Emerson String Quartet

views updated May 14 2018

Emerson String Quartet

Chamber music ensemble

For the Record

Accomplished Performers

Outstanding Repertoire

Continued Grammy Success

Selected discography


During the final decades of the twentieth century, music critics hailed the arrival of the Emerson String Quartetwhose namesake is poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emersonpraising the impressive sound of these musicians. The Emerson musicians Eugene Drucker, Philip Setzer, David Finckel, and Lawrence Duttonhad collected a total of six Grammy Awards by 2001, including two for Best Classical Album of the year. The Emersons, according to critics, came to represent the apex of their art, and they set a new standard for performance of the Bartok String Quartets in 1989. In 1997, their interpretation of the elusive and extremely difficult Beethoven Quartets captured the emotion of the pieces. In 2000, the quartets recording of the Shostakovich Quartets brought Western music critics to a new appreciation of the Russian composers work.

Observers have applauded the Emersons for their unique individuality and some have suggested that the underlying personal independence retained by each member of the quartet is a key factor to the success of their collaborations. Emerson String Quartet founders Drucker and Setzer began playing in chamber ensembles as violin students of Oscar Shumsky at New

For the Record

Members include Eugene Drucker (founding member; Education: Artist Diploma, Juilliard School of Music, New York City; bachelor of arts degree in English literature, Columbia University), violin; Lawrence Dutton (joined group, 1977; Education: Studied with Margaret Pardee and Francis Tursi, Eastman School; bachelors and masters degrees, Juilliard School of Music), violin; David Finckel (joined group, 1979), cello; Philip Setzer (founding member; born in Cleveland, OH; Education: Studied with Josef Gingold, Raphael Druian; Juilliard School of Music, studied with Oscar Shumsky), violin.

Group founded, 1976; on faculty at the University of Hartfords Hartt School of Music, 1980; signed exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon, 1987; released Grammy-Award winning Bartok: 6 String Quartets, 1988; released Grammy Award winning Ives: String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2/Barber: String Quartet, Op. 11, 1993; released Meyer: Quintet/Rorem: String Quartet, 1998; released seven-CD set of Beethovens complete quartets, 1997; released Grammy Award-winning Shostakovich: Complete String Quartets, 2000; regularly appears with chamber music series and festivals worldwide; has worked with Emanuel Ax, Misha Dichter, Leon Fleisher, The Guarneri String Quartet, Barbara Hendricks, Mstislav Rostropovich, David Shi-frin, and Richard Stoltzman.

Awards: Grammy Awards for Best Classical Album, 1989, 2001; Best Chamber Music Performance, 1989, 1993, 1997, 2001; Gramophone magazine awards, Record of the Year, 1989; Best Chamber Music Performance, 2000.

Addresses: Management IMG Artists, 420 West 45th Street, New York, NY 10036, phone: (212) 5415640, fax: (212) 2655483. Website Emerson String Quartet Official Website: http://www.emersonquartet.com.

York Citys renowned Juilliard School of Music during the early 1970s. Drucker distinguished himself in 1975 with a prize-winning performance at the International Violin Competition in Montreal, Quebec, and then took a bronze medal at the 1976 Queen Elisabeth of Belgium International Competition in Brussels. Additionally, as a winner of the Concert Artist Guild prize that year, he performed in a New York City debut. His instrument of preference is a prized Antonius Stradivarius instrument made in Cremona, Italy, dating back to 1686.

