BWW Blog: David Finckel, Artistic Director of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center - An Adriatic Music Cruise
An Adriatic music cruise with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, June 20-27
Reported by David Finckel, cellist and Artistic Director of the Society
The journeys organized by Travel Dynamics combine first-class accommodations and stimulating sight-seeing with intimate chamber music performances in extraordinary locations. As co-Artistic Director of the Chamber Music Society, along with my wife, the pianist Wu Han, we program the concerts and select additional musicians from the Society's artist roster to join us as collaborators. The passengers include music lovers who join the cruises through two of our prominent chamber music institutions New York's Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and Silicon Valley's Music@Menlo. Joining us on this adventure were Suzanne Davidson and Edward Sweeney, the executive directors of each organization respectively, as well as violinists Kristin Lee and Arnaud Sussmann, two of the most exciting young performers on the classical music scene today.
The following blog is my personal diary of the tour; the photographs were taken by me and our daughter Lilian, a college sophomore with professional photographic experience. I hope you enjoy it.
Tuesday-Wednesday, June 17-18
Following CMS's return from the Dresden Music Festival, and a subsequent busy week in New York that included recitals in Rockport, Massachusetts and Albuquerque, New Mexico, Wu Han and I, joined by our daughter Lilian, stepped on a plane bound for Brussels to connect to a flight that has always been our favorite: one that lands in Venice.
Straining for views of the magnificent city from the plane window, it was difficult to contain our excitement at the coming CMS cruise, the seventh organized by our wonderful partner Travel Dynamics. Our look of relief and anticipation is more than obvious aboard the water taxi to the Hotel Saturnia.
This cruise would take us from Venice along the Dalmatian coast on the Adriatic, stopping at stunning islands and ports along the way to our final destination, the historic Croatian city of Dubrovnik. Joining us would be a group of travelers comprised of friends of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, of Music@Menlo, and others from Vanderbilt University and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Our tour consisted mostly of stops in the Republic of Croatia, now a boomerang-shaped country in the heart of central Europe with a population of 4.2 million. Its west arm, which stretches down the Adriatic coast for 3,600 miles, is dotted with inlets, reefs, and 1185 islands, of which 47 are inhabited. The east arm (which we did not visit) is landlocked, reaching far to the east, past the country's central capital of Zagreb.
Croatia's complex history dates back to the 7th century, with the Kingdom of Croatia beginning in the 10th century and lasting two hundred years. Subsequently controlled by Hungarians, Habsburg rulers and governed by alliances with its neighboring states, Croatia joined the socialist state of Yugoslavia after World War II. That arrangement began to crumble when Croatia held its own parliamentary elections and declared independence in 1991, leading to the four-year Croatian War of Independence (more on this later).
Other countries we visited included Bosnia-Herzegovina (Mostar) and Montenegro (Kotor), but only for the briefest of stops.
Our tour program's flirtation with Venice - prior to embarkation - was no more than a taste, but we and few enthusiastic friends and colleagues arrived several days early in Venice to unwind and enjoy the one-of-a-kind environment. A pre-dinner Rialto Bridge photo includes Music@Menlo board member Ann Bowers and Patricia Foster and Chamber Music Society Executive Director Suzanne Davidson.
Of course, a large part of our excitement (as is normal for musicians) was over the food we were about to eat. Italian and Chinese food top our list of favorite cuisines and our favorite restaurant in Venice, Trattoria alla Rivetta (a hangout for both tourists and gondoliers) did not fail to please during our four (!) visits there in two days. Rivetta is just steps east of St. Mark's square, on the street which offers this iconic view of the Bridge of Sighs, the infamous passageway over the Rio di Palazzo which connects the Doge's Palace with the New Prison.
The food at Rivetta is incredible:
Walking the streets and canals of Venice is one of most continually captivating visual experiences to be found anywhere. The variety of beautiful scenes, and people from everywhere enjoying themselves, are both inspiring and rejuvenating to witness.
Friday, June 20
Our departure from Venice was as magical as one could imagine. All were on deck of the Corinthian to bid La Serenissima farewell as the sun set on the city, the harbor looking not much different from the way Canaletto painted it in mid-18th century.
