SARATOGA SPRINGS – This week, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) welcomed the debut performances of a new resident company: The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (CMS) has a new summer home at the Spa Little Theater. Another jewel in the summer resident company “crown” which already includes iconic entities such as the New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra
The schedule of performances (see box – page 11) will continue over the next two weeks, through August 26. All the performances are hand-selected and unique, designed to give both the newly initiated as well as the connoisseur of chamber music a thorough introduction to CMS’s repertoire.
But, by no means, an exhaustive one.
“There are hundreds of pieces available by Mozart alone,” said Co-artistic director David Finckel on the afternoon following CMS’s debut on Monday, August 11. “Most companies will play the top ten or so. But we like to go deeper. I find that the brain works differently; it’s more stimulating when you are hearing new notes.”
Indeed, I’ll go further and say that their debut performance was completely transformative. Every thing I thought I knew about Chamber music went out the window, along with my reporter’s objectivity.
My mind soared while my eyes were mesmerized. It was stimulating, exciting and endearing.
I became a fan for life. And it took just one performance – a performance that immediately became one of my most memorable live performances – of any genre – at any time.
“This first performance was designed to exhibit virtuosity,” said Wu Han, Co-Artistic Director, who plays the piano to Finckel’s cello. “At the same time, it is meant to be trust-building. There are misconceptions about chamber music; that it is only for a limited few. But it is extremely accessible.”
And dramatic. And engaging. And dazzling. And every other emotional verb you can muster in your vocabulary. I have very little technical expertise to offer. With music, I’m all about the qualitative experience.
My experience at Monday’s debut performance convinced me to advocate to everyone that you are cheating yourself if you don’t make it a point to see CMS while they are here.
The company’s roster (a total of 160-180 performers; of which about 24 will perform at SPAC this month – A new roster each week joining Wu Han and David) comprises the best of the best, at the top of their game.
One example among many that illustrates an incredible, incendiary aspect of Chamber music when it is performed at this high level is the interaction of all the performers. Wu Han and David have been married for 28 years. It is said that couples married that long anticipate and finish each other’s thoughts. Now apply that principle to every performer in CMS; in every combination; in every composition they play.
A case in point was the playing of Samuel Berber’s Souvenirs for Piano, Four Hands. The picture of the sheet music helps to tell the tale: Wu Han played the left page (she called it the ‘bottom position’) and operated the pedals, while Anne-Marie McDermott played the right side (or upper) simultaneously. This led to a frenzy of interaction and trust, not to mention furiously page turning.
Since both performers’ hands were otherwise occupied, Wu Han’s daughter Lillian turned the pages “She’s much in demand for this!” Wu Han said, smiling. “And a great piano performer in her own right.”
“We had such a warm welcome here,” Wu Han said, noting that it was her first time in Saratoga Springs. “The audience was accepting, and made us feel very comfortable, as did all of the SPAC staff. It made us want to play our best for everyone.”
Upcoming performances should be similarly stimulating, and SPAC has enhanced the experience by adding pre-performance talks one hour before each show, as well as post-performance gatherings at Putnam’s restaurant at the Gideon Putnam Hotel, and on closing night a reception outside the Spa Little Theater.
There’s no doubt in my mind that I give my initial CMS at SPAC experience two thumbs up. My only regret is that I don’t have four hands.
For more information, visit spac.org