Accomplished Performers

Cleveland, Ohio-born Philip Setzer came from a musical family. His parents were musicians with the Cleveland Orchestra, and young Setzer began his musical studies at age five. Among his early teachers were Josef Gingold and Raphael Druian. Setzer took second prize at the Meriwether Post Competition in Washington, D.C. in 1967, and along with his colleague, Drucker, took a bronze medal at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 1976. Both Setzer and Drucker have contributed their talents as visiting professors of violin at the University of Hartfords Hartt School of Music. In 1997, Setzer lent his expertise in master classes at the Isaac Stern Chamber Workshop at Carnegie Hall. The following year he contributed his talents to the Isaac Stern Chamber Music Encounter in Jerusalem, Israel. Setzers instrument of preference is a modern violin by Samuel Zygmuntowicz of Brooklyn. Setzer inspired Paul Epsteins Matinee Concerto and premiered the piece with the Hartt Wind Symphony. Despite criticism from conservative traditionalists, Drucker and Setzer regularly switch positions in their performances between first and second violin parts. In fact, by their own admission, they go to great lengths to equalize the lead position between them. In presenting the selections of most composers, the two violinists divide the repertoire evenly, although each performer has a specialty. Drucker takes the lead for pieces by Debussy, and Setzer plays first chair for Ravels works.

Dutton, on viola, joined Drucker and Setzer in 1977 and the trio added cellist Finckel in 1979. Dutton began his musical studies on both the viola and violin with Margaret Pardee before devoting his studies exclusively to viola at the Eastman School where he studied under Frances Tursi. He later studied with Lilian Fuchs at Juilliard and received both bachelors and masters degrees from that school. At Juilliard, Dutton distinguished himself as a winner of the Walter M. Naum-berg scholarship. Like his colleagues Drucker and Setzer, Dutton is a visiting professor at the Hartt School of Music. His world-class accomplishments include concert performances with noted string players such as Rostropovich and Shumsky, as well as Lynn Harrell, Misha Dichter, and Isaac Stern. His guest performances extend from the Guarneri Quartet to the Beaux Arts Trio. Duttons instrument of choice is a 1796 Pietro Giovanni Mantegazza viola from Milan, Italy.

Finckel, a rare American student of Mstislav Rostropovich, was born to a family of cellists. After some years of study under the guidance of his father, Finckel made his debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra at age 15, in recognition of a prize-winning performance in that orchestras junior competition. Two years later, Rostropovich, upon hearing Finckel play, took him as a student for nine years. At the end of his studies Finckel was honored to perform as a soloist with Rostropovich and the Basel Symphony Orchestra. Additionally, Finckel was the first Piatigorsky Artist Award recipient from the New England Conservatory. He has performed in recitals throughout the eastern United States and teaches regularly with the Isaac Stern Chamber Music Workshops in the United States and Israel. He also contributes his time to the summertime master class program at the Aspen Music Festival. Finckel spent three years during the late 1990s as the artistic co-director of SummerFest La Jolla.

Outstanding Repertoire

As the four musicians gelled into a quartet during the late 1970s, their expectation for the future remained undefined. As they completed their studies, they continued to perform in quartet on a limited basis, increasing their repertoire and expanding their performance schedule throughout the 1980s. In 1987, the Emerson String Quartet signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon, a relationship which resulted in a wide assortment of recordings, including a number of award-winning albums. By 2000 public performances by the four musicians had increased to approximately 100 per year. The quartets 1989 recording of the six Bartok String Quartets received a Grammy Award for Best Classical Album of the Yeara rare distinction for a quartet recording. The album, according to critics, set a new standard. On that recording, Drucker and Setzer, as is their habit, each played lead violin on three quartets apiece. The album also received the Grammy Award that year for Best Chamber Music Performance. In 1994, the Emersons Ives: String Quartet Nos. 1 and 2/Barber: String Quartet, op. 11 took the Grammy as the Best Chamber Music Performance of 1993.

