Visiting cellist to perform long-lost Haydn concerto _lowres

Photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco -- David Finckel and Wu Han.

A musical masterpiece that went missing for 200 years will highlight this weekend’s concerts by the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.

The musical score for “Cello Concerto in C Major,” written in the early 1760s by Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn, mysteriously disappeared shortly after its creation; it was unexpectedly unearthed in 1961 in a museum in Prague.

Since then it has been performed by the world’s top cellists, including David Finckel who will be guest soloing with the LPO performances in Covington and New Orleans.

“It’s one of the most perfect cello concertos ever composed. It’s just fantastic,” Finckel said. “When I first heard it I fell in love with it instantly, as did every cellist who ever heard it, and now we all play it.”

The LPO program will lead off with Ottorino Respighi’s 1928 composition, “Gliucceli” (The Birds), followed by the “Cello Concerto.” Mozart’s “Symphony No. 40 in G minor” will be performed in its entirety in the evening’s second act.

The concerts will take place at First Baptist Church, Covington, on Friday night and the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts on Saturday evening.

Markand Thakar, music director of the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, guest conducts both performances.

Three years after its discovery, the “Cello Concerto” was recorded for the first time by the renowned Russian cellist Mstislav Rostopovich, under whom Finckel studied. “This is probably the quickest that any musical piece became standard repertoire,” Finckel said. “It was just immediately so great.”

The 25-minute concerto, with three distinct movements, will be performed without the full orchestra. The arrangement calls for strings only, with two oboes and two horns, Finckel explained: “Two very lively outer movements and a beautiful slow movement in the middle.

“Because it’s a classical-style concerto, it presents the same kind of difficulties as, say, a Mozart or early Beethoven,” Finckel said.

“It needs to be played in a very pristine and tasteful way. But things get going very fast, so your fingers have to be very accurate and clean and, at the same time, you have to play with passion.”

The cello has surged in popularity in recent years. “It’s close to the human voice,” Finckel said. “And it has such great music composed for it by great composers who were inspired by the sound of it.”

Over a career spanning five decades, Finckel has amassed a list of accomplishments that prompted a German newspaper to describe him as “one of the top ten, if not top five, cellists in the world today.”

As a featured soloist and together with his wife, pianist Wu Han, with whom he often performs duets (including a performance for New Orleans Friends of Music two months ago), Finckel gives roughly 100 concerts a year all over the world. From 1979 to 2013, he was the cellist for the nine-time Grammy Award-winning Emerson String Quartet.

He also is the co-artistic director of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center; founder and co-artistic director of Music@Menlo, an annual chamber music festival in California’s Silicon Valley; and he holds several professorships, including one at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York. In the 1990s he taught alongside Isaac Stern, whom he called “one of the 20th century’s greatest violinists and an inspiration to all of us.”

In 1997 he and Wu Han launched ArtistLed, classical music’s first musician-directed and Internet-based recording company, a widely acclaimed venture that has produced award-winning results.

Despite the widespread acclaim, though, Finckel remains modest and unassuming. “Whether or not I’m one of the five best (cellists), who’s to say? I don’t take ratings like that very seriously,” he said.

However, he added, “I will say that, among musicians that I know, I consider myself to be very fortunate, given the range of opportunities that I’ve had to play so much great music and interact with other musicians.

“Being able to teach, make recordings, do media projects and, of course, perform, I really feel that I’m among the most fortunate musicians in the world.”