Podcast: Wu Han and David Finkel on the Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass

Click play to hear a podcast of our conversation with Wu Han and David Finkel.


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The unplayed tune that has colored the Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass is a Rodgers and Hammerstein classic: Getting to Know You.

Wu Han and David Finkel. Photo by Christian Steiner.

Wu Han and David Finkel. Photo by Christian Steiner.

For the fourth consecutive Memorial Day weekend, the festival will bring together members of the Chamber Music Society of ­Lincoln Center and Central Kentucky ­classical music fans at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.
“I could feel there’s a sense of trust that’s been building up on the reputation and the quality of the music,” says pianist Wu Han, who co-directs the festival with her husband, cellist David Finkel.

She points out that in the festival’s first years, she and Finkel brought along other brand-name ­classical stars such as violinist Joseph Silverstein and the Orion String Quartet. This year, like last year, leans more on new faces. Last year’s fresh entry was the Escher String Quartet. This year, it’s some hot young ­soloists, including violinist/violist Yura Lee and ­cellist Jakor Koranyi.

That duo will play Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello, which earned them flat-out raves when they played it in New York last month. In his review for the New York Daily News, Howard Kissel acknowledged it was not a piece he was familiar with, but he was completely taken with Lee and Koranyi’s performance.

Offering performances like that put the festival, presented by Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts, on a trajectory it should be on, Wu Han says.

“There’s sort of a ­transition from bringing the tried and true (artists) and tried and true repertoire to build the trust of the ­audience, and then gradually introducing things they might be curious about, with the highest quality of ­performers and repertoire,” she says. “This year, I am bringing in a number of young players that, in my opinion, are the next generation of superstars. The audience is at the point that it can really trust us and trust the repertoire.”

While early programs were primarily made up of music by classical and chamber music stalwarts such as Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz ­Schubert, ­audiences this year also will hear pieces by ­composers such as Heitor ­Villa-Lobos and Astor ­Piazolla, who aren’t ­necessarily ­standard ­repertoire. There’s also a little Stephen Collins Foster on the Sunday morning program, with Selections From the Social Orchestra for Flute and Strings.

The 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday concerts, in the Meeting House, are evidence of how Finkel and Wu Han have gotten to know Shaker Village during the past three years.

“Because of the location of the Meeting House being on the main street there and the fact that the concerts are occurring during prime tourism hours, you have the wonderful possibility of walk-up tourists saying, ‘Oh my goodness, there’s a concert going on, let’s go in and buy a ticket,'” Finkel says.

Those concerts emerged in the first year of the festival, when the musicians noticed the ideal acoustics of the Meeting House. That year, the only performances were in the Meadow View Barn, an old tobacco barn that was renovated as a performance venue for the festival.

The uniqueness of the festival attracts not only ­audiences but also ­musicians in the Chamber Music ­Society of Lincoln Center.

“Don’t think they don’t all want to come,” Finkel says. “It’s a terrible ­responsibility that we have to pick and choose who gets to come to Danville.”

The directors, who have also created festivals such as Music@Menlo in ­California’s Silicon Valley, think the Chamber Music Festival of the Bluegrass has a chance to become a prime date on the classical music calendar.

“The combination of the setting, the audience, the repertoire and the musicians, it really has the potential to become a world-famous ­festival,” Finkel says. “It doesn’t have to be huge, it doesn’t have to be long, it doesn’t have to be fancy. But if it’s something that takes root, it could become ­internationally known.”

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