Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Expands Summer Concert Series | Playbill

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Classic Arts Features Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Expands Summer Concert Series

Co-Artistic Director David Finckel on why it's important to keep playing music in the summertime.

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center

As summer approaches, New Yorkers know a few things are coming. Days spent enjoying the city’s many parks or beaches. Weekend trips to Long Island or down the Shore. The US Open.

Summer is also when many of the city’s cultural offerings step outside. On the right evening with a break in the heat, this can be very pleasant. But on many a summer night, the high humidity, sweltering temperature, and uncomfortably high chance of thunderstorms can leave one feeling wistful for an indoor concert experience.

That’s where the Chamber Music Society’s Summer Evenings come to the rescue. An annual tradition, the concerts—this year increased to six throughout July—welcome New Yorkers and out-of-towners into the cool air and beautiful acoustics of Alice Tully Hall. Each performance is followed by a post-concert reception in the lobby with a chance to meet the artists and enjoy a free glass of wine.

I sat down recently with CMS Co-Artistic Director David Finckel to discuss this year’s summer series.

The first Summer Evenings program has two pieces with very evocative titles: Puccini’s Crisantemi [Chrysanthemums] and Dvořák’s Cypresses (Echo of Songs)Could you tell us about these?

David Finckel: Most of the string quartet literature is composed of large, significant works of three or four or more movements, sometimes lasting as long as 45 minutes. That’s because composers, since the Classical era in the late 18th century, have regarded the string quartet genre as a kind of ultimate test of their skills, and when it came to quartet writing, they gave it all they had. So it’s wonderful and refreshing to find, occasionally, really great works for string quartet that come in shorter, more one-dimensional musical forms, such as Puccini’s Crisantemi and Dvořák’s Cypresses. They are appropriately creations of the Romantic age, inspired by flights of musical fancy from composers such as Schumann and Mendelssohn. Both works are vocally inspired, transcribed by the composers for that most vocal of instrumental ensembles, the string quartet. So as players, we relish the requirement to sing on our instruments in these works, and I promise you will find us all trying our hardest, with the greatest pleasure.

The second and third concerts feature two ensembles, the Escher String Quartet and the Sitkovetsky Trio, respectively. What can audiences expect to hear from them?

The string quartet and the piano trio are the two chamber ensemble formations that boast the largest number of works in the repertoire. Perhaps it was Haydn’s fault: he wrote some 45 piano trios and 68 string quartets, more than any composer before or since. His ingenuity enabled him to create works of endless variety within the confines of these forms. Other composers followed suit—not necessarily in similar amounts, but in similar proportions—such as Beethoven with his sixteen string quartets and seven published piano trios.

This volume of music for piano trio and string quartet, produced throughout history, begs the attention and skill of specialized ensembles devoted to the literature. In the Escher String Quartet and the Sitkovetsky Trio, we find musicians who have dedicated a major portion of their musical lives to this literature. One can hear it in their performances, which breathe the special magic we encounter in the concert hall from artists who have truly made this music their own, while playing it as faithful ambassadors for the composers.

Summer is often thought of as an “off season” for performing arts organizations, I’m sure due to various historical and economic factors going back to agrarian calendars and continuing through the conventions that developed around school vacations, the travel industry, and so on. Yet in the last two years, CMS has doubled its number of Summer Evenings concerts; clearly the demand is there, even in July! When you’re putting together programs for a summer series like this one, are there any considerations that are different from those in the main season?

Summer Evenings, I like to say, was born out of my fond memories of and deep respect for the former Mostly Mozart Festival, in which I participated annually for many years as the cellist of the Emerson String Quartet. We played the classics of the repertoire for capacity audiences at what was then Avery Fisher Hall, and we were always struck by the enthusiasm of the audience, which seemed to be on a different, hungrier level than during the winter season. Whether it was the summer’s long chamber music deprivation, or the oppressive heat and noise of July and August in New York City, they seemed to need chamber music on an urgent level. 

Since we came to CMS as Artistic Directors in 2004, it was always curious to me and Wu Han that CMS concerts ceased to exist in the summer, while its artists dispersed to festivals worldwide. Through the good graces of our board and donors, we finally tried three July concerts in 2015. We remember sticking our necks out with our board and staff: “They’ll sell out! People will flock to get tickets!” Well, we are not always right, but we were on this one. I had a certainty in me from those Mostly Mozart concerts that New Yorkers were still just as hungry for great music in a pristine environment during the summer, and that they would indeed come back for it in droves.

Is there anything else you’d like our audiences to know about Summer Evenings?

Sure! On behalf of Wu Han, our musicians, and the entire staff and board of directors of CMS, I’d like to express our appreciation of and warmest affection for our wonderful summer audiences. I have heard that a significant portion of our summer listeners are new to CMS. Could that mean that that they are new to chamber music as well? If so, that’s one of the greatest rewards we as presenters and players could ever imagine. I say to you: if you keep coming, we’ll keep the music going. Summer Evenings seems to be a win-win phenomenon with no end in sight.

John Sherer is Editorial Manager at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

CMS’s Summer Evenings take place on Tuesday and Saturday evenings, July 9–27, 2024, in Alice Tully Hall. Each performance is followed by a post-concert reception in the lobby, at which audiences are invited to join our artists and enjoy a complimentary glass of wine. Tickets are available at

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