again poses Brahms, via his famed Liebeslieder Waltzes, Op.52 and striking 2 Songs, Op.91 (for mezzo-soprano, viola, and piano) into historical context – preceded by songs by Schubert (various selections) and Schumann (selections from his Spanische Liebeslieder, Op.138, which formed a model for Brahms’ Op.52 songs; and followed by Berg’s post-Romantic 7 Early Songs. The program features soprano Erin Morely, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, tenor Paul Appleby, and baritone Kelly Markgraf.

Concert 5: Alla Zingarese (August 5-6)
This program embraces the fascination held by Brahms, and many of his contemporaries, with music “in the gypsy style”, brought to Germany and surrounding countries from Hungarian émigrés in the 1840s. This diverse concert includes “gypsy” works composers ranging from Joseph Haydn (the “Gypsy Rondo” from his Piano Trio in G, Hob.XV:25 to the Brahms’ protégé Antonín Dvořák (selections from the Slavonic Dances, Op.46 to Ravel (the famed Tzigane, among others. Gypsy examples by Brahms include selections from his Hungarian Dances, Books 1 and 2 and the Piano Trio in C, Op.87 – with it’s Hungarian “Andante”.

Concert 6: Spanish Inspirations (August 9-10)
This concert places focus on Spain’s musical re-birth in the early 20th century, under the lead of such master composers as Isaac Albéniz, Joaquin Turina, and especially Manuel de Falla – all of whom blended the various folk and art traditions of their native land; the concert also features works by the two outstanding French composer who likewise fell under the spell of the “Spanish inspiration”: Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. The concert features mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and guitarist Jason Vieaux. The concert features the festival’s Artistic Directors along with violinist Elmar Oliviera, pianist Jon Kimura Parker, and violist Paul Neubauer.

Concert 7: Farewell (August 12-13)
The final program in the series is dedicated entirely to several late chamber masterworks by Brahms, whose death in 1897 marks the close of an astounding musical era. In a poignant “farewell”, the concert includes his String Quintet No.2 in G, Op.111, Viola Sonata in Eb, Op.120, No.2, selections from his solo piano Klavierstücke, Opp. 118 and 119, and the epic Clarinet Quintet in B-, Op.115. The terrific roster for this program includes clarinetist David Shifrin, violinists Philip Setzer and Ani Kavafian, violists Yura Lee and Paul Neubauer, cellist Paul Watkins, and 87-year old master pianist Menahem Pressler.

Finally, Classical Archives Artistic Director Nolan Gasser posed two written questions to David Finckel and Wu Han on the insights they’ve gained in creating this program, and the outstanding roster of artists gracing the Music@Menlo programs this year:

Nolan Gasser: In reviewing for and considering the diverse program you’ve designed for this series, have you come to any new observations or insights on how Brahms specifically transformed the music of his personal influences (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Schumann) into something so uniquely his own, and of his own time – and perhaps what made this individual amalgam so influential for later generations?

David Finckel & Wu Han: What’s interesting in considering how Brahms relates to the music of past composers is how he influences our understanding of those composers today—a contextual benefit that was, of course, unavailable to listeners in Bach’s time and Beethoven’s time. Hearing the influence of Bach on Brahms’s music not only deepens our understanding of Brahms, but of Bach as well. Thinking about the tendencies of earlier music that ultimately pointed the way to Romanticism and the twentieth century make for fascinating programming possibilities. Hearing Vivaldi’s Trio Sonata, “La Follia,” for example, alongside Brahms’s Bb Sextet, illuminates the Vivaldi, a work composed in the early 1700s, as music with as much Romantic élan as anything composed two centuries later. Brahms equips us with the vocabulary to understand this music in this way.

