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Classical Notes

Menlo: the set and setting

Posted at 3:18 PM on August 4, 2006 by Gayle Ober
Filed under: Concerts

As MPR producer Brian Newhouse and I stood on the grounds of the Menlo School yesterday, I could see why Artistic Directors Wu Han and David Finckel chose this location for their festival, Music@Menlo. With its bright white buildings, gravel driveways and mature trees, it is a beautiful place that encourages you to come in and stay for a while.

Shortly after arriving, we were greeted by the head of the Menlo School, Norman Colb. As we looked up at the magnificent old mansion that anchors the school, he told us the "real" story of how Wu Han and David chose this place. It goes something like this: One winter when the school was on break, Wu Han and David were visiting a friend who lived not far from the Menlo campus. Their host insisted that they see the grand ballroom of the mansion on campus, which he claimed had wonderful acoustics. There's a bit of a mystery about how Wu Han, David, and their host garnered a key to get into the building, but in they went. What they discovered was a beautiful space that begged to be filled with glorious music.

Yesterday we heard music from noon onward, but it seemed like a very short day, with performances from the youngest members of the Festival Academy—10-year-olds playing early Mozart works for piano and violin—to some of our nation's most accomplished wind players giving us snippets of the magic that we would hear in future concerts. We might expect this from a summer festival led by two of America’s finest chamber musicians, but there is such a spirit of discovery and unbridled joy on the grounds during the day and in the concert hall in the evening that makes me want to gather a group of friends and return next year for more. As I listen to the broadcasts in the weeks ahead, I'm eager to experience this visit to Music@Menlo again.

Gayle Ober is Director of Classical Programming at American Public Media and Minnesota Public Radio. She joined Brian Newhouse in Menlo on Wednesday.