If power exists in the classical music business, Wu Han wields it.
She would never say that, and wouldn’t want to hear it either. Her power, organic and strong, comes from a musical fabric, woven by the pianist and her colleagues. That fabric covers performers, the audience, and most especially the repertory.
All of it—every person, every note—treated with devotion by Wu Han. That’s the power.
With her most profound colleague, cellist David Finckel, Wu Han takes the Shalin Liu Performance Center stage Aug. 31. Coupled with this Friday’s appearance by the Handel & Haydn Society, these performances mark the end of this season’s Rockport Chamber Music Festival.
Wu Han and Finckel—partners in life, art and business—direct the vast Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. During their sixteen-year tenure, they have doubled in size of CMSLC in New York (adding CMS 2), and spread chamber music around the country in satellite festivals.
Before taking over artistic directorship of CMSLC in 2004, they had founded Music@Menlo the previous year. Now that chamber music destination, south of San Francisco and similar in many ways to RCMF, thrives with its innovatively themed programs.
Wu Han performs duos with Finckel, they perform trios with violinist Philip Setzer, and the pianist fits in quartet, quintet and other musical mates as she can. Her schedules includes residencies, yet more presenting in Korea, and teaching.
Wu Han works music. She thinks performing music helps do that. “You can tell when a festival is run by a musician,” she says. “They have different taste, and they can express it and explain it. That’s crucial.”
Musician/presenters like RCMF artistic director Barry Shiffman, who has been a long-time part of Wu Han’s musical fabric as well. They met near Menlo, when Shiffman’s St. Lawrence Quartet was in residence at Stanford.
“We were young then, and we loved touring,” she says. “Barry has had an amazing career path.”
Wu Han always been interested in innovations for presenting classical music—but insists that’s not at the core of reaching audiences.
“Artistic excellence,” she says, “that’s what it is. You can have the greatest web site, you can play in bars, you can dress down. But if the audience comes and the concert isn’t good—people will recognize it.
“People will watch the circus show,” she says, “but if they are learning and enjoying something with integrity, they will come back. The other way is ‘once’—and it’s not sustainable.”
Her words have been proven. CMSLC has had a decade of subscription growth, the CMS 2 roster has become a desired destination for every young musician. The touring festivals—she’s on the phone from one of eight satellite locations, Saratoga—expand the CMSLC brand impressively.
“We don’t ever dumb down to audiences,” she says; “we always try to produce artistic excellence. And we’ve seen audiences increase every year. It’s a listening experience for all of us, this music, and we try to present it in a way that achieves something a little bigger than all of us.”
The Rockport Chamber Music Festival concludes its summer season with two August annex concerts: Handel & Haydn Society on Aug. 17, performing the complete Brandenburg concertos; and cellist David Finckel/pianist Wu Han on Aug. 31, performing sonatas of Schumann, Bach, Chopin and others. For tickets and information visit www.rockportmusic.org or call 978-546-7391.
Keith Powers covers music and the arts for GateHouse Media and WBUR’s ARTery. Follow @PowersKeith; email to email@example.com.