The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music profiles: Part 2 of a two-part interview with cellist David Finckel of the Emerson String Quartet about their Jan. 22 concert in Madison

January 12, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

Cellist David Finckel (below left) recently answered questions via e-mail (while he was on tour in Asia) about the Emerson String Quartet‘s upcoming concert at the Wisconsin Union Theater on Friday, Jan. 22, at 8 p.m.


The program for the Fan Taylor Memorial Concert (Taylor was the first director of the Wisconsin Union Theater) is Ives’ String Quartet No.1, Dvorak’s quartet, Op. 51, and Beethoven’s late quartet, Op. 127.

Tickets are $18, $35 and $40 with $10 admission for UW students. Call 608 262-2201.

For The Ear, the combination of artists and program make this a MUST-HEAR concert. Chamber music just doesn’t get better.

Here is link to the Wisconsin Union Theater:

http://www.union.wisc.edu/Theater/season/emerson2.html

And here is a link to the home page for the Emerson String Quartet, which includes profiles of the members:

http://www.emersonquartet.com/

And here is a link to David Finckel’s home page for ArtistLed CDs, which he owns with his wife pianist Wu Han:

http://www.artistled.com/Biographies/DF_medium_bio.htm

And here is the second and final part of my interview with David Finckel (below left):

Could you briefly comment on the works in your Madison program (Ives’ No. 1, Dvorak’ Op. 51 and Beethoven’s Op. 127)?

Our program for Madison is a quintessential Emerson program.  Beethoven’s Op. 127 is the first Beethoven quartet that I played with the Emerson, back in the 1979-80 season. It is a monumental, deeply felt work that leaves nothing un-said and no challenge ignored.  Its four movements are each worlds in themselves, long, difficult and involved.  But one feels renewed at its conclusion, no matter how tiring the experience.

The Ives is the work of a true American spirit, filled with optimism, idealism, and courage.  And the Dvorak, a heartfelt work (as all his pieces are!) is a tranquil listening experience that takes one to the old world.

The University of Wisconsin Pro Arte Quartet turns 100 next year. I remember your playing the Mendelssohn Octet with them. Do you have an opinion about the artistic and historical importance of the Pro Arte?

I wish I knew more of the history of the Pro Arte.  I know that it is one of the longest-running quartets in history, with many members changing over the years.  I love the concept of a quartet that just keeps going – because there is always some sense of tradition and style that is unique to every ensemble.  It would be very interesting to find out from the quartet what they have kept from their earlier incarnations.

What advice would you have for young aspiring string quartet, and chamber music, players today?

My advice for young quartets? Learn lots of music.  Don’t miss the forest for the trees. Remember that you are playing for the audience.  Try everyone’s interpretational ideas and don’t fight about them.

Listen to great recordings, not only by quartets but by anybody.  Listen to the Beethoven symphonies while you’re learning the Beethoven quartets.  Learn Haydn.  Learn Webern.  Learn Bartok. And learn where the music came from. Know something about the composers and their lives and times.

Practice your individual parts and come to rehearsals being able to play in time and in tune.  Scrutinize your own playing under the highest expectations.  Don’t waste your colleagues’ time, ever.

I could go on.

What is the secret to the quality and longevity of the Emerson? And how do you balance your chamber music career with a solo career and with your duties co-directing the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (below right) with your wife pianist Wu Han (below left)?

We have been together more than three decades.  Our friendship is solid but we are really driven by the work itself.  There is so much to do, just to play everything we are committed to, and to do it at the level that people have come to expect of us.

That’s not getting any easier in some respects, but in other ways, we have become more and more confident musically as we have gained perspective.

There is no such thing as balance with the solo career for me, not to mention the other careers I have as a presenter.  I just try to do the best I can to live up to my responsibilities everywhere, and somehow, I squeeze by.  My family still wants to live with me, which is enormously lucky for me.


Posted in Classical music

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