And that Brahms worked within the framework of the Classical tradition—writing string quartets, symphonies, concertos, etc.—rather than experimenting with the new forms of Liszt and Wagner, and yet was able to create music no less fresh and dynamic, became an important model for later generations. Think of the most recent work that we’ve programmed this summer, Leon Kirchner’s Fourth String Quartet, composed in 2006. Kirchner was truly one of the great maverick composers of his generation; he cultivated a distinct voice that really doesn’t sound like anyone else. And yet, when you hear it (as we will) alongside Brahms’s Opus 51 String Quartets, you realize that, exactly as Brahms had done, Kirchner is using the same harmonies, the same contrapuntal techniques, the same structural concepts that composers have used for generations—but using it to serve an artistic vision that is wholly and uniquely his own.

NG: Can you share with us some thoughts on the particular roster of artists coming to the Festival this year, and things the audience should keep a special eye (or rather ear) out for?

DF/WH: This season, we are thrilled to be welcoming thirteen musicians making their Music@Menlo debuts. Among these include eminent performers such as pianist Jon Kimura Parker, violinists Cho-Liang Lin and Daniel Hope, clarinetist David Shifrin, and tenor Paul Appleby. We are also excited to be welcoming back several internationally renowned artists from past seasons including pianist Juho Pohjonen, violinist Elmar Oliveira, and cellist Paul Watkins. Music@Menlo's artist roster is an ever evolving collection of artists, both familiar and new to the Music@Menlo community.

We invite you to enjoy Music@Menlo’s LIVE’s other recordings available on Classical Archives. This includes complete recordings from Music@Menlo’s past two seasons: 2009’s “Being Mendelssohn” and 2010’s “Maps & Legends”. The two series are available as a complete Box Set, as well as by individual recordings. Enjoy!

2010: “Maps & Legends”

“Maps & Legends” featured seven programs that each coalesced around a particular geography or historic moment – or in the case of the opening concerts, the annual Seasons. Such an approach, as the directors point out, afforded an ability not only to highlight unique chamber works, but also to allow the listener to experience connections – musically and aesthetically – that would otherwise be missed. A fuller description of this program can be found on our earlier feature: Music@Menlo’s 2010 Season: Maps & Legends.

Maps & Legends: Box Set

Maps & Legends, Vol. 1: The Seasons (Chamber Works by Vivaldi and Crumb)

Maps & Legends, Vol. 2: The English Voice (Chamber Works by Britten, Walton and Elgar)

Maps & Legends, Vol. 3: Vienna (Chamber Works by Haydn, Beethoven and Brahms)

Maps & Legends, Vol. 4: Aftermath (Chamber Works by Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Schoenberg)

Maps & Legends, Vol. 5: La ville-lumière (Chamber Works by Milhaud, Fauré, Poulenc, etc.)

Maps & Legends, Vol. 6: Spanish Inspirations (Chamber Works by Ravel, Debussy and Turina)

Maps & Legends, Vol. 7: Dvorák’s America (Chamber Works by Dvořák, Burleigh, Barber, etc.)

Maps & Legends, Vol. 8: Piano Recital by Juho Pohjonen (Works by Mozart, Grieg, Handel, etc.)

2009: “Being Mendelssohn”

To commemorate Felix Mendelssohn’s extraordinary life and artistic achievements on the two-hundredth anniversary of his birth, Music@Menlo’s 2009 festival presented the composer’s greatest chamber works, including his seminal string quartet cycle, the two magnificent piano trios, and the immortal Octet (composed when Mendelssohn was only sixteen years old), among other works—acknowledged masterpieces and rediscovered gems alike. By presenting Mendelssohn’s music alongside works by his predecessors, contemporaries, and artistic heirs, “Being Mendelssohn” illuminates the composer’s deeply personal and richly nuanced art from multiple perspectives.

Being Mendelssohn: Box Set

Being Mendelssohn, Vol. 1: Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn

Being Mendelssohn, Vol. 2: Mendelssohn, Beethoven

Being Mendelssohn, Vol. 3: Ligeti, Jalbert, Brahms

Being Mendelssohn, Vol. 4: Beethoven, Spohr

Being Mendelssohn, Vol. 5: Mendelssohn, Schumann

Being Mendelssohn, Vol. 6: Mendelssohn Piano Trios

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