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Wu Han, piano Philip Setzer, violin & David Finckel, cello
Sun, June 26, 2016, 4:30pm
“Pianist Wu Han, violinist Philip Setzer and cellist David Finckel gave their sold-out audience an exuberant, eddying account of the B-flat, then turned the screws tighter for the E-flat, grabbing listeners, as it were, by the throats. ” –Mercury News (San Jose)
One of today’s most prominent trios formed when Co-Artistic Directors of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han, were joined by violinist Philip Setzer, a founding member of the prestigious and Grammy-award winning Emerson String Quartet. Together they bring you an exhilarating all-Beethoven program.
In chamber music, the number of piano trios Beethoven produced is only exceeded by his quartets. This program brings a sampling of his early, middle, and late compositions, including one of his most acclaimed chamber music masterpieces, “Archduke.”
Beethoven Trio in G major, Op. 1, No. 2 Beethoven Trio in E-flat major, Op. 70, No. 2 – Intermission –Beethoven Trio in B-flat major, Op. 97, “Archduke”
Violinist Philip Setzer is a founding member of the Emerson String Quartet, which has received nine Grammy Awards, three Gramophone Awards, and the coveted Avery Fisher Prize, and has performed cycles of the complete Beethoven, Bartók, and Shostakovich string quartets in the world’s musical capitals, from New York to Vienna. The Noise of Time, a groundbreaking theater collaboration between the Emerson Quartet and Simon McBurney–about the life of Shostakovich–was based on an original idea of Mr. Setzer’s.
As a soloist, he has appeared on several occasions with The Cleveland Orchestra, with the Aspen Chamber Orchestra, and also with the National, Memphis, New Mexico, Puerto Rico, Omaha, and Anchorage Symphonies. In 1976, Philip Setzer won a bronze medal at the Queen Elisabeth International Competition in Brussels. He has also participated in the Marlboro Music Festival.
Mr. Setzer is a tenured Professor of Violin and Chamber Music at Stony Brook University and has given master classes at schools around the world. He has been a regular faculty member of the Isaac Stern Chamber Music Workshops at Carnegie Hall and the Jerusalem Music Center. His article about those workshops appeared in The New York Times on the occasion of Isaac Stern’s 80th birthday celebration in 2001.
Mr. Setzer studied violin with Josef Gingold and Rafael Druian, at The Juilliard School with Oscar Shumsky, and also studied chamber music with Robert Mann and Felix Galimir.
David Finckel, cello and Wu Han, piano
Cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han, Musical America’s 2012 Musicians of the Year, rank among the most esteemed and influential classical musicians in the world today. The talent, energy, imagination, and dedication they bring to their multifaceted endeavors as concert performers, recording artists, educators, artistic administrators, and cultural entrepreneurs go unmatched. In high demand year after year among chamber music audiences worldwide, the duo has appeared each season at the most prestigious venues and concert series across the United States and around the world to unanimous critical acclaim. For thirty-four years, David Finckel served as cellist of the Grammy Award-winning Emerson String Quartet.
David Finckel and Wu Han’s wide-ranging musical innovations include the launch of ArtistLed (www.artistled.com), classical music’s first musician-directed and Internet-based recording company, whose catalogue of sixteen albums has won widespread critical acclaim. David Finckel and Wu Han are the founding Artistic Directors of [email protected], a chamber music festival and institute in Silicon Valley soon to celebrate its twelfth season, and have served as Artistic Directors of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center since 2004. In 2011, David Finckel and Wu Han were named Artistic Directors of Chamber Music Today, an annual festival held in Korea, and David Finckel was recently named Artistic Director and honoree of the Mendelssohn Fellowship, which identifies young Korean musicians and promotes chamber music in Korea.
In these capacities, as well as through a multitude of other education initiatives, such as their newly created chamber music studio at Aspen Music Festival and School, they have achieved universal renown for their passionate commitment to nurturing the careers of countless young artists. David Finckel and Wu Han reside in New York. For more information, please visit www.davidfinckelandwuhan.com.
