On Wednesday, Dec. 4, the nine-time Grammy winning Emerson String Quartet performed work from Ludwig van Beethoven and Béla Bartók at the Staller Center for the Arts. Bartók’s “String Quartet’s No. 2” and “String Quartet’s No. 5” and Beethoven’s “String Quartet in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1” was played during the evening of music. The Quartet was made up of violinists Eugene Drucker, Philip Setzer and Lawrence Dutton with cellist Paul Watkins.
According to the bill, the concert was performed in memory of Hanna Roth Tennen, founder of the Roth Fund, which provides violin students with scholarships. About the Roth Fund, Setzer said, “This fund has helped the school, and especially those students, immeasurably. We will all miss her and I will feel the loss of a long-lasting and loving friendship.”
The Quartet has been honored with many awards: two Grammys for Best Classical Album and Ensemble of the Year at the 2000 Musical America Awards.
The Emerson String Quartet has undeniable energy, the kind that completely captures and engages. The skill that the group possesses comes from a clear passion for the music they play.
Although the group plays well, Bartóks “String Quartet No. 2” doesn’t have as much of an impact as the other works played that night. “Quartet No. 2” is known for its rapidly changing pace, going from slow to fast and back again. Mark Steinberg writes, “The impression conveyed by the work as a whole, though it is from the musical point of view formally perfect, is that of a spontaneous experience.” These moments of spontaneity are appreciated but soon became slightly tiresome.
The strongest moments in the concert were found during their rendition of Beethoven’s “String Quartet in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1” and Bartók’s “String Quartet No. 5.” Drucker moved to first violin for these two works and delivered a notable performance.
Their rendition of Beethoven was strong with the last three movements in the work providing a slow and ethereal feeling. There was an ease within every movement; the quartet was readily able to capture the essence of every sound with no obvious difficulty. In the second movement “Adagio molto,” the quartet offered a hauntingly beautiful march that seemed to stifle all shifting and movement from the audience. It was a movement that deserved attention, and whose raw and beautiful sound couldn’t be ignored.
The quartet was able to play in a very structured manner that allowed them to deliver every work with a specific intensity. It’s clear that there was a kind of communication amongst the group while on stage. It’s hard to miss the moments of eye contact and encouraging head nods — all a testament to their talent and comfort among each other.
There is a huge appreciation for the Emerson String Quartet. The Staller Center was full of an audience diverse in age, packed with Stony Brook University students and locals alike. There is a universal appreciation for Bartók and Beethoven, but the audience isn’t just present for their work; they are also there for the intense and passionate execution of the Emerson String Quartet.
On April 1, 2020, the quartet will be at the Staller Center for the Arts where they will perform Bartók’s “Quarte No. 4” and “Quartet No. 6” and Beethoven’s “Quartet in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3” (“Razumovsky”). Tickets are available on the Staller Center’s website.