It has gained attention not only as an ensemble in constant pursuit of exciting new projects, but also as a group of individuals who possess genuine warmth of character and tireless spirit: "The Emerson has the traditional string-quartet virtues; each player is a strongly characterized individual, but the ensemble is temperamentally as well as sonically in balance. The four minds play upon each other, and upon the work, in perfect harmony; the players are in tune in all senses of the phrase. If one of them should be captured by a sudden, new inspiration, he could follow its prompting confident of his partners' understanding and support." (The New Yorker)
"The Beethoven quartets are central to the string quartet repertoire, and perhaps chamber music in general. There are 16 quartets; they encompass about 30 years of Beethoven's creative life . . . and I think they cast a long shadow over the rest of the19th century."
Listen to an anecdote
By Quartet member Eugene Drucker about why
The Emerson String Quartet chose to record the quartets.
Formed in the Bicentennial year of the United States, the Emerson String Quartet took its name from the great American poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. Violinists Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer alternate in the first chair position, and are joined by violist Larry Dutton and cellist David Finckel. They attracted national attention in 1988 with the presentation of six Bartok quartets in a single evening for their Carnegie Hall début. In 1989-90, its recording of the same cycle received a Grammy Award for Best Classical Album and Gramophone Magazine's Record of the Year Award. This was the first time in the history of each award that a chamber music ensemble had ever received the top prize.
"Viscerally communicative...incandescent...the most exciting American Quartet of its generation." -The New York TimesBeginning in February 1994, the Emerson String Quartet embarked on its most ambitious recording project to date: the complete quartets of Ludwig van Beethoven. The quartet has often performed the cycle in six concerts within an eight-day period, in chronological order. In this format, performers and audience alike experience the unfolding and development of Beethoven's style. The quartet sought to recapture some of the chemistry of this intense performing situation by recording these monumental works in a concentrated period. Released in March 1997, the set has been received with overwhelming critical acclaim: "To sum up - the Emerson give us playing of exceptional technical accomplishment and an unusually wide expressive range. They continually offer new insights into some endlessly enthralling music. Do hear them." (Gramophone).
The Quartet has performed many benefit concerts for causes ranging from nuclear disarmament to the fight against AIDS, world hunger, and children's diseases. The Quartet has been the topic of two award-winning films and is featured on a Teldec laser disc. In 1997, the Emerson players celebrate their 16th year as faculty members at the Hartt School of Music of the University of Hartford, where they inaugurated a special training program for young artists. This is also the 17th season of the Emerson's series at the Smithsonian Institution.
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