Like any concert programmers, David Finckel and Wu Han are intensely aware of the concerns about the survival of classical music.
As co-artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, they tread a delicate line, overseeing a series known for its strikingly traditional subscriber base, where annual programs like a December Brandenburg Concertos marathon are steadfast fixtures on the New York concert calendar.
The loyalty is rooted in seeing familiar artists too, said Finckel. “People who come have a relationship and an understanding of the people who play with the Chamber Music Society and we find that it’s a very endearing character that our audience has. Many have come to Chamber Music Society for all 42 years of its existence.”
Yet the husband-and-wife team also say they are aware of the need to build future audiences and move their organization forward. While critics have sometimes harped on the Society for its conservative character, last season it introduced "Late Night Rose," a casual-format series in the Rose Studio that offers chamber music with a glass of wine by candlelight. In January, the organization presented its first live concert video stream on its web site and for mobile apps. (WQXR broadcasts the Society’s concerts on Mondays at 10 pm.)
The Society is also looking noticeably younger these days, with roughly half of the current artist roster under age 40. “I could easily theorize as well that the presence of younger performers on stage is something that draws a young audience as well,” said Finckel. “One could certainly say that young people are apt to come hear someone that’s close to their age because they empathize with them.”
Wu Han, a concert pianist, and Finckel, a cellist who performs in the Emerson String Quartet, came to the Society in 2004. Along with their personal relationship, the couple perform together frequently, run a festival in Silicon Valley called Music@Menlo and have released a series of recordings on their own record label, Artistled (next up is a collection of clarinet trios with David Shifrin). They are frequently inclined to couch familiar works in novel, sometimes thematic contexts.
One set of programs this winter will be inspired by great patrons of different eras – from Prince Lobkowicz, who commissioned pieces by Haydn and Beethoven, to the American heiress Winnaretta Singer, who commissioned Stravinsky, Faure, Debussy and many others. Another program, on March 13, will bring together players from the world’s leading string quartets (the Vermeer, Guarneri, Brentano, Orion, Emerson, and Juilliard) in a kind of super-group.
Finckel himself will perform in the latter concert as a representative of the Emerson Quartet. “The only concern I have about this program is that when we get into the rehearsals there’s going to be so much storytelling that we won’t have a chance to rehearse," he said, laughing. "So that’s why I made the program really difficult.”
Video: Kim Nowacki and Amy Pearl; Sound: George Wellington; Interview: Jeff Spurgeon; Text: Brian Wise