‘... with musicians like this, there must be some hope for humanity.’ — The Times (London). Perhaps the most celebrated string quartet ever to emerge from the USA, the Emerson String Quartet is making its first Australian tour in two decades and will visit Newcastle Conservatorium for one night only on Tuesday 10 September.
Founded in 1976 and with only one personnel change in all that time, the ensemble has stacked up countless awards. With such a pedigree, it is no surprise that the quartet plays with masterly warmth and ease: a spontaneous confidence and joy.
Featuring violinists Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer, violist Lawrence Dutton and cellist Paul Watkins, the Emerson String Quartet has maintained its stature as one of the world’s premier chamber music ensembles for more than four decades. The quartet has made more than 30 acclaimed recordings and has been honoured with nine Grammys® (including two for Best Classical Album), three Gramophone Awards, the Avery Fisher Prize, and Musical America’s ‘Ensemble of the Year’.
The Emerson frequently collaborates with some of today’s most esteemed composers to premiere new works, keeping the string quartet art form alive and relevant. They have partnered in performance with stellar soloists including Reneé Fleming, Barbara Hannigan, Evgeny Kissin, Emanuel Ax and Yefim Bronfman, to name a few.
The Emerson’s extensive recordings range from Bach to Harbison, including the complete string quartets of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Bartok, Webern and Shostakovich, as well as multi-CD sets of the major works of Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Dvŏŕak.
Based in New York City, the Emerson was one of the first quartets whose violinists alternated in the first chair position. The quartet, which took its name from the American poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, balances busy performing careers with a commitment to teaching and serves as Quartet-in-Residence at Stony Brook University. In January 2015, the quartet received the Richard J. Bogomolny National Service Award, Chamber Music America’s highest honour, in recognition of its significant and lasting contribution to the chamber music field.
Naturally enough, a master string quartet has chosen to play a program of great masterpieces: Haydn’s Quartet op 71 no 2, Bartók’s Quartet in B flat major no 5 and the ‘Razumovsky’ Quartet no 8 of Beethoven. All were written with their audience very much in mind – the Haydn and Beethoven full of attention-grabbing highlights and dreamy slow movements, while the vitality of folk music shapes the quartet of Bartók.
‘I very much doubt whether Haydn ever heard his music sound like this; and if that is so, then I think it was a deprivation much to be regretted on his behalf,’ writes Fanfare Magazine. The New York Times praises the quartet’s ‘extraordinary fusion of experience and authority with audacity and freshness’, while Fortune Magazine dubs them ‘arguably the world's best group of chamber musicians.’ Whatever form their effusive praise takes, this is one group not to be missed.
The Emerson String Quartet will perform at the Newcastle Conservatorium on Tuesday, 10 September 2019 at 7:30pm. Visit www.musicaviva.com.au/emerson for bookings and further details.
HAYDN String Quartet in D major, op 71 no 2
BARTÓK String Quartet in B flat major, no 5
BEETHOVEN String Quartet no 8 in E minor, op 59 no 2 ‘Razumovsky.’
Photo credit Jürgen Frank