In just two decades, Music@Menlo has accomplished a lot. The Atherton-based chamber music festival has, over the course of three weeks each summer for the past 20 years, brought audiences performances and educational programs highlighting top talents. It has also nurtured the next generation of musicians through its youth programs, welcoming young musicians ages 10 to 30 for intensive training and performance.
Not to mention that the festival successfully weathered two years (and counting) of a pandemic, celebrated the opening of a sleek new venue just last year — and found global reach. Music@Menlo has now even grown beyond its flagship summer festival, offering concert series and lectures throughout the year.
The 2022 edition of the summer Music@Menlo festival, which marks the festival's 20th anniversary with the theme "Haydn Connections," takes place July 14 through Aug. 6 on the campus of the Menlo School in Atherton.
Cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han co-founded the festival and remain its co-artistic directors.
Reflecting on the evolution of Music@Menlo, Finckel makes a surprising culinary comparison.
"I like to compare Music@Menlo to a sausage. The casing is still the same size. It's the same length but inside the stuffing has increased in density and richness and nutritional content."
The "casing" here is the three-week time period each summer during which the festival takes place, which has remained the same even as programming continues to expand.
And certainly, in addition to a full slate of concerts, Music@Menlo offers a variety of opportunities for audiences to learn "how the sausage is made" musically speaking — though in a much more appealing way than the phase might suggest — through master classes in which audiences can watch young performers learn from experienced musicians, as well as artist talks and lectures that offer insights into the featured music.
This year's "Haydn Connections" theme focusing on the life and works of composer Joseph Haydn had been planned for 2020 but ultimately was pushed to 2022.
"It was not a difficult choice," Finckel said of the Haydn theme. "We have paid very careful attention to the major chamber music composers of history — not all of them yet — but Haydn was in some ways long overdue, especially since he's considered to be the father not only of the string quartet and the piano trio, but also the classical style itself that that informed Mozart and Beethoven in his early years."
The programming explores various aspects of Haydn and his work, even his sense of humor, but in emphasizing "connections," particularly plays up Haydn's influence on fellow composers.
"For example, the 'Cellos and Fugues' program, which I am proud to say is one of perhaps the wackiest programs we've ever put together, brings together two passions of Haydn that had long-ranging consequences," Finckel said, noting the composer's revival of the then-passé "fugue" form and his elevating of the cello as a solo instrument in chamber music.
This year's festival will be the first "full" edition since the pandemic began, with a full complement of artists and young musicians on-site at Menlo School. The pandemic led to an all-virtual program in 2020, though a smaller scale festival last year did see the return of in-person performances.
The pandemic spurred the festival to establish a robust online presence, offering a variety of virtual performances and talks. This year, Music@Menlo will continue to offer streaming options, to accommodate listeners who may not be able to attend due to public health concerns, but also to invite a global audience.
"The silver lining of that summer (in 2020) was that we began to generate a much wider audience for Music@Menlo. And no doubt there are people in other states and maybe even other countries who are looking forward to our live streams again this summer," Finckel said.
Nurturing a new generation
As it celebrates this milestone anniversary, the chamber music festival has already made a significant impact on forthcoming generations, said cellist Dmitri Atapine, who has experienced Music@Menlo as both a young artist and now as a member of its staff.
Atapine, along with pianist Hyeyeon Park, is co-director of the festival's Young Performers Program for advanced string players and pianists, ages 10-19. The program is part of Music@Menlo's Chamber Music Institute, focused on training up-and-coming talents.
"I have to say that for everybody I know, in particular for me and for Hyeyeon, participation in the institute when we first came to Menlo has been the single most transformative experience of our professional life and it might sound like I'm just kind of saying something very dramatic, but it is absolutely true," he said.
Atapine compared the experiences of attending the Chamber Music Institute to the more traditional learning environment he had experienced as a music student. In contrast to the academic setting, where groups would focus on perfecting a couple compositions per semester, the Chamber Music Institute's demanding format sees young artists take on new works and learn to perform them together in just a couple days, under the guidance of experienced musicians. The institute experience fosters a spirit of collaboration and problem-solving, skills that not only serve young musicians well, but apply to just about any career, Atapine said.
The development of these skills also speak to what Atapine describes as an "entrepreneurial spirit" within the festival, which he said gives musicians tools to not only improve their performance as artists, but to succeed in the music business.
"A lot of my colleagues and myself, we have started projects around the country, inspired by this, we call it the 'Menlo Effect.' I know so many festivals, so many concerts: in Spain, in Oregon, in Seattle, in New York, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in Reno, Nevada, where we started our concert series at the university there.
(It has inspired) so, so many festivals and so many series. You look anywhere around the country or even around the world. You see the Menlo Effect of years of educating the next generation of arts leaders."
Music@Menlo takes place July 14-Aug. 6 at Menlo School, 50 Valparaiso Ave., Atherton. For a full schedule of events and ticket information, visit musicatmenlo.org.