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Classical Notes

Classical Notes: August 10, 2005 Archive

From Menlo—Buckle your seatbelts, it's late Beethoven

Posted at 9:44 AM on August 10, 2005 by Mary Lee

I try and take a Zen approach to flying: it doesn't matter what time you land, as long as it's a safe landing. But I had trouble with that mindset yesterday as I cooled my heels in the Minneapolis airport for 3 hours waiting for my San Francisco flight to take off. As the hours ticked by, it looked like I might miss my first night of Beethoven at the Music @ Menlo Festival.

Well, the chamber music gods smiled on me and I arrived in town with about 50 minutes to spare and, as has been the case for the previous two years, it was well worth the effort. Wu Han came bounding up on the stage at the start of the concert to announce an "amazing" line up of events for the following day: a Café Conversation by Master Teacher Pamela Frank, a Master Class by violinist Jorja Fleezanis and a special Encounter lecture on Beethoven's final piano sonata in preparation for the performance this evening. Then she warmly welcomed the St. Lawrence Quartet to the stage.

The music that Beethoven wrote in his final years is not always easy listening. It takes strange turns and can even sound contemporary at times. But this audience sat motionless last night through the first two of his late quartets opening their hearts to where this quartet might take them.

Additional notes: Violinist Geoff Nuttall and cellist Christopher Costanza were sporting shaved heads which audience members around me informed me were less than 24 hours old. A television crew is following them around and they had their own "reality TV" moment with the razor.

Menlo is more than sold out each night. Overheard at a reception last night: "People are pretending to be handicapped just to get a seat. I swear that woman didn't need her walker once she got her ticket!"