About the Music
Ludwig van Beethoven/ 1770–1827 / The Piano Trios
As with the symphony and the string quartet—genres elevated by Haydn and crystallized by Mozart into signature forms of the Classical literature—the piano trio was thus inherited by Beethoven and transformed, at the turn of the nineteenth century, into a vehicle for the fiercest and most deeply felt musical expression.
Beethoven’s granite cycles of nine symphonies, sixteen string quartets, thirty-two piano sonatas, and five cello sonatas, span the whole of his artistic maturity, handily demarcating the composer’s oft-cited three periods: the early period, encompassing his early work in Bonn and during his first decade in Vienna, when he was most clearly under the influence of Haydn and Mozart; the middle, “heroic” period, which produced works of sea-parting ambition; and the late period, during which, stone deaf and increasingly isolated from society, Beethoven created such forward-looking works that they continue to confound listeners two centuries later.
The catalogue of Beethoven’s piano trios begins at the same point of origin: his first set of three trios, published as his Opus 1, marks the official launch of the composer’s professional career. The two Opus 70 trios share airspace with the Eroica and Fifth Symphonies, the Razumovsky Quartets, and other emblems of the heroic period. The Archduke Trio, Beethoven’s final essay in the medium, appears on the cusp of the middle and late periods. Its premiere poignantly marked Beethoven’s final concert appearance as a pianist. “On account of his deafness,” wrote the composer Ludwig Spohr, present at the concert, “there was scarcely anything left of the virtuosity of the artist which had formerly been so greatly admired. In forte passages the poor deaf man pounded on the keys until the strings jangled, and in piano he played so softly that the whole group of notes were omitted, so that the music was unintelligible…” Yet what the composer had accomplished was nevertheless undeniable. Ignaz Moscheles reported hearing “a new Trio by Beethoven… How many new compositions are unjustifiably marked with the little word ‘new.’ But never a composition by Beethoven, and surely not this one, which is completely original.” The next half dozen years, marked by all manner of personal trauma, were the most fallow of Beethoven’s career, but he emerged from this dark period, as if from a cocoon, impelled to create the Ninth Symphony, the Missa solemnis, the late quartets—magna opera that cast long shadows over the entire nineteenth century and beyond.
The piano trios thus collectively chart Beethoven’s remarkable artistic journey. They offer us the portrait of the artist as a young, ambitious, and, in the end, downtrodden man—yet never accepting of defeat. Indeed, each test propels him to conquer new frontiers. It is that creative strength, inexorable willfulness, and triumph of the human spirit that ultimately comes through in these works.
Trio in G Major, Op. 1, No. 2 / Approximate duration: 38 minutes
Unfairly under-recognized among Beethoven’s oeuvre, and even among just the Opus 1 Trios, is the second of the set, the Trio in G Major. It is the least frequently performed of the three, and consequently the least known, despite its sheer excellence. One could perhaps make a similar case for the G Major Trio, relative to its two siblings, as Beethoven would make twenty years later for his Eighth Symphony, when told that it failed to meet the same acclaim as the Seventh—to which the temperamental composer retorted, “That’s because it’s so much better!”
To be sure, that is as rash a judgment on the Seventh as it would be on the ingenious Trios in E-flat Major and c minor, but at the very least, the G Major is the most difficult to figure out. If the E-flat Trio is the most firmly situated in the realm of Haydnesque and Mozartian Classicism, and the C minor the most brazenly forward-looking, the Trio in G Major captures, like a time-lapse video of day turning to night, the metamorphosis of Beethoven’s creative impulses towards the “new path” his music would soon pursue.
The Trio begins with a luxurious Adagio introduction: a hazy reverie, which is nevertheless of structural importance, as the violin’s opening melodic figure foreshadows the movement’s first theme. Even once the music enters into its main Allegro vivace section, this buoyant theme doesn’t appear in full until several measures in—so long a runway does it need before taking flight. Beethoven’s restless approach to thematic development is already evident in the movement’s exposition; the proper development section itself traverses a remarkably wide spectrum of expressive characters. This is a movement marked by its great breadth of musical materials; though it has the trappings of the sonata form innovated by Haydn, it leaves us with the impression that that form was insufficient to contain Beethoven’s imagination. The movement concludes with a rich coda, continuing on past an emphatic cadence that would have made for a wholly satisfying conclusion, like the bonus of extra innings after nine frames of riveting baseball.
