Posted at 2:06 AM on August 12, 2005
by Mary Lee
The t-shirts that the Menlo Festival are selling this year proclaim "Beethoven: Center of Gravity," but there are many musicians who might agree with this change: "Da-Hong Seetoo: Center of Gravity." Da-Hong is the recording producer for the Music at Menlo festival, a man who has more talents than any one person should have. A Curtis and Juilliard trained violinist, Da-Hong is also the Grammy-winning engineer for the Emerson Quartet. While at Menlo, Da-Hong lives in the nursery at St. Mark's Church (the site of most concerts), working with each ensemble's rehearsals during the day, recording the concerts each evening and in between doing the final editing and production in preparation for the radio broadcasts and future Menlo compact discs. He's a critical part of the Menlo team as any one of the festival musicians will tell you, but the audience never sees him.
Until tonight. On the penultimate night of the Festival the Emerson String Quartet took the stage to perform Beethoven's final and most challenging quartets…Opus 130 and 132 and to put it succinctly, they rocked. There was some kind of Menlo magic (perhaps next year’s t-shirt's motto?) on this evening between an audience who was ready for the final chapters of Beethoven's creative career and a quartet ready and able to give them everything they wanted.
As per usual, Artistic Director Wu Han (and wife of Emerson Quartet cellist David Finckel) was at the stage door leading the applause for her festival musicians, but it was a rare sighting indeed to see Da-Hong beside her. As the applause continued, the Quartet returned to the stage to give an encore and Da-Hong stayed in the hall to listen and watch. Backstage I told Da-Hong that I was amazed to see him actually in the hall and he said, "I had to see them. I had to watch. We couldn't believe what we were hearing in the control room."
It's hard not to overuse superlatives when you're visiting Menlo, but every one of them is deserved. Such singular devotion by such a cohesive community of musicians, teachers and volunteers is rare, and the performances each night are a sort of karmic witness to an entire day’s worth of creative energy. Logistically it lasts for just 17 days each August, but there are students, musicians and audiences for whom it really lasts a lifetime.