Saturday, June 21: Rab Island, Croatia
By the next morning we had reached our first stop, the Croatian island and city of Rab, just off the Dalmatian coast in the Adriatic Sea. Named in ancient times after the dark pine forests that once grew there, the island was, like many in the region, ruled by Illyrians, Romans, Byzantines, Hungarians, Venetians, French, Hapsburgs, Italians, and Yugoslavians until Croatia became independent in 1991. The town's rich cultural history and its beautiful beaches make it a popular tourist destination today, and Rab city's charming squares and winding streets make it a fun place to explore.
The Corinthian holds roughly a hundred passengers only, making its voyages intimate and luxurious experiences. In addition, the ship's small size allows it to dock, quite often, as close to town as possible. In some locations, such as Rab, the Corinthian was hardly out of view from any part of town.
With the Corinthian docked so conveniently, it was only a few steps to our first concert venue, the tiny (and boomy) Church of the Holy Cross. Joining us for this cruise were the estimable violinists Kristin Lee and Arnaud Sussmann, who gamely doubled on viola, switching mid-concert without hesitation as needed.
Our first program included Dvorak's Sonatina for violin and piano, Op. 100, a charming duo by Shostakovich for 2 violins and piano, and the Beethoven Piano Quartet. The morning concert got our public obligations done by lunchtime and we walked quickly back to the Corinthian for lunch on the deck during our departure for Split, a long journey that would put us into port at 7am the following morning.
The leisurely sail took us through myriad beautiful passageways between the islands, many uninhabited, in this area of the Adriatic. There have been many true feasts-for-the-eyes to be had off the deck of our cabin, a perfect place for relaxing happy hours.
Sunday, June 22: Split, Croatia
Split is the Croatia's largest coastal city and is famous for the spectacular remains of the palace of the Roman emperor Diocletian. In addition, Split boasts a spectacular port and a city brimming with shops, restaurants and seemingly endless glamorous people.
The morning tour included the villa of Croatia's most famous sculptor Ivan Mestrovic (1883-1962), widely regarded as one of the greatest sculptors in history and the first living artist to have a solo show at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Influenced by the Art Nouveau and Cubism movements, he created many monuments and religious works, both in stone and wood. His work, truly stunning to behold in person, can be viewed at his lavish villa overlooking the coast (which is now preserved as his gallery).
The central area of Split is dominated by the remains of the palace of the Roman emperor Diocletion (264-305 A.D.), and the thriving city is built virtually into what is left of the Roman emperor's retirement home, where he lived out his last years having become the only Roman emperor to ever abdicate. Essentially, Diocletian's palace became the core of Split. The underground tunnels and dungeons are tourist favorites.
Our concert took place in the Split Theater, the city's premiere concert hall, but instead of the main hall we used the lobby, which was not only the perfect size for our ensemble but as architecturally elegant and as acoustically perfect as any concert hall I can recall. Our program consisted of a Mozart violin and viola duo followed by Smetana's heart-rending Piano Trio, written in the aftermath of the death of his second daughter.
Forsaking the bicycle tour in the afternoon, the musicians once again practiced and rehearsed, but had a special party to look forward to in the late afternoon: A joint reception for travelers from both Music@Menlo and the Chamber Music Society, hosted by me and Wu Han, plus Edward Sweeney and Suzanne Davidson.
A sumptuous grilled sea bass dinner in town -
- was followed by a blissful short walk to the harbor, the musicians accompanied by Music@Menlo executive director Edward Sweeney. There is little more comforting on tour than seeing your floating home glittering in the distance.
Monday, June 23: Hvar
A crystal clear morning welcomed us to the dock near the ancient town of Stari Grad, on the island of Hvar (pronounced "Var").
The Croatian island of Hvar (the name derived from its original Greek name Pharos) is one of the most fascinating places I have ever visited. To begin, the island is 42 miles long and only 8 miles at its widest.
The morning tour proved impossible to resist (we musicians frequently needed to decline sightseeing opportunities in order to prepare for our concerts) as we were told that our buses would take the scenic route, traversing the top of the east-west limestone ridge, surrounded by fields of lavender, on the way to the picturesque Hvar Town on the island's eastern tip. The quick ascent soon revealed breathtaking views.
While Hvar's history is as interesting and complex as many of its neighbors, I personally found the island's geography and botanical features, plus the remains of human activities, captivating.
