The Emerson String Quartet says goodbye to Boston as the door swings open to the Danes

The Fab Four of classical music no longer exists. The Emerson String Quartet has said his last gig in Boston will be on his January 22nd at Jordan Hall, calling it quits.

It might be an overstatement to call them the Beatles of classical music, but if the Liverpoolers gave me a deeper understanding of blues and R&B-based music, the Emersonian gave me the elegant soulfulness of a string quartet. opened my eyes.

Not that I hadn’t dabbled in it before, but watching the famous Juilliard String Quartet seemed like an almost church-like brain exercise. The hip Kronos Quartet went too far in the opposite direction, devolving into kitsch that was too sexy for Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” shirt.

But one time in the late 80’s, a friend asked me if I’d like to see the Emerson String Quartet perform an all-Beethoven concert in Woodstock, New York. 60’s.

Here are four men who not only play gracefully and passionately, but also seem to have a lively conversation with each other through their instruments, with Ludwig van as interlocutor. In addition, the quartet of violinists Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer, viola player Lawrence Dutton and cellist David Finkel really enjoyed themselves. Finkel leaned over the cello like Roger his Federer leaned over his forehand, here smiling or raising an eyebrow at one of his buddies.

And, to quote Bela Lugosi, “the music they make.” Since then, I’ve been to almost every one of their Celebrity Series of Boston concerts. I also went to many of the Tanglewood concerts. Since Woodstock, their hair has turned gray (or shedding), and they’ve been sitting back since the turn of the millennium decided their tone was better standing. Even so, time and gravity move on.

Emerson String Quartet cellist David Finkel’s final appearance in Boston — Philip Setzer, Eugene Drucker, Finkel, Lawrence Dutton. (Photo by Jordan Jennings)

Unfortunately, all great things come to an end. January 22nd is the Boston stop on sans Finckel’s farewell tour, who left in 2013 to take on a myriad of other projects. Finkel was replaced by Paul Watkins, a well-known cellist and a relatable figure in his own right.

Drucker and Setzer, the two original members, formed the group in 1976, followed by Dutton a year later and Finkel in 1979. Deutsche Grammophon signed more or less as a quartet music house band.

DG was well rewarded for its selection. Time Magazine called them “America’s Greatest Quartet” and won nine Grammy Awards, including three must-have box sets featuring the complete quartets of Beethoven, Bartok and Shostakovich, as well as two of Ives’ quartets. made an excellent recording of The group and Ives share a deep admiration for the quartet’s philosophical namesake, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Is that reflected in their playing? I think so, with a less European, more American perspective and a philosophical exploration beyond the notes.

The concert in Boston will sample from each of the three box sets, along with African-American composer George Walker’s “Lyric for Strings.” And even those with conservative tastes don’t have to be put off by the program. The Walker recalls Samuel Barber’s famous quartet at its best.

No one would confuse them with contemporary specialists like the Jacques Quartet or Kronos, but the fact that the Emmersons bow in concerts of mostly 20th- and 21st-century music is a sign of their under-appreciation. It speaks of an adventurous spirit that is valued. They participated in his two theatrical productions of Shostakovich, “The Noise of Time,” which he co-produced with Simon McBurney and his Complicité in 2001, and his 2017 “Shostakovich and the Mad Monk.” bottom. His second in art and Tanglewood.

Also at Tanglewood, the Emerson family attended the 2019 All-Star World Premiere of Tom Stoppard and the late André Previn’s “Penelope” alongside Renée Fleming, Uma Thurman and pianist Simone Dinnerstein. CDs such as Carja Saariaho’s “Terra Memoria” and Wolfgang Rihm’s “Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra, Dicilambe” were performed with the Cleveland Orchestra led by Christoph von Dognani, but DG and subsequent labels was clearly not interested. At least we got to hear the latter at his memorable 1993 Celebrity Series concert.

Despite these missing pieces, the Emersons leave a fine legacy richer than any string quartet, including Juilliard. January 22nd is, like all goodbyes, a sad day, but what an honor it was to accompany you on such a joyful journey. And Beethoven’s Razumovsky Quartet No. 2 foreshadows the group’s joyful farewell.

Danish string quartet. Rune Tonsgaard Sorensen (violin), Fredrik Schoen Scherin (cello), Asbjorn Norgaard (viola), Frederik Orland (violin).  (Courtesy Caroline Bittencourt)
Danish String Quartet: Rene Tonsgaard Sorensen (violin), Fredrik Schoen Schoen (cello), Asbjorn Norgaard (viola), Frederik Oeland (violin) (Courtesy Caroline Bittencourt)

you know the saying When one door closes, another door opens. The Boston Globe’s Jeremy Eichler told me about a Danish string quartet a few years ago. Their sublime “Prism” series brings the late Beethoven quartets back to Bach and to later composers such as Shostakovich, Schnittke, Bartok and Mendelssohn.

That’s not the focus of the January 27th concert, which features Haydn, Britten and Shostakovich in the first half. The Danes are also characterized by their crystal-clear tones, lively dialogue, and Emerson-like abilities that make composers like Shostakovich as approachable as Beethoven and Beethoven as modern composers are. . (And they’re the next generation, so they’re hip and have more hair.)

I have yet to see them in concert, but reviewing the full Beethoven Quartet traversal at Alice Tully Hall, New York Times critic Anthony Tomasini writes: . All Scandinavians feel like they have a little bit of an anarchist in them, the group’s violist Asbjörn Norgaard said in a 2016 interview.

Another notable aspect of the quartet’s repertoire is its advocacy of Nordic folk music, much like Irish folk music. This concludes his Celebrity Series concert, which will also be held at Jordan Hall on January 27th. Here they are playing his NPR Tiny Desk Concert.

How many times have you danced to a string quartet concert? This may be the first time.

During the Celebrity Series of Boston, the Emerson String Quartet’s final Boston concert will be on Sunday, January 22 at 3:00 PM at the New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, while the Danish String Quartet will also perform on Friday, January 27 at 8:00 PM. It takes place at Jordan Hall.

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