Chamber-music summit at Menlo festival 

Beautiful small music is at the core of Music@Menlo, a large chamber-music festival which has become a nationally famous series featuring hundreds of performances, events and educational activities.

On the first program of the three-week-long festival in Menlo Park and Atherton last weekend, among simple, quiet masterpieces from the 19th century, the magical “night music” of a Schubert Notturno went directly to the heart.

The pensive, lyrical piece, played brilliantly by festival co-director cellist David Finckel, violinist Cho-Liang Lin and pianist Juho Pohjonen, was part of the broad, generous introduction to the main subject of this year’s festival, Johannes Brahms (1833-1854).

Each of the six primary concerts in the series presents Brahms’ music in context with the German master’s predecessors, contemporaries and successors. Performances are in Menlo School’s small Stent Family Hall as well as the splendid new, 500-seat Center for Performing Arts at Menlo-Atherton.

Among the many famous instrumentalists at the festival: pianist Wu Han (festival co-founder and director along with Finckel, her husband); San Francisco Symphony principal clarinetist Carey Bell; violinists Ani Kavafian, Elmar Oliveira, Philip Setzer, founding member of the Emerson String Quartet, along with Finckel; and San Francisco Conservatory of Music faculty member Ian Swensen.

As well as the main concerts, the festival showcases individual string quartet performances, encounters, café conversations, master classes, “prelude performances” by international program artists and concerts featuring Koret Young Performers of the Chamber Music Institute — talented teens from the Bay Area and elsewhere who are taking part in an intensive summer program led by the stars of the festival.

Music@Menlo was conceived, say Finckel and Wu Han, “as an environment of immersion in great music, a place of exploration, enlightenment and enrichment.

“While the festival has grown in many ways, that spirit has not changed, and since its inception, the festival has become world-renowned for its rigorous, in-depth programming.”

The co-founders, quoting the late Michael Steinberg, San Francisco Symphony program annotator and music adviser, say that “music was not simply something that happened to you but something that you do,” and add, “We have striven to make Music@Menlo an ideal place to ‘do’ music, for audiences, for performers, and for the prodigiously gifted students of our Chamber Music Institute.”



Where: Center for Performing Arts at Menlo-Atherton, 555 Middlefield Road, Atherton; Menlo School, 50 Valparaiso Ave., Atherton; St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 600 Colorado Ave., Palo Alto

When: Through Aug. 13

Tickets: $20 to $72, and many free events

Contact: (650) 331-0202,

Selected highlights this week

Free unless noted

  • Listening Room with Patrick Castillo: 4:15 p.m. today, Martin Family Hall, free
  • Cellist Laurence Lesser master class: 11:45 a.m. Thursday, Martin Family Hall
  • Prelude performance, works by Schumann, Brahms: 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Stent Family Hall
  • Encounter II: “Brahms and the Schumanns”: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Martin Family Hall, $20-$42
  • Violinist Daniel Hope master class:11:45 a.m. Friday, Martin Family Hall
  • Prelude Performance, works by Mozart, Haydn, Dvorák: 6 p.m. Friday, Martin Family Hall
  • Concert Program III: “Veiled Symphonies” with works by Bach, Clara Schumann, Vivaldi and Brahms: 8 p.m. Friday at Stent Family Hall, $35-$72; 8 p.m. Saturday at CPA Menlo-Atherton, $20-$65

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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