The Emerson Quartet At (Le) Poisson Rouge After more than 35 years together, the Emerson String Quartet has performed in the finest chamber-music venues the world over. On Monday night, for the first time, they played at Le Poisson Rouge.

The Emerson Quartet's latest passion is the late string quartets by Dvorak. Lisa-Marie Mazzucco hide caption

toggle caption
Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

The Emerson Quartet's latest passion is the late string quartets by Dvorak.

Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

Classics in Concert

The Emerson Quartet At (Le) Poisson RougeWQXR radio

The Emerson Quartet At (Le) Poisson Rouge

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/126163957/126368901" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

"The one indispensable quartet." A simple statement, but high praise. That's how one classical-music critic described the Emerson String Quartet, which made its debut at (Le) Poisson