For the first time in the history of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, an internationally known chamber music organization will make the Spa Little Theatre its home.
The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center will open its inaugural season tomorrow in a series of six concerts spread over three weeks.
“We jumped at the chance when this opportunity came up,” said cellist David Finckel, who co-directs the Chamber Music Society with his wife, pianist Wu Han.
“Ever since we began in 2004 [with CMS], we talked about what it would be like to find a new audience or bring our sweltering New York City audience out to the country.”
It wasn’t so much that the couple were looking for a summer home. As the founders of Music@Menlo 12 years ago in California, which runs from mid-July to early August, and long-time participants/teachers at the Aspen Music Festival, they got out of the metropolitan area for good stretches of time, Finckel said.
But the North Country holds special memories for him.
Chamber Music Society at SPAC
WHEN: 8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 11; 8 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 12; 3 p.m. Aug. 17; 8 p.m. Aug. 19; 3 p.m. Aug. 24; 8 p.m. Aug. 26
WHERE: Spa Little Theatre
HOW MUCH: $45, $40
MORE INFO: 584-9330; www.spac.org
“My family had a camp on Lake Dunmore in Vermont and we’d go to the Philadelphia Orchestra live at SPAC,” he said.
“I can never forget how thrilling that was. I can still hear and see it. All those memories are coming back and I can’t believe I’m coming back with the chamber music series.”
But enjoying a day at the beach is not for this couple.
“They are very hands-on,” said Marlisa Monroe, the public relations manager for CMS. “It’s a speciality of theirs — a calling card. They are totally involved in all aspects. They are musical missionaries extraordinaire. They want to bring the joy of chamber music to every person on the planet.”
Local audiences know the couple from their decades-long appearances in Union College’s Chamber Music Series.
Those concerts are only a fraction of their schedule, which includes frequent appearances in New York City, at least 56 other concerts nationally throughout the year, plus the CMS and Music@Menlo administrative duties and constant listening sessions to scope out new performers, support young players, give master classes, and find new music.
There are also 52 weeks of shows on National Public Radio and Public Radio International and making recordings, Monroe said.
Finckel admits the couple like to keep busy but he said they have a responsibility because their name is on the product.
“We can predict 100 percent of what our artists will do,” he said. “We know a huge amount of repertoire and know these players really well — their personalities, their strengths, how long it will take to get ready. Besides, someone has to take the blame.”
One of their favorite string quartets is the Miro String Quartet. Formed in 1995 and based in Austin, the quartet often plays on the Lincoln Center series.
“We’ve known David and Wu Han since 1999 before they took over CMS,” said cellist Joshua Gindele. “We’ve played every season at Lincoln Center, at Music@Menlo and at their new series in Korea.”
The quartet will play the three Razumovsky quartets of Beethoven (Aug. 17) and a lighter program of Boccherini, Mozart and Weber (Aug. 19).
“The Beethoven is a huge part of the repertoire, everyone has done them and we’ll be recording all 16 of the quartets,” Gindele said. “It’s our roots and why we became quartet players. It’s a lasting entity and a benchmark as to how we play them.”
Finckel chose the Aug. 19 program.
“That concert is collaborative with me, clarinetist Ricardo Morales and violist Kirsten Johnson. It will be great,” he said. “The Aug. 17 concert is a blockbuster and the Miro is a powerhouse quartet. It will be a special concert in itself.”
The concerts tomorrow and Tuesday will be samplers, with several musicians from the CMS roster.
Monday’s repertoire is Beethoven, Barber and Dvorak. Tuesday is Mozart, Kodaly and Mendelssohn. For Aug. 24, the program is heavily French and based around the harp.
“I did a lot of research and talked to harpists about the repertoire. The Saint-Saens is very difficult to play,” Finckel said. “We played it at Lincoln Center and Music@Menlo and we wanted to share it with you.”
He and Wu Han also checked on what had been played over the years at SPAC and chose a few for the Aug. 26 finale that had not been heard in a while or never had been played, including a Beethoven piano trio, a Tsontakis string duo and a Brahms sextet.
Having an inaugural season is in itself a challenge and Finckel said he’s thankful the couple have such an incredible team that backs them up.
“It’s very difficult to balance and do both performing and the administrative side,” he said. “There are few days where we can get up and practice and learn new music. But it’s not good to get lazy. We promised to not let that happen and to bring levels down. We’re vigilant and cognizant of reality as administrators and performers.”
So, besides keeping an eagle eye on everything, Finckel feels comfortable about this series.
“We expect to do really well,” he said. “This is a partnership and we know what we really what to do. But it will take time. We’ll be in residence all three weeks, so we’ll get to know the area.”
Pre-concert talks will be held one hour prior to the concert.
Finckel and Wu Han will also perform a special free concert of sonatas by Beethoven and Strauss at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the Clifton Park-Half Moon Public Library. Call 371-8622 to register.