Roberta and I take special pleasure and pride this month from the news we just received, that our son Julian has been accepted by Yale University. Julian’s interests could take him in various directions through his college years and beyond, but in musical circles it’s worth noting that he is a gifted singer/songwriter.
On the evening of December 5th, David and Wu Han accepted Musical America’s 2012 Musicians of the Year award in a special celebration at Lincoln Center.
A single day at the end of August separated the end and beginning of Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (CMS) tours on two continents. David and Wu Han were the common denominators of the artist rosters, with one festival being a return visit and the other breaking new international touring ground.
Germany: August 22-29
With a solid week of New York work under our belts after returning from Music@Menlo, Wu Han and I headed out over the Atlantic on August 22nd for the idyllic village of Heiligendamm on the Baltic Sea. The spectacular Grand Hotel Heiligendamm awaited our return, as did the equally spectacular Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Festspiele.
by Philip Setzer
And the years went by again. Many years after finishing Juilliard, starting the quartet, getting married, becoming a father, I heard the sad news that Shumsky’s wife had died. This was very sad, both because I remembered how wonderfully sweet she was to all of Oscar’s students, and also because I could imagine how lost he would be without her. And he was. I kept in touch with him from time to time but it was always difficult to talk to him, especially on the phone. I heard from his son, Eric, that Oscar was quite depressed and wasn’t playing much, especially in public. The quartet talked about it and we decided to invite him to play with us. He agreed and we recorded a show with him for St. Paul Sunday with Bill McGlaughlin and also toured with Oscar and Menahem Pressler. They played the first Fauré Sonata, the quartet played Debussy or Ravel quartet and we finished with the Chausson Concert for Violin, Piano and String Quartet.
These were wonderful experiences. Musically, it was so inspiring to work with both of them, but, just as important, looking back on it, we were able to spend time with Oscar socially in a way that we never had before or did again. Happily, we are still collaborating with Menahem and have had hundreds of experiences, musical and social, with him over the years. But the time we had with Oscar was brief. We didn’t have a chance to make music with him again. He was stricken with a severe heart ailment and getting weaker by the day. Gene and I went up to his house in Westchester to visit him one day, all arranged by Eric Shumsky, who was there almost all of the time at that point to take care of his father. We sat outside on a beautiful warm day. Oscar was so thin, we hardly recognized him, but that voice was as vibrant and full of life as always. We tried and succeeded in getting him to tell stories and laugh. He had a wonderful laugh. You can hear it on the St. Paul Sunday show. I wish I had a film or at least a recording of the laughs of all the people I have known and loved.
I apologize that these blogs about my teachers often read like obituaries, but how can you write about someone and not talk about the last time you saw them or talked with them? So forgive me. I had one more conversation, on the phone, with Oscar. We didn’t talk long and it was awkward as usual. He always sounded like he really didn’t want to be on the phone and had more important things to do. Or maybe he thought that I should have more important things to do than talk to him? After a few exchanges, he said something like “Well, Phil, thanks for calling” and I said “Good-bye, Oscar, take care of yourself” or some such empty phrase, the kind that he always hated. Then, just as I was about to hang up, I heard his voice calling me, saying “Phil, one more thing. I think you should do something musically away from the quartet…silence…” “Ok”, I said and then he said softly “Because you have something special”. Click.
He had never really complimented me like that before. I stood there holding the phone with tears rolling down my face.
What was it about his playing that made him so extraordinary? As with all great musicians, it started with his sound, which was big and rich and so full of warmth and strength. But it was more than that. I remember David Finckel once saying that when you listen to Shumsky, every note seemed important. It was partly his articulation and phrasing, but it was also that everything in the score mattered and was crucial to him. His musical integrity was undeniable and unquestionable. He never played anything for effect and didn’t put on a show for the audience. This was his great strength but, as is often the case with people, sometimes also his weakness. He refused to compromise his artistic sensibilities and perhaps that adversely affected his career. He never had the huge public success that he deserved, but he was certainly revered by those of us who knew him and greatly admired his playing. And he was true to himself. As my father often said, “He could look at himself in the mirror every morning”.