The Trio’s centerpiece, however, is the second movement, poetically marked Largo con espressione—“unexcelled,” writes Lewis Lockwood, “by the slow movement of any piano trio written up to this time, and for sheer lyrical beauty it outdoes those of [Beethoven’s] early piano sonatas.” The three instruments (four voices, given the independence of the pianist’s left and right hands) synergistically share phrases, weaving a rich polyphonic texture that looks ahead to the most deeply felt chamber scores of the coming century.
The Scherzo movement, as genial as it is brief, bridges the profundity of the slow movement to the lighthearted finale. The ebullience of the main theme, marked by fast repeated notes, doesn’t abate even for the movement’s more cantabile moments, and drives the Trio to its conclusion with a wide grin.
The E-flat Piano Trio is a radiant work. It is no less powerful a statement than such works as the Fifth Symphony or its companion piece, the better-known Ghost Trio, op. 70, no. 1—but the Opus 70 Number 2 Trio transmutes the intensity of those works into a warm lyricism. Biographer Lewis Lockwood observes, “After the Ghost, the E-flat Trio…turns from the demonic to the human.” Indeed, in contrast to the adrenalized opening of the Ghost Trio, the E-flat Trio begins with a slow, introspective introduction. A more buoyant theme, marked by wide, ascending leaps, announces the start of the main body of the movement. Yet even here, the fieriness of the Fifth Symphony yields to a more elegant temperament. Beethoven quickly recalls the music of the slow introduction and transforms this music into an eloquent new musical idea. In the development section, the mood intensifies through vintage Beethovenian means: thematic material from the exposition is fragmented, creating a feeling of anxiety, and the piano provides a restless accompaniment, arpeggiating a series of diminished-seventh chords, one of the signature harmonies of Romantic Sturm und Drang. The recapitulation restores the movement’s sunny perspective, but as the music appears to approach a climactic point, Beethoven once again shows unexpected restraint. After this final remembrance of the slow introduction, the movement comes to a soft-spoken close.
Beethoven forgoes a true slow movement, inserting instead a second-movement Allegretto. The movement’s opening melody is so sweet and so sincere, perhaps calling to mind some of Schubert’s lieder. But beneath the graceful demeanor of this first musical idea lies something more. As a pianist, Beethoven is known to have toyed somewhat with his listeners: he would lull them into a blissful reverie with soft, lyrical music and then suddenly play loud, crashing, dissonant chords. In his compositions, too, he would often work in such abrupt emotional extremes. Beethoven continues to teeter between these two contrasting ideas—and he varies them along the way—keeping the listener unsure of what to expect and perhaps, in a Jekyll-and-Hyde sort of way, a little uneasy, even during the music’s most comforting moments.
There’s a nuanced psychological complexity to this E-flat Piano Trio that comes to the fore in places, such as those abrupt changes in character in the second movement—and even while he is fashioning those exquisite moments, Beethoven avoids the obvious expressive devices. Think, for instance, about the slow, thoughtful introduction to the first movement, where a more vigorous gesture might have been expected. And then where a deeply sentimental slow movement might have gone, Beethoven writes instead an understated Allegretto.
Likewise, the trio lacks a true scherzo movement. In its place, Beethoven writes another Allegretto—in fact, he marks the third movement “Allegretto ma non troppo”—“but not too fast”—exactly the opposite of what we would expect in a typical scherzo movement. Indeed, instead of a fast, frenzied scherzo, Beethoven gives us music of broad, sweeping lyricism.
