Music@Menlo is a unique festival. I’ve been here two days and already their video team headed by Tristan Cook has shot, edited and posted this teaching portrait. This kind of frenetic behind-the-scenes activity is emblematic of what makes this festival stand apart: you can go online and truly experience Music@Menlo from afar, and I suggest you check it out for yourself!

I came here with at least a few expectations. I had known in advance from my colleagues to beware the infamous ears of producer and engineer Da-Hong Seetoo, who never misses an incorrect note, and has been known to suggest better fingerings to nonplussed violinists. (More on that later…) But I hadn’t been so aware of how extensive the educational aspect of Music@Menlo would be.

When cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han started Music@Menlo, their aim was to connect professional musicians, music lovers, and music students alike. The Menlo school campus facilitates this interaction beautifully. In my first day here I rehearsed the Brahms C Minor Trio with David and with violinist Elmar Oliveira, gave a master class to gifted students aged 13 years old to mid-20s, strolled across the lawn (OK, it’s a little too idyllic, it’s actually Astroturf) to the cafeteria and had lunch with colleagues and students, went to a different campus building to speak to the music students as a group, then rehearsed piano duets with Wu Han. (We are having way too much fun with the Dvorak and Brahms Dances!)

Another distinguishing feature of Music@Menlo is the extraordinary recorded output of their concerts. This is where 6-time Grammy Award winning  Da-Hong Seetoo comes in. For selected concerts, the “dress rehearsals” are essentially full recording sessions, produced by Seetoo. This accomplishes multiple results: an otherwise wonderful concert performance with just a few live flaws can be corrected after the fact, and the festival can produce limitless numbers of CDs of live performances. Furthermore, Seetoo’s keen ears polish our performances in advance and act almost as a last-minute coaching from a trusted colleague.

My program tonight and tomorrow is All Zingarese, and features everything from the Haydn Gypsy Rondo Trio to Brahms Hungarian Dances to Ravel’s Tzigane. Expect some fireworks!