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A splendid Union: Wu Han and David Finckel

A splendid Union: Wu Han and David Finckel

Pianist-cellist team, married 35 years, kicks off school's 2019 classical lineup
A splendid Union: Wu Han and David Finckel
Pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel will perform at Union Sunday.
Photographer: new york times

Union College’s Memorial Chapel will be busy this January when the Concert Series presents three outstanding concerts. Up first this Sunday, Jan. 6, are pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel.

“I love bringing back old friends,” said Derek Delaney, the series artistic director. 

“And these two are a force of nature.”

The musicians are the co-directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and separately often appear during the summer at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. But working together is something different.

“It’s part of our life that is separate from all other activities,” Wu Han said. “It’s how we met almost 38 years ago — we’ve been married for 35 years. We do twenty to thirty concerts a year and Union has become a regular stop for us. Dan Berkenblit (the series founder) was the first to engage us. Our careers would have been a different experience without him.”

They have a “vigorous” schedule that includes CMSLC partnerships with countries in the Far East and South America, online arts talks, overseeing the Music @ Menlo (CA) series and Wu Han providing artistic direction for chamber music at The Barns at Wolf Trap, as well as recording for ArtistLed, the company they founded twenty years ago. So when to rehearse?

“We don’t surface to Lincoln Center until noon or even later at 3,” she said laughing. “That’s when we do all our playing together, talking, planning.”

For Sunday’s program, they’ll present a “meat and potatoes repertoire” of pieces that have “great construction yet sound very different.”  They have recorded all three pieces. Beethoven’s Sonata in A Major (1808) is one of five cello sonatas and the first in which the piano and cello were regarded as equal partners. Brahms’ Sonata in E minor (1862-65) is a tribute to Bach. And the Mendelssohn Sonata in D Major (1843) is romantic.

While the first two sonatas are long favorites, the Mendelssohn is new for the duo in the last four years. Wu Han said she’d played the work often with other cellists but not with Finckel.

“To have a lot of mileage with a piece is always a new experience with each musician,” Wu Han said. “You learn how to pave the way, craft the timing of a recital, refine the interpretation. But when playing with David, it’s an intimate experience … a different animal. He knows me so well that we don’t have to talk about the music. It becomes a joint sense of purpose on stage. We don’t talk, we just play.”

Following concerts

The following Sunday Jan.13 is the cellist Oliver Herbert, a junior at the Curtis Institute of Music, who already has management. His pianist is Xiachui Yang, a doctoral student at the Peabody Conservatory. The recital is part of the Union Series outreach that gives talented students exposure and is part of Delaney’s effort to introduce the next generation of top flight musicians. Jonathan Biss, who is currently co-director of the Marlboro Music Festival, suggested that Delaney take a look at one of Herbert’s YouTube recitals.

“I was blown away,” Delaney said.

Herbert will perform an early and a late Beethoven sonata and several short Gabriel Faure works, which are rarely done.

On Sunday Jan. 20, the series will present a rare combination: two internationally known soloists working as a team: tenor Mark Padmore and pianist Paul Lewis.
“It is unusual to have them on a stage together,” Delaney said. “It’s a special opportunity especially since Paul rarely does chamber music. But I heard them in April at Lincoln Center and it was fantastic.”

Padmore was on the series two years ago and fell in love with the hall and wanted to come back. For fans of that concert, they’ll know how marvelously he shapes the text of each song, Delaney said. They’ll perform lieder by Brahms, Mahler and the original version of Schumann’s “Dichterliebe, Op.48,” that includes four new songs, which Padmore found through research.

Union College Concert Series

All January concerts are at 3 p.m. on Sundays
Jan. 6: Wu Han/David Finckel
Jan. 13: Oliver Herbert/Xiachui Yang
Jan. 20: Mark Padmore/Paul Lewis
WHERE: Union College Memorial Chapel
HOW MUCH: $30, students free for Jan. 6 and Jan. 20. All free for Jan. 13.
MORE INFO: 518 388-6080; www.unioncollegeconcerts.org

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