The first unusual feature of the hillsides is the presence of numerous, wide stone walls.
Hvar island has no surface water: no lakes, ponds or streams, and very little fresh water coming from springs or wells. Therefore the island's inhabitants depend heavily on rainwater, which soaks quickly into crevices in the dry ground, and there is little of it as the island boasts claims to be "the sunniest place in Europe" with over 300 clear days per year. The stone walls, now on mostly-abandoned farm land, were built to contain the flow of rainwater within growing areas, stem erosion, and keep herds of animals separated.
The island has interesting vegetation, with bare patches and scrub at higher altitudes, and lavender fields and pine trees lower down. Hvar is known as "The Island of Lavender" which is used to produce soaps and other aromatic products.
Although we didn't have a chance to try any, there is a busy wine-making industry on Hvar, famous for both its reds and whites.
On our ascent we stopped at an ancient lime kiln. These were built to melt the mountains' ubiquitous lime rocks into quicklime, used for plaster, cement, pigment, pavement material, agriculture and other uses.
The early kilns were built with small doors at the bottom through which the lime stones were placed and air flowed to fuel the fire. The fire heated the built-up layers of lime above it, which gradually dropped to the floor and cooled. (The kilns were small, as one too big would collapse as its insides burned away). The whole process, from loading the lime to its eventual removal, took about a week's time.
During our stop at the kiln, the positioning of gigantic buses on the side of the narrow road was challenged by a rugged-looking gentleman at the wheel of a Yugo, a now-extinct, hand-made automobile that was first produced by the Yugoslav/Serbian company Zastava in 1978. Famous for its unreliability, it became a novelty/fad and was imported by an entrepreneur between 1985 and 1991, who sold Americans 141,511 of what was voted one of the 50 worst cars of all time. They were widely used in Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and many can still be seen there, jerry-rigged to continue running, as original parts are long unavailable. Cars like these are often found on Hvar island, as many of the residents use Hvar as a summer home or commute for work, and find it easier to have second cars and trucks on the island.
Descending into thick forests dotted with limestone boulders, we soon reached the city of Hvar, the largest on the island. Hvar city was a center for trade and culture during centuries of Venetian rule, and the Venetian lion can be seen still on the fortress which dates from the 13th century. The ancient walls survive as do many historic buildings and churches.
The views of the harbor from the fortress are breathtaking.
The town of Hvar is a place I could have stayed for months.
The Franciscan Monastery at the far end of the harbor hosts a chamber music festival in its courtyard, steps from the beach.
Regretfully boarding the bus for the "fast road" back to the ship, we were nevertheless treated to spectacular views from a winding mountainside highway, as well as the customary warm welcome from the extraordinary staff of the Corinthian.
Tuesday, June 24: Mostar
The city of Mostar is one-and-a-half hours from the sea by bus. Our port, therefore, was the quaint if unremarkable town of Ploce on the Adriatic. Perfectly picturesque but seemingly deserted, Ploce is the main port city used by Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Mostar is one of the major cities of Bosnia and Herzegovina lying on the trade route between the Adriatic and the country's mountainous areas. It is also a cultural capital of the region. The city is named after the keepers of the famous Old Bridge (Stari Most), built during the Ottoman period in the sixteenth century, then a wonder in its own time, and now one of the most iconic landmarks in the region. In former times, young men would jump into the river as a rite of passage; today they do it for money! This stunt is just one component of the lively tourist industry that helped rebuilt Mostar after the devastation of the Croatian war, and sustains Mostar's economy today.
The group also visited the beautiful Tabacica Mosque, one of the many mosques in Mostar. Afterwards, there was a typical Bosnian lunch that consisted of chicken soup, stuffed grape leaves, stuffed peppers, and pounded beef?
Some of our guests continued on a post-tour extension to Sarajevo after our final day in Dubrovnik. Those involved in the Sarajevo trip were taken to the Croatian towns of Ston and Mali Ston (Little Ston), two historic sites where they were treated to a boat ride, oyster, olive oil and cheese tasting. Why we didn't get to go I don't entirely understand, but those who did said it was terrific.
Our sail-out in the evening included gorgeous views, a textbook Finckel Happy Hour on the balcony, and lots of nice warm wind.
