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Classical 101

Breathtaking: Shifrin, Han and Finckel Perform Saturday, Jan. 28

Pianist Wu Han remembers the moment she stopped breathing, the moment when time stood still. It was in a recording session for Clarinet Trios, Wu Han's most recent recording with clarinetist David Shifrin and cellist David Finckel. She and Shifrin were playing one of Max Bruch's Eight Pieces, Op. 83 "It was this one phrase, and I stopped breathing, it was so beautiful," Wu Han said. "And I remember (Shifrin) finished that phrase, and our recording engineer just said, 'That’s it, you don’t have to do that phrase ever again. It’s the best I've ever heard.'" This Saturday, Jan. 28 at 8 p.m. David Shifrin, Wu Han and David Finckel will perform that breathtaking Bruch along with clarinet trios by Beethoven and Brahms at Columbus' Southern Theatre, under the auspices of Chamber Music Columbus. A pre-concert conversation with the artists begins at 7 p.m. Wu Han spoke with me recently by phone about the origins of her collaboration with Shifrin and Finckel and how it resulted in Clarinet Trios, released in 2011 on Finckel and Wu Han's ArtistLed recording label. Like many great musical collaborations, that among Wu Han, Finckel and Shifrin was born simply of a mutual desire to explore beautiful music with friends. "David Shifrin, David (Finckel) and I had played these trios about 10 or 15 years ago, And we just thought we would take the three pieces and have some fun," Wu Han said. "We played about three or four concerts (of this repertory) and they were incredibly successful, but we were all so busy, we forgot all about it." Time went by. Two years ago the trio were invited to perform together and played the same program. The results were stunning. "After about 15 years of mature marination, I guess, those three pieces just aged so beautifully," Wu Han said. "And when we finished the concert, David (Finckel) and I looked at each other and said, 'We’ve got to record this, this is just really the best we could ever do for these pieces.'" Wu Han says that, with the exotic element of a wind instrument, playing clarinet trios is a change of pace for chamber music artists and audiences alike. "Traditionally, you hear a lot of piano trios, which is violin, cello and piano. When you add a wind instrument, what you add is a totally different dimension: there’s a breathing human being right next to you, there’s a singing tone that in the clarinet is just so incredibly magical," Wu Han said. The singing tone of the clarinet perhaps inspired Beethoven's Clarinet Trio in Bb, Op. 11,  the first work on Saturday's program and one that Wu Han says has "an incredible sense of lyricism." "Both cello and clarinet sing like you won't believe," Wu Han said. "It's in the range that’s equal to the human voice, and it’s so spectacular." The same sense of lyricism pervades Max Bruch's Eight Pieces, Op. 83, but within the context of Bruch's unique, late Romantic style. "(These pieces) are really one of a kind," Wu Han said. "They are very lyrical, some of them are very mysterious, one of them sounds like an incredible prayer." The last piece on the program, Brahms' Clarinet Trio in A minor, Op. 114, is a "It has everything you would expect of Brahms: sonority, maturity, an extraordinary second movement, and in the third movement is an incredible, elegant, delicious waltz," Wu Han said. The Clarinet Trios recording and tour is only one of the new ventures Wu Han has launched in recent months with David Finckel. Last September the pair made their first trip to Colombia where, with other members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, they performed chamber music concerts before the public and at some of Cartagena's public schools. In December they held the inaugural Chamber Music Today festival in Seoul, South Korea, adding a performance dimension to the chamber music teachings Wu Han and David Finckel have given at a chamber music school in they helped found in Seoul four years ago. "It’s just such rewarding work for us to see people in the Far East, especially in South Korea, really start to understand the beauty of this art form," Wu Han said. At 7 p.m. this Saturday, Jan. 28, you can ask Wu Han, David Finckel and David Shifrin your questions about their work, including their new ventures in Korea and Colombia, in a conversation before their concert. We hope to see you there! David Finckel, Wu Han and David Shifrin perform clarinet trios of Beethoven, Bruch and Brahms Saturday, Jan. 28, 8 p.m., at the Southern Theatre, pre-concert conversation with the artists at 7 p.m. Tickets at cmcolumbus.org.