Oscar Shumsky was a great violinist and musician, a wonderful teacher and a hero in his own right.
by Eugene Drucker
It’s hard to believe that our South American tour, which remains so vivid in our memories, ended more than a week ago. We enjoyed large and enthusiastic audiences everywhere we went, and each presenting organization took exemplary care of us. Of special meaning to us was the large turnout of young people at most of our concerts, and a level of hunger for chamber music and a warmly demonstrative response that sometimes bordered on what you would expect to witness at a rock concert. At one concert on the outskirts of Santiago, Chile, the applause and cheers were so loud and vociferous that my ears were hurting! And the contact with fans after the concerts gave us renewed hope for the future of our art form. There were so many young players and enthusiasts, asking for photos to be taken with us and for autographs on our CDs. Several times a word occurred to me, in the sense that sometimes the best way to describe or think of something is in terms of its polar opposite: these people are definitely NOT jaded.
It is also important for us in the Northern Hemisphere to recall that a city like Buenos Aires, with its magnificent Teatro Colon, has a distinguished tradition of concert life dating back at least a century. And in Sao Paulo we played in a converted railroad station, the Sala Sao Paulo, which is visually and acoustically gorgeous. We look forward to our next visit to South America, where perhaps we will discover a few new cities and audiences, in a couple of years.
Most of our programs during the summer — at festivals all over the U.S. — will feature a “last works for string quartet” theme: either Haydn’s two-movement Op. 103, written years after his younger colleague Mozart’s death, or Mendelssohn’s Andante and Scherzo, Op. 81, written shortly before his own death; Bartok’s Sixth, a profound and tragic work written on the eve of the Second World War, shortly after the composer’s mother died and not long before he was forced to emigrate from fascist Hungary to the U.S. (despite financial and medical difficulties, he composed a number of other works during his final years in this country, and even began work on a seventh string quartet); and Schubert’s monumental and motivically obsessive Quartet No. 15 in G Major, written at a fever pitch within 11 days. While presenting these programs in July, we will also have some advance rehearsals for next season’s repertoire, including Mozart K. 590, Beethoven’s Op. 132, Bartok’s Fifth and Shostakovich’s Fifth Quartets.
The Mozart quartet, which we’ll perform at a pre-concert for our Mostly Mozart program at New York’s Lincoln Center on August 15th, is one of the three last quartets, which he dedicated to the cello-playing King of Prussia. We recently finished editing our CD of these three works, which will be released by Sony Classics in November, inaugurating a new recording relationship for us.
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Read our last post for David Finckel’s perspective on our S. American tour, including some great photos!
Emerson String Quartet cellist David Finckel recently blogged about our recent tour of South America. He posted some great anecdotes and photos at his blog. An excerpt is included below, click here to read it in full.
After a break of a year, the Emerson Quartet returned to South America for the second visit in its entire 35-year history. On this trip the quartet returned to the countries of Brazil, Argentina and Chile, and added Colombia and Ecuador to its international destination map.
in David’s words…
MAY 20-22: SÃO PAOLO
The first stop on the Emerson String Quartet’s tour is the bustling metropolis of São Paulo, Brazil. Home to a population of over 19 million people (in the metropolitan area), São Paulo is arguably the cultural and economic capital of South America.
It’s not every day that a New Yorker takes a picture of another city out of the airplane window – New York possessing a cityscape that is continually a thrill to witness even for a long-time resident. But the concentrated sprawl of São Paolo, Brazil is so vast that it appears practically an optical illusion.
In our next three concerts, before and just after Valentine’s Day, we’ll play two pieces that for me, at least, have always evoked the realm of the sensual. The slow movement of Debussy’s quartet is tender, nostalgic and passionate. Schoenberg’s “Verklaerte Nacht” (“Transfigured Night”) is a tone poem about two people walking in the woods, the guilt-laden confession of a pregnant woman and the transfiguring acceptance of her lover. The sensibilities of these two composers and the cultures from which they emerged could not be more different, yet each work affords us a fantastic opportunity to express love — the love of playing our instruments, our love of great music in general and perhaps a channel through which to express the romantic love we feel for the “significant others” in our lives.
At Stony Brook on Feb. 10th and Wooster College (Ohio) on the 13th, we’ll play the Debussy Quartet alongside a romantic masterpiece of another era: Mendelssohn’s Op. 44#3, which also has an impassioned slow movement. And at the Kennedy Center on Tuesday the 15th, we’ll join forces with the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio in a program that includes the Schoenberg sextet.
By means of numerous departures and arrivals over five days, David and Wu Han played multiple roles on stages from New York to Washington to California. Beginning with the second program of the Chamber Music Society’s Late Night Rose series, activities featuring David and Wu Han together and as individuals allowed them to touch base with their myriad projects.