Pianist and composer Sergei Ivanovich Taneyev was such a good teacher that musicians continue to learn from him. This week’s performance by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center will demonstrate why.
Artistic director and pianist Wu Han will be performing the “Russian Mastery” program with violinists Arnaud Sussmann and Alexander Sitkovetsky, violist Matthew Lipman and cellist Nicholas Canellakis in Cabell Hall Auditorium as part of the Tuesday Evening Concert Series.
The program includes Taneyev’s “Quintet in G minor for Piano, Two Violins, Viola and Cello, Op. 30,” which Wu Han calls “humongous. Every part of it. It’s like a concerto for all the instruments.
“I just fell in love with it. It has so many details and is so inventive,” she said. “It has so much imagination.”
If you’ve ever wondered why Taneyev’s music isn’t performed as frequently, Wu Han and her colleagues can offer a good idea why.
“It’s really, really hard, and I thought, ‘I’m going to conquer it,’” she said. “It took me a good six years. I can now do a tour with it.”
Also on the program are Sergei Rachmaninov’s “Trio elegiaque in G minor for Piano, Violin & Cello,” Piotr Tchaikovsky’s “Souvenir d’un lieu cher for Violin & Piano, Op. 42” and Sergei Prokofiev’s “Sonata in C Major for Two Violins, Op. 56.”
The program explores the complex ties among the composers. Tchaikovsky was Taneyev’s mentor; Prokofiev and Rachmaninov were among his students.
Wu Han said Taneyev was 9 when he entered the Moscow Conservatory. The first graduate to win gold medals as both a pianist and a composer, Taneyev had distinguished himself enough already by age 22 to succeed his retiring mentor and become the youngest professor on the faculty. “Taneyev was already feared,” Wu Han said.
Tchaikovsky respected Taneyev’s abilities and artistic judgment so much that he brought his own works to the young professor for review before premiering them, she said.
“You look at all these incredible pieces we are bringing to Charlottesville, and it just makes you want to get on stage and give your all for this great art form,” Wu Han said.
And when audience members get absorbed in the music — noticing more details, following themes from instrument to instrument, developing their own interpretations — the musicians aren’t the only ones falling under its spell.
“Chamber music is like that. It requires the audience to be very observant,” Wu Han said. “It is not ‘entertainment.’ The communication — that’s where the magic happens. Usually, when people fall in love with chamber music, they become addicted.”
Pursuing chamber music for a living requires sacrifices.
“This lifestyle is not normal,” Wu Han said with a chuckle. “You don’t have that 7:30 dinner with your family. It sounds all glamorous, but the truth is you get up at 4 in the morning to catch that 6 o’clock flight. It’s a grueling schedule.
“The reason we do it is because we love this music so much. We love to be able to create beauty for the audience. You really have to love it. You are providing continuity for a great musical offering.”
Staying grounded is important, and having colleagues who also love the music — and can provide perspective and reality checks when needed — makes all the difference.
“You know, nobody has ever died from a wrong note,” Wu Han said with a laugh. “It’s a great job. It gives you such a feeling of satisfaction. ... And you’re surrounded also by the nicest people.”
The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center team brings together 19 different nationalities. Wu Han hails from Taiwan, and she performs with Russian, French and Greek-American colleagues on the current tour.
“We put it all on the same page when we play together,” she said. “You can’t help it — you have to be selfless. You have to be an inspiration to everyone and a supporter of everyone. Musical collaborators are good diplomats.”
Tuesday’s concert, which is underwritten by Carolyn and David Beach and David Sansone, offers an opportunity for free parking. If you park in the Central Grounds Parking Garage on Emmet Street, you’ll be able to leave for free for an hour after the concert.