While dining that evening, the Corinthian completed its 29 mile sail to the Croatian island of Korcula. As the meal wound down, and people were saying their goodnights, I decided to step off the ship to check out the town, as we were docked right alongside. Even before descending the gangplank, I could tell we were in an incredible place. A quick walk of one block convinced me to return to the ship and coax the passengers - I think almost all of them - to join me on a late evening walk through one of the most magical, vibrant and picturesque stops on our entire tour.
The first unbelievable sight was the sterns of some of most inviting yachts I've ever seen, backed in right next to the Corinthian.
The Corinthian was snuggled in, a stone's throw from the old city walls and defensive tower.
The late town visit included a stroll by Cathedral of St. Mark's which would be our concert venue the following day.
A brief pause before returning to the ship turned into a photo-op.
Wednesday, June 25: Korcula
The following morning greeted us with our first clouds and rain of the trip. However, a break from the hot sun was something of a relief, and the intermittent showers did not compromise the attractiveness of the town. As you can see from this photo, taken with a telephoto lens from the cathedral steps, the Corinthian was always waiting.
Korcula is the second-most populous and the sixth-largest Adriatic island, although the town of Korcula feels most intimate. The island also includes around a dozen other cities that help house its population of 16,000; roughly a third of them live in Korcula town.
Despite the rain, the town was crammed with tourists visiting the beautiful historical sights, such as the Cathedral of St. Mark (1301), the Franciscan Monastery, various palaces and of course the impressive fortifications.
The concert, which began at 5pm, was a challenge for those on production duty. First, a torrential downpour drove half of our audience into the church early, and we had to abbreviate our only dress rehearsal for the concert. In addition, the church staff members were less than adept at keeping curious tourists from entering noisily, and Suzanne, Edward, our daughter Lilian, and Tour Director John Frick and Tour Managers Brian Goyette and Toni Silic did their best, as diplomatically as possible, to try to maintain a concert-level environment.
In addition, for some reason the church heated itself to what seemed like record levels of heat and humidity. My colleagues performed amazingly while I missed just about every left hand shift in the Dvorak due to an uncontrollably wet fingerboard.
Wu Han began the program with Brahms's late Intermezzi, Op. 118, about which she gave an enlightening talk before playing.
The cathedral provided a truly stunning setting.
Dvorak's ever-popular Piano Quartet closed the concert, and our series of performances on this cruise. Kristin Lee played the violin part with fire, passion and technical perfection, while Arnaud Sussmann once again amazed with his apparently effortless ability to play the viola, out-classing all but the finest players of that unjustly-maligned instrument in the world.
Immediately following the performance, all the church staff descended on the scene to move the piano, the chairs, the altar rug, in a great hurry. Apparently our concert had lasted 30 minutes longer than expected, and I hope our transgression does not prevent future performances in this beautiful setting.
Sure enough, as we returned to ship, the clouds began to break, a warm glow came from the west, the restaurants started to fill up, and we enjoyed a picturesque sail-away from Korcula as the town lights came on.
After a spectacular sunset
We gathered for the Captain's Farewell dinner (one night early as some passengers were departing early the next day). The lobster tail dinner concluded with the Corinthian's traditional Baked Alaska*, and a chance for us to applaud in appreciation of Chef Rey Canlas and his kitchen staff. The cuisine on the Corinthian (and before that on the Corinthian II) has been superb, every meal, from sumptuous breakfasts to eclectic and tasty outdoor lunches to sublime and elegant dinners.
*Baked Alaska is an ice cream cake encased in meringue, which is cooked quickly at a very high temperature, allowing the meringue to crust while it insulates the ice cream from melting. The name was applied to the dessert (which had been around long before in Asia, Europe and America) to aptly commemorate the Alaskan territories acquired by America in 1876.
Thursday, June 26: Kotor and Dubrovnik
After a turbulent all-night sail, the Corinthian entered the winding, picturesque Bay of Kotor at 6:30 a.m., passing through the narrow strait that was once defended by an underwater chain stretching between its shores.
Popularly referred to as Europe's southernmost fjord (but technically a "ria" or submerged river canyon), the bay is surrounded by steep mountain slopes, its shores dotted with attractive dwellings and churches, and its hills with mysterious and intriguing ruins. The bay's beautiful towns make it a major tourist attraction, and its many churches, monasteries make it a site of religious pilgrimages.
