Emerson String Quartet to play Hop WWI series

by Margarette Nelson | 10/19/14 3:54pm

Nine-time Grammy Award winners The Emerson String Quartet will perform at the Hopkins Center on Tuesday evening. The program will consist of string quartet works from composers Benjamin Britten, Maurice Ravel and Dmitri Shostakovich.

Comprised of violinists Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer, violist Lawrence Dutton and cellist Paul Watkins, The Emerson Quartet has released dozens of albums and is one of the most well-known quartets of our time.

The program is part of The Hop’s “World War I Reconsidered” series.

Although the dates of the quartets don’t fall perfectly in line with World War I — Ravel finished his quartet in 1903, with the Britten and Shostakovich quartets date back to 1945 and 1946, respectively — elements of warfare can be heard in the pieces.

“[Ravel’s ‘String Quartet in F Major’] is a piece on tone color and varieties,” Drucker said. He contrasted Ravel’s work with those of the Austro-German tradition, in which composers tended to use more of an attack with the bow.

Britten’s “Quartet No. 2 in C Major, Op. 36” commemorates the 250th anniversary of Henry Purcell’s death. Britten wrote the composition after performing the piece at newly liberated concentration camps following World War I.

The Shostakovich quartet’s third movement takes on a depiction of war, giving off a manic characteristic, Drucker said. The following movement is a funeral march, whose background hints at “the atmosphere of war,” he said.

Tuesday’s performance will mark the quartet’s sixth show at the Hop, and the first one at the Hop featuring Watkins, who joined the group in Mayfollowing the departure of David Finckel.

The quartet regards Dartmouth as one of the important concerts on their circuit and have gotten to know Dartmouth community members over the years, Drucker said.

“There is a sense of a very lively intellectual and cultural life [at Dartmouth],” Drucker said.

Dutton will hold a master class on Tuesday afternoon where he will coach a quartet and a piano trio, music lecturer Alex Ogle said. He will spend about 40 minutes each with the groups, who are performing a work by Haydn and Mendelssohn, respectively.

“Their playing is extraordinary, polished and intelligent,” Ogle said.

Violinist Joseph Hwang ’17, a member of a piano trio playing in Tuesday’s master class said he is excited for the quartet’s visit, calling the group “probably the most famous quartet.”

“[The quartet’s] longevity is really important,” Hwang said, “You don’t see many ensembles going on for 40 years.”

With a group as renowned and long-lasting as the Emerson String Quartet, young artists should pay particular attention to how the professional musicians interact on stage, Hwang said.

“They are on the same musical wavelength at all times,” he said.

The Emerson Quartet has recorded both the Ravel and Shostakovich quartet featured in Tuesday night’s program. The latter was released in 2000 alongside the rest of the Shostakovich quartets, for which the group earned a Grammy.

The group plans to record Britten’s works in the near future, Drucker said.

The addition of Watkins, whose playing style Drucker said has a “rich, bass, baritone-like quality,” adds a new element to pieces in the group’s repertoire.

“It’s like re-discovery, even if we don’t make conscious decisions to change the interpretation,” Drucker said. “Everything for us is a somewhat new experience.”

Since the Emersons recorded the Shostakovich quartet in 2000, they have played the entire Shostakovich cycle a number of times, giving them a different perspective, Drucker said.