The last time cello virtuoso David Finckel performed in Seattle — in October 2012 at Meany Hall — it was part of his farewell tour as a longtime member of the beloved chamber ensemble Emerson String Quartet.
Finckel’s final appearance with the group was some months later at the Smithsonian Institution, where his replacement, the Welsh-born Paul Watkins, joined Emerson for a quintet and a symbolic passing of the torch.
“My whole departure from the Emerson Quartet was one of my most successfully engineered projects,” says Finckel.
Finckel returns to Meany next Wednesday (May 21) as part of another critically acclaimed chamber supergroup, this one a trio including pianist (and Finckel’s wife) Wu Han and Emerson founding member and violinist Philip Setzer.
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“It took a full two years to plan my exit,” he says. “I was very hands-off during the replacement process, but Paul Watkins was my first choice. The Quartet is going great guns, getting great reviews.”
Finckel, 62, left Emerson — he joined in 1979, three years into its existence — to devote time to an extraordinary number of other endeavors, including his role as co-artistic director (with his wife) of both the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Music@Menlo, a festival in Silicon Valley.
The pair are also partners in record label ArtistLed, launched in 1997 to give this classical-music power couple complete control over all aspects of the recording process and repertoire.
Finckel also teaches at the Juilliard School and Stony Brook University, but much of his year is spent traveling.
“We play music we really love,” he says. “None of us needs to start a new career mission — we’ve all got a lot of careers already. I played trios with Phil even before I was in the Emerson Quartet, way back in summer festivals. When I married Wu Han, I said, ‘You’ve got to play some trios with us.’ ”
Finckel calls the upcoming Meany concert “a monumental program, the mountaintop of trio programs. The Beethoven [Piano Trio No. 2 in G major], is one of the first pieces he wanted published, as part of his Opus 1. He put everything he had into it. He was saying, this is who I am. The Piano Trio No. 2 is very challenging, but it’s wonderful, with one of the most beautiful slow movements he ever wrote.”
Along with Beethoven is Dvorák’s Piano Trio No. 4 in E Minor (“Dumky”), “a very special piece he composed just before he left Prague for three years in New York. It’s a free-form ballad, a farewell to his homeland, a treasure in chamber-music literature.”
Finally, Finkel says, there’s Schubert’s Piano Trio in E-flat Major.
“It was composed in the last year of his life. He wrote an extraordinary number of great pieces in a race against death. The year before, he had been a torchbearer at Beethoven’s funeral. He was ready then to become the next Beethoven. He felt he could do it.”
Tom Keogh: email@example.com