Making a right turn to sail to Kotor at the end of the bay, one passes the jewel-like islands of Our Lady of the Rocks and Sveti Gorge (St. George).
A brief glance at the history of Kotor and the bay reveals that just about everyone who was anyone in European history had control of or at least a go at it for most of its 2000-plus year history.
The ruins of a fortress built by the Roman Emperor Justinian in 535 dominate the city.
The cozy, walled town offers everything from sublime churches to enticing pizza to street cats.
Departing promptly at 11:30, we began a long afternoon sail to our final destination, the world-renowned city of Dubrovnik, arriving at port by 4 p.m. and quickly transferring to coaches that would bring us to town alongside the city's massive walls, considered among the world's most extraordinary.
Since its founding in the 7th century, the city has been known by its Italian name Ragusa, but now goes by its Croatian name of Dubrovnik which dates from the Middle Ages, and was officially adopted in 1918 at the end of Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Dubrovnik's spectacular harbor has been a coveted strategic location for centuries, fought over and possessed by the Ostrogoths, the Byzantine Empire, the Venetians, the Kingdom of Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Napoleon's Kingdom of Italy.
Under the sovereignty of Venice, the Republic of Ragusa (founded 1272) made strides civil and social strides that put it way ahead of its time. Medical services were provided in 1301 and the world's first pharmacy, opened in 1371, is still in business.
Slavery was abolished in 1418, 447 years ahead of the United States. In 1377 a hospital was founded, and in 1432 an orphanage. The Republic's statutes included town planning and sanitary laws.
One commonly enters the walled city through its gate next to the harbor, and is immediately struck with spectacular scenery.
Dubrovnik's vibrant streets make it difficult to choose between shopping, eating, or sightseeing.
With only a bit more than two hours to absorb one of Europe's most incredible cities, our several groups, all led by vastly experienced guides, did their best to soak in overwhelming history of Dubrovnik, all the while navigating the crowds, avoiding the hot sun, and dealing with the aforementioned pleasurable distractions. Several wise travelers had elected to stay an extra day -among them our violinist Kristin Lee, on her way post-tour to Naples and Positano for further music-making. She made us all a bit jealous.
On the way back to the bus I was surprised to hear an unfamiliar voice cautiously calling my name. It turned out that in fact I have a Cello Talks student who is a native of Dubrovnik and plays the bass. It's still hard for me to believe how far and wide that project has reached.
It was indeed wonderful to have the company and support of CMS's and Music@Menlo's executive directors Suzanne Davidson and Edward Sweeney. Edward and I paused for a last scenic photo in front of the harbor.
Boarding the Corinthian for our final evening of merriment, Wu Han and Lilian looked down from our suite on the top deck.
Deprived of a final sunset sail (as we were all disembarking at Dubrovnik the following morning) we were nonetheless entertained by the always-thoughtful and resourceful Travel Dynamics staff. A band of Croatian musicians performed on board for us, and master tour-documenter John Frick recalled the week's incredible adventures with a beautiful slide show.
Enough cannot be said for the Corinthian's staff. From John, Brian and Toni, to our elegant and gracious chambermaid Elena, to expert maitre'd Renato, to vigilant hotel manager Bogdan, to our attentive butler Michael, to the ship's brilliant pianist Eddie, to the world's most wonderful bartender Jerome, and so many others who over many cruises have learned our names and treat us like family: to all of them we express our deepest thanks and admiration for their work, on behalf of the Chamber Music Society, Music@Menlo, our staffs and our musicians. Without them, the Corinthian would be just another cruise ship.
We also are so grateful to violinists Kristin Lee and Arnaud Sussmann for the time they invested in this project, and for their deep artistry, stunning instrumental gifts, supportive enthusiasm and professional adaptability to the variety of performance situations encountered on such adventures. They were inspiring colleagues and simply a lot of fun to be around - an opinion held by all on board.
And finally, to our crowd of devoted traveling companions, we express our gratitude for their participation and company on this voyage, and for their support of the musical institutions so dear to us. We wish all of our friends a safe journey home and at sea, and look forward to our next adventure together.
Photo Credit: Walter McBride / WM Photos