Music@Menlo forges bonds

In its fifth year, now through Aug. 10, a complex, rich festival of chamber music is bringing big-name artists and young musicians from around the world to the Peninsula.

Music@Menlo, which takes place mostly at Atherton’s Menlo School and Palo Alto’s St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, is “a community around chamber music,” co-founder/director David Finkel says.

The famed cellist — a member of the Emerson Quartet and director of other noted festivals in the past — started Music@Menlo in collaboration with his wife, the pianist Wu Han. It was her idea, back in 2003, to create a festival in the vicinity of Silicon Valley as a “musical startup,” hence the technology-mimicking “at” in the event’s name.

The couple, Aspen Music Festival regulars, have a year-round, busy performing and recording schedules. For the fifth year, though, they have managed to engage artists and music scholars for Menlo, attract music students from around the Bay and all over, create unusual, fascinating programming, obtain the participation of National Public Radio to broadcast the concerts, and through their own ArtistLed label, publish CDs of both educational advance material and records of each program.

The communityFinckel is talking about “is [composed] of people who have known chamber music all their lives and those who come for the first time. They share similar excitement in listening, in engaging in the music. What was born five summers ago now thrives in this area, an idealistic cultural venture with its new, large fan base.”

The programs at Menlo combine great classic works, unusual pieces and some contemporary music. This season’s theme is “Bridging the Ages,” a subject followed through music history. An example: nature, composers from the 17th, 19th and 20th century with violins imitating chickens, instruments reproducing the voices of whales and Saint-Saens’ swan on the cello.

“The bridge is the concept,” says Finckel, “common inspiration, the human element, curiosity that binds these programs together; however different the means of expression may be, the ‘message’ is the same.”

A particularly substantial program is “Death and Transfiguration,” with works by Rachmaninov, Adolphe, Bach and Schubert dealing with the subject.

Among participating artists: violinists Jorja Fleezanis, Erin Keefe, Philip Setzer, Ian and Joseph Swensen; pianists Wu Han and Gilbert Kalish, festival debuts by Inon Barnatan, Gary Graffman and Kevin Murphy.

Music@Menlo

Where: Most programs at Menlo School, 50 Valparaiso Ave., Atherton; St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 600 Colorado Ave., Palo Alto; and Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, 950 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park

When: Today through Aug. 10

Tickets: Many programs free; others vary from $10 to $68

Contact: (650) 330-2030 or visit www.musicatmenlo.org

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