In touch with Wu Han



Wu Han is a pianist – but to say just that would be a disservice to this influential artist, who is widely active as a performer (especially of chamber music), recording artist, educator and director. After a busy autumn, featuring a number of concert tours across the USA, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center concert season, concerts for Music@Menlo, the 4th annual Chamber Music Today festival in Seoul, and a new solo and chamber music disc, as well as being named one of Musical America’s “most courageous music professionals” (though she admits only to being ‘crazy and lucky’), she will be heading east in January for the Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival.

I asked her about the music she is bringing to the festival, and why she chooses to focus on chamber music rather than solo performance. ‘I will be playing two of the most virtuosic pieces ever written in chamber music history’, she says, ‘Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio and Mendelssohn’s Sextet, as well as Schubert’s intimate and profound Fantasy for piano four hands. As for chamber music, it is both the most intimate and most passionate art form’, she explains. ‘Composers wrote for their loved ones, shared their private thoughts, and musicians make music with their most admired colleagues, and dearest friends.’

Yet not all soloists are effective chamber musicians – I asked Wu Han to explain the particular skills playing this music requires. ‘It’s is all about communication, and when it’s done right, it goes straight into one’s heart. The process requires total command of your instrument, flexibility and inventiveness in responding to others, a complete understanding of the score, and also a democratic, positive and productive attitude to be able to bring this art form to the highest level. I have witnessed an explosion of chamber music in the last 20 years. Not only do musicians devote more time to this art form, the communities formed through chamber music are growing at an astonishing speed. It’s wonderful to see so many people fall in love with chamber music, just like I did.’



Wu Han’s mention of new musical communities brings us round to the growing audience for classical music in Hong Kong. ‘I have never had the opportunity to play for the audience in Hong Kong, but have heard a lot about the place and the festival. It’s always great to meet new listeners, make new friends, and explore new places, so I look forward very much to that. My impression of classical music in the Far East has always been positive – the audience age in general is younger than in Europe, and curiosity about chamber music is growing, especially in Korea. I will be performing this year for the first time in Beijing and Shanghai as well, and I simply can’t wait. There is so much chamber music to introduce to the audience and I am delighted that the festival is taking a leadership role in Hong Kong.’

As well as performing, Wu Han is founder of recording company ArtistLed and chamber music festival Music@Menlo in California. I asked her to explain her purpose in setting up these organisations. ‘ArtistLed was David’s [cellist David Finckel, Wu Han’s husband] and my dream,’ she said, ‘as we looked for a direct recording path to our listeners without commercial concerns. We have total control of the product and freedom to use the Internet as a platform. Our audience has embraced the idea and we now have a healthy catalogue and regular output. Music@Menlo originated from our desire to start a rigorous festival that serves only chamber music. In addition to concerts, it also has an institute that provides opportunities for the next generation to explore the art form. The lecture series, visual artist program, recording label, and national radio program all provide the platform to build a healthy and robust chamber music community in Silicon Valley.

As an artist in the 21st century, you not only have the responsibility to play the music at its best, but also to devote your time to society. Classical music is great for any community, especially chamber music. It’s inspiring and invigorating to bring this music to audiences and when it’s played at the highest level, it has the power to sustain and fill the human spirit. Both projects are born out of our love of great music and our desire to share it.’

With so much to do, I asked Wu Han whether she ever steps away from the piano or turns her phone off. ‘I travel and play concerts all year round,’ she says, ‘and deal with the responsibilities of the directorships – Lincoln Center, Music@Menlo, ArtistLed, Chamber Music Today, Saratoga Performing Artist Center – so there’s really not much free time at all. I find myself most in my free time at home exploring in our kitchen. An intimate dinner with David is my favorite thing in the world, and visiting my favorite restaurants around the world can always take my mind off business. Food is my passion, and Hong Kong will be a great place for me to expand my large list of great restaurants.’

Audiences (and chefs) of Hong Kong, get ready – Wu Han is coming your way.

Wu Han will be performing at the HKICMF in January 2015.

Official Website

Brahms: Trio in a minor, op. 114 I. Allegro

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