Music for Life

Music for Life
Jan 30, 2020

Prior to this year’s Chamber Music at The Barns series, Wolf Trap sat down with visionary arts leader and renowned pianist Wu Han to find out how she curated a remarkable season as the 2019–2020 Artistic Advisor.

WOLF TRAP: For the Chamber Music at The Barns series, you chose to use the book Music for Life by London music critic Fiona Maddocks as your inspiration. What drew you to this book and how did you decide to incorporate it into the season’s programming?

WU HAN: I have always known that music, especially chamber music, is a perfect place for us to confront the chaos and discord in our daily lives. When I discovered Music For Life, I thought about how inspiring it would be to design a season that explores the connections between music and life, which Fiona revealed so beautifully in her book. Fiona selected more than 100 works that shaped her own listening, and in reading through them, I was reminded that we all have our own personal treasury of music.

The season I designed for Wolf Trap includes many of my own treasures, but they are for everyone—from the experienced listener to the newcomer, so long as you possess the curiosity, passion, and readiness to listen. This principle of drawing inspiration from music during important life stages has helped me find core values during these particular years, and it reminds me of why we need to go to concerts to enjoy music.

The most wonderful thing about the programming process was that I realized there are so many choices in the chamber music repertoire for us all to explore. I hope this season will not only inspire and comfort, but also encourage everyone to find their own favorite pieces.

WOLF TRAP: What does the phrase “music for life” mean to you? Are there significant moments that stand out where music carried you through life events?

WU HAN: I have been immersed in classical music since a very young age. This incredible, complicated art form has taken me through many life stages. The great Schubert lieder carried me through my temperamental, difficult teenage years. The joyousness of Mendelssohn carried me through our daughter’s birth. The incredible solo music of Chopin has filled many quiet, poetic evenings. Throughout my life, I can remember spending hours admiring Beethoven’s string quartets for their spirit, defiance, and character. The list goes on and on. This is the kind of music that we can all dig deeper into in order to be inspired by the beauty and the power it can provide to us. These great works are among the highest human artistic achievements and I know everyone will enjoy them this season.

WOLF TRAP: Throughout the season, there are several phenomenal artists joining us like the Escher String Quartet, Jeffrey Kahane, the Brentano String Quartet, and David Finckel. How do you bring all of these great musicians together to create a complete season?

WU HAN: When I design a season, typically the program comes first. Once I discover a balanced and beautiful program, I think about who would be the most appropriate musician to serve the music at the highest level. Artistic excellence is always my goal. To put together chamber music programs successfully, you need to know who can walk on stage with the right chemistry. Usually they are a group of musicians of the highest caliber with incredible respect for each other, who are also inspired by performing together. I so look forward to bringing these extraordinary artists to The Barns this season.

2019-2020 Artistic Advisor,
Chamber Music at The Barns