Last year, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center participated in a pioneering effort: The first Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass.
Presented by the Norton Center for the Arts and its director, George Foreman, the fest was held at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, off the beaten path for most concert goers, in a renovated tobacco barn, an atypical venue for musicians more accustomed to cozy concert halls.
And it was a smashing success.
The concerts were sold out, and the chamber music society’s press representative says the musicians haven’t stopped talking about Kentucky.
So, with the second edition upon us, we got on the phone with cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han, co-directors of the Chamber Music Society, to talk about the second edition of the festival and their return to the Bluegrass.
Herald-Leader: Tell us about your trip here last year and what made it so great.
David Fickel: The most wonderful thing, besides being in Kentucky, and in such a beautiful place and having such beautiful weather and meeting all the new people and playing for a new audience was being present at the birth of a really exciting new project. These days, when classical music takes root in a new location and blossoms, it’s wonderful news for everybody involved. We also look at our involvement at the Shaker Village there as being something that the Chamber Society is good at, something that we should do, being the kind of organization we are, we should go around and help people start new things because we can present great art in great programs and get people excited.
In the end, we all had a marvelous time. We made a lot of new friends, and we’ve really been thinking about it ever since.
Wu Han: In a regular concert, we usually hit a city and play for an audience of 500 to 2,000 and then we probably split the next morning and hit the next town. That’s a performer’s life.
So, to have the opportunity to base in such a gorgeous environment – it’s inspiring to be in such a pure and spiritual place like the Shaker Village – and to have the opportunity to be involved in a festival is incredibly satisfying. Festival is a place you come to meet people to have exploration, to have a community that has the opportunity to mingle, to eat meals together, to talk and to share a space and exchange ideas. At the end of the festival, we know the presenters very, very well, we get to know the audience, we get to know where to eat locally, we get to hike a little bit and the audience bonded with us. We have so much to share and it’s a very different sensation from just traveling from city to city and doing one night stands. The setting of the Shaker Village is fantastic. I don’t have the TV to distract me with CNN and 30 minutes of updating in my hotel room. And everyday I would wake up in the same place and it is very close to nature and I get to meet my audience in the daytime.
That’s unusual for musicians and I think it’s unusal for the audience to be that close to the musicians.
And playing the tobacco barn is so unusual. It’s very close to the earthiness of what we do using the chamber music form and its intimacy. It’s a project I really treasure.
Q: Last year, before you came, you said you were curious as to what the venue was going to look like. How did the tobacco barn turn out as a place to play?
WH: I loved it. To have a little bit of cowbell and the birds flying around the Dvorak Piano Quintet is not a bad thing at all.