In the mid-1990s, the quartet undertook a sizable task in recording the entire collection of 16 Beethoven quartets. As was typical, Drucker and Setzer switched off, performing lead violin on eight quartets apiece. David Patrick Stearns in USA Today called the recordings explosive, and the album earned the Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance in 1997. As a follow-up to the release, the Emersons appeared in a series of Beethoven concerts at the Lincoln Center in New York City throughout 1997 and 1998. In a subsequent Beethoven performance at Caruth Auditorium in Dallas, Texas, in 1999, the Emersons rendered a strongly profiled presentation by a distinguished musical team, according to Dallas Morning News critic Olin Chism in describing the Emersons performance of the Beethoven Opus 132. Similarly, James Wierzbicki in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted that the Emersons Beethoven Opus 130 and 131 was awesome music, and the Emerson Quartet gave it its due. Consistency of approachalong with collective virtuosity and penetrating interpretationsis what makes the Emerson Quartet such a stellar ensemble.

Continued Grammy Success

In 1999, as the twentieth century drew to a close, so too did the Emersons project to record the 15 string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich. Because Shostakovich was largely misunderstood by Western audiences, his quartets, according to the Emersons, are extremely unique and cannot properly be appreciated unless heard in live performance. Shostakovich: The String Quartets, as a result, was recorded from a series of live performances at the Aspen Music Festival. Justin Davidson in the Minneapolis Star Tribune called the collection gripping, ambitious, and unsettling, in its expression of the odd moods of the pieces. The album earned Grammy Awards for Best Chamber Music Performance and Best Classical Album in 2001. Justin Davidson remarked that the Emersons interpretation of the third quartet tempered fury with stylish restraint, [and] offered a more elastic interpretation. The Emersons received additional plaudits for their rendition of the Shostakovich String Quartet No. 15, a piece that was written while the composer remained hospitalized in 1974, shortly before his death. Shostakovich died in 1975, and music historians believe that the composition represents the inspirations of a gravely ill composer as he was subjected to the emotional extremes brought on by sedative medications to ease the pain of his illness.

In 1995, composer and double bass player Edgar Meyer composed a string quintet of four movements expressly for the Emersons, who recorded the piece with Meyer on bass in 1998. Also in the catalog of compositions written expressly for the Emersons is String Quartet No. 2 by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. According to Tom Cardy in the Evening Post, If theres an equivalent to rock superstar status in classical music today, one contender must be the Emerson String Quartet.

For their noteworthy careers, each member of the Emerson String Quartet received an honorary doctorate degree from Middlebury College in Vermont in 1995.

Selected discography

Bartok: The Six String Quartets, Deutsche Grammophon, 1989.

Prokofiev: String Quartets 1 and 2, Deutsche Grammophon, 1992.

Ives: String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2/Barber: String Quartet, Op. 11, Deutsche Grammophon, 1993.

Barber: The Songs, Deutsche Grammophon, 1994.

(With Menahem Pressler) Dvorak: Piano Quintet and Quartet, Deutsche Grammophon, 1994.

String Quartets of Debussy and Ravel, Deutsche Grammophon, 1995.

Beethoven: Complete String Quartets, Deutsche Grammophon, 1997.

Beethoven: The Key to the Quartets, Deutsche Grammophon, 1997.

Meyer: Quintet/Rorem: String Quartet, Deutsche Grammophon, 1998.

(With David Shifrin) Mozart/Brahms: Clarinet Quintets, Deutsche Grammophon, 1999.

(With Mstislav Rostropovitch) Schubert: The Late Quartets and Quintet, Deutsche Grammophon, 1999.

Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 8, Deutsche Grammophon, 1999.

Shostakovich: Complete String Quartets, Deutsche Grammophon, 2000.



Dallas Morning News, October 19, 1999, p. 21 A.

Denver Rocky Mountain News, April 3, 1997, p. 54A; April 21, 1999, p. 11D.

Dominion (Wellington, New Zealand), June 24, 2000, p. 22.

Evening Post (Wellington, New Zealand), June 21, 2000, p. 13.

Jerusalem Post, June 4, 1996, p. 7.

Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 2, 2000, p. 2F.

Newsday, February 7, 2000, p. B5.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 24, 1994, p. 5G.

USA Today, April 1, 1997, p. 4D.


Biographies, ArtistLed, http://www.artistled.com/html/contact_us.htm (May 20, 2001).

