Wu Han, one of the world’s finest pianists, often tells people who are interested in learning more about classical music to attend a chamber music recital.

It is there, within the intimacy of a small ensemble of musicians, that the luminosity of classical music is best expressed.

“Because of the nature of chamber music, which was played in a small chamber, I think the composers tend to write music that is very personal, many times for a very special occasion,” she said. “Many times, chamber music is dedicated to a private occasion, and is not a public statement.

“The music tends to be incredibly intense, especially when you play with an intimate group where people know each other really well and all communication and sensitivity is brought to the highest level. The music is passionate, because it (represents) private thoughts.”

Wu Han will lead a quartet of musicians performing at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Olin Arts Center at Bates College. She will be joined by pianist Gil Kalish and percussionists Daniel Druckman and Ayano Kataoka. All are associated with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York, where Wu Han serves as co-artistic director.

The program includes two landmark works: Bela Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, written in 1937, and George Crumb’s “Music for a Summer Evening,” written in 1974.

Wu Han has great affection for both pieces.

The Hungarian-born Bartok wrote his piece for a close friend who helped him during the rise of the Nazis. The sonata is considered a masterpiece because the composer wrote it for two pianos to weave in and out among each other, with percussion layered on top and throughout. It’s a tremendously challenging piece to play, Wu Han said, and equally rewarding.

She called Crumb’s “Music for a Summer Evening” “one of the coolest pieces ever written. The piece is magical. That’s what I can tell you about it. It is incredibly well-constructed.”

Crumb wrote it for Gil Kalish, who will perform with Wu Han at Bates. Kalish considers the piece “one of the greatest pieces of the 20th century,” Wu Han said. “It’s very difficult. You spend a lot of time inside the piano. You stand up lots. The percussion is so huge in this piece, with a lot of special-effect things. Really, it takes a presenter with a tremendous amount of commitment to include this piece on the program.”

The quartet is performing this program in four cities. “I am so excited. You have no idea,” she enthused.

Wu Han is quite familiar with Maine. For many years, she performed with Bay Chamber Concerts in Rockport, and is a past winner of the Andrew Wolf Memorial Award given by Bay Chamber. These days, her busy schedule and worldwide commitments prevent her from coming to Maine with the frequency of the past.

She misses Maine in the summer — the music, her friends and the food.

“I miss the lobster rolls and fresh corn,” she said. 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at: [email protected]


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