The finale is just as nuanced as the rest of the trio. As the movement begins, it appears that, finally, the listener’s expectations will be met: the music begins quick runs in the piano, punctuated by energetic “ta das!” in the violin and cello, but then immediately changes character: the piano shifts gears and plays a gentle, lyrical melody that gets picked up by the violin. Beethoven marks the passage piano and dolce—softly and sweetly. As in the first movement, the development and recapitulation sections work over the thematic materials of the exposition, weaving a dramatically compelling conclusion to the Opus 70 Number 2 Piano Trio. All told, the E-flat Trio is a remarkably rich work. Reflecting a watershed moment in the creative life of one of history’s greatest composers, it is a work that demonstrates masterly compositional technique and that offers a tremendous breadth of emotion, giving the listener always something new to discover.
Piano Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 97, “Archduke” / Approximate duration: 37 minutes
Beethoven completed the Archduke Trio in three weeks, from March 3 to 26, 1811. Europe was in the midst of rapid social change. Napoleon was soon to fall from power, and the eminent rise of the bourgeoisie coupled with the steady decline of the aristocracy’s influence. The decline of the aristocracy also led to a decline of domestic music making. As amateur musicians became generally less proficient and able to master the music of composers as technically demanding as Beethoven, a new wave of music began to appear. This was music composed expressly for professional musicians to perform at public concerts for the bourgeois audience.
The Archduke Trio is named for the Archduke Rudolph: the younger brother of Emperor Leopold II, a patron and sometime student of Beethoven’s, and recipient of the Trio’s dedication. Beethoven played in the Trio’s premiere, and this performance turned out to be one of Beethoven’s last few public performances, due to his worsening deafness. Recalling this concert, the composer Ludwig Spohr made the famous remark that, “On account of his deafness there was scarcely anything left of the virtuosity of the artist which had formerly been so greatly admired. In forte passages the poor deaf man pounded on the keys until the strings jangled, and in piano he played so softly that the whole group of notes were omitted, so that the music was unintelligible…” However poor his performance may have been, the greatness of the music itself was immediately recognizable. Another account of the premiere comes from the pianist and composer Ignaz Moscheles: “I heard a new Trio by Beethoven…played by himself. How many new compositions are unjustifiably marked with the little word ‘new.’ But never a composition by Beethoven, and surely not this one, which is completely original.”
The Archduke Trio exemplifies Beethoven’s skill in extending, with endless inventiveness, a minimal amount of musical material to create a kaleidoscopic array of musical ideas—a quality important to understanding Beethoven’s oeuvre as a whole: the most famous examples include the so-called “Fate knocking at the door” motif of the Fifth Symphony, and the Ninth Symphony’s “Ode to Joy” finale. Though most iconically present in these works, the principle of turning one idea into many is likewise prevalent in his chamber music.
The exposition of the sonata-form first movement begins with one of Beethoven’s grandest melodies, proudly presented straightaway, as if carved in granite: a stately theme that begins simply by extending a B-flat major chord. The development section is founded on the fragmentation and extension of this central theme. At the recapitulation, the theme returns transformed, as though its journey has produced a kind of enlightenment. The movement ends with a triumphant coda.
The charming second movement Scherzo begins with a most delightful tune. A quiet and eerie chromatic line played by the cello sets off an intricate canon between the three instruments to launch into the grandiose trio section.
Again demonstrating Beethoven’s gift for turning one musical idea into many, the Andante cantabile third movement takes the form of a theme and variations. With each variation, the rhythm expands: from one note to each beat, then to three, then four, etc. Beethoven’s theme is marked “semplice”—simple, ordinary. Far from ordinary, however, this music is simplicity at its most transcendent.
The serenity of the slow movement is rudely interrupted as the music flies into the exuberant finale. Beethoven socks the listener out of any possible reverie induced by the heavenly slow movement. An energetic opening figure expands into an extroverted main theme. Like children at play, the piano, violin, and cello toss musical ideas back and forth. Thunderous scales in the piano rise to quiet heights, only to come crashing down again.
Towards the end of the movement, a Presto variation on the theme gives the music yet another inflection. Often remembered as an eternally anguished composer, Beethoven here continues to display his great wit and humor. He was also known for his deep love of nature, and this passage paints a joyous, pastoral picture – complete with birds chirping along happily in the right hand of the piano.