Emerson String Quartet Coming to the Van Wezel



As part of the Sarasota Concert Association’s 72nd season presenting the Great Performers Series, the acclaimed and nine-time Grammy Award-winning Emerson String Quartet will be coming to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall on December 18 for a single performance featuring work from Beethoven, Hungarian composer Bela Bartok and Edvard Grieg. Named “America’s greatest quartet” by TIME magazine and inducted into the Classical Music Hall of Fame in 2010, this season also marks the 40th anniversary of the Emerson String Quartet, which rose to prominence with, among other things, its marathon performances of Bartok’s six quartets.

The show opens with Beethoven’s final string quartet, Opus 135. Written after a period of intense experimentation, this last composition melds the composer’s experimental edge with the more familiar and accessible sounds of his forebears Haydn and Mozart. “There’s still a lot here that’s unusual,” says violinist and quartet co-founder Eugene Drucker, from the “wild and rollicking” second movement to the final movement, building from a slow start to incorporate all the motifs that came before for a cathartic conclusion. “There’s the feeling in this work that everything counts,” says Drucker. “There’s not an ounce of fat on it and everything that happens motifically has consequences later on.”

Turning to the modernist school, the show continues with Bartok’s String Quartet No. 4. Written in 1928, the piece reflects Bartok at his most modernist, says Drucker, incorporating exotic sounds amidst a rigidly structured composition. The second movement, Prestissimo, con sordino, (“Which goes by in a flash—just an astonishingly hyperactive movement.”) features all instruments playing with mutes, which is then thematically linked to the fourth movement featuring pizzicato through its entirety. The first and final movements are also linked thematically, while the third stands alone, heavily influenced by Bartok’s ethnomusical studies. But don’t be intimidated by the abundance of musical theory, says Drucker: “One only needs to be open to all of these different sounds and the rhythmic energy and excitement of the quartet to experience it.” And Grieg is the perfect finisher, he says, both accessible and charismatic all the way to the “edge-of-your-seat excitement” of the final movement.

Despite decades of acclaim and whatever monikers TIME may see fit to bestow, each performance remains about pushing forward. “If we become complacent, we wouldn't be able to keep up that sharp edge of self-criticism in a constructive way—always striving for better,” says Drucker. “We take our goals seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

The Emerson String Quartet performs at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall on December 18. Tickets are $37–65 and available through the Sarasota Concert Association.

Pictured: The Emerson String Quartet (Drucker on left). Photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco.

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