Emerson String Quartet Official Website, http://emersonquartet.com (June 28, 2001).

Gloria Cooksey

Emerson String Quartet

views updated May 18 2018


Formed: 1976, New York

Members: Eugene Drucker, violin (born Coral Gables, Florida, 17 May 1952); Lawrence Dutton, viola (born New York, New York, 9 May 1954); David Finckel, cello (born Allentown, Pennsylvania, 6 December 1951); Philip Setzer, violin (Cuyahoga County, Ohio, 12 March 1951). Former members: Guillermo Figueroa, viola; Eric Wilson, cello.

Genre: Classical

Known for its penetrating interpretations, technical brilliance, and dynamic sound, the Emerson String Quartet is considered by many to be the world's finest string quartet. Its performances and recordings of the Beethoven, Bartók, and Shostakovich quartet cycles are highly prized, and the quartet has a long history of promoting music of contemporary composers.

Named for American poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, the quartet was founded in 1976 while violinists Eugene Drucker, Philip Setzer, violist Guillermo Figueroa, and cellist Eric Wilson were students at the Juilliard School. Unlike most quartets, the Emerson has no first and second violins; Setzer and Drucker trade off playing first and second parts from work to work. This helps keep the music fresh and encourages the players to listen and adapt to one another.

In 1977 violist Lawrence Dutton joined the quartet, and the next year the group won the prestigious Naumburg Award for Chamber Music, launching its international career. Cellist David Finckel joined the quartet in 1978, and the Emersons's current lineup was set. That year the quartet played the first of its annual season of recitals at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Since then it has worked with some of the world's most prominent musicians, including Menahem Pressler, Mstislav Rostropovich, Isaac Stern, Thomas Hampson, Leon Fleisher, Emanuel Ax, Oscar Shumsky, and Misha Dichter. The quartet has commissioned or premiered work by Edgar Meyer, Ned Rorem, John Harbison, Mario Davidovsky, and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, among others.

The Emerson Quartet tours relentlessly, giving annual tours at many of the world's most prestigious concert venues and music festivals. The group is also highly committed to teaching and offers master classes in conjunction with its concerts in many of the cities in which it performs. In 1981 it began teaching at the Hartt School in Hartford, Connecticut, and in 2002 it became quartet-in-residence at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. The Emerson Quartet frequently gives concerts to benefit peace, world hunger, children, the fight against AIDS, and other causes.

The Emerson Quartet has won six Grammy Awards, including two for the Bartók String Quartets (1990); one for American Originals (1994), featuring music by John Harbison, Richard Wernick, and Gunther Schuller; another for a set of the complete Beethoven String Quartets (1998); and two more (Best Chamber Music Performance and Best Classical Album) for the complete Shostakovich String Quartets (2000). The Shostakovich set, recorded live over three summers at the Aspen Music Festival, also won Gramophone magazine's Record of the Year honors. In 2000 the Emerson Quartet were chosen as Musical America 's Ensemble of the Year.

Two films have been made about the Emerson Quartet: In Residence at the Renwick (1983), produced for public television, which won an Emmy; and Making Music: The Emerson Quartet, which won first prize at the National Educational Film Festival (1985).

The 1980s saw a boom in chamber music across America, with hundreds of chamber groups and series springing up. In the 1990s the field contracted considerably, but the Emerson Quartet continued to thrive, building on its claim as one of the top chamber ensembles in the world. Its restless exploration of new repertoire and a seemingly natural affinity for the core of the string quartet literature continue to reinvigorate the quartet's performances. The individuality encouraged in each of the members contributes to the freshness of the quartet's interpretations and its ability to produce highly nuanced performances.


Bartók String Quartets (Deutsche Grammophon, 1990); American Originals (Deutsche Grammophon, 1994); Beethoven String Quartets (Deutsche Grammophon, 1998); Shostakovich String Quartets (Deutsche Grammophon, 2000).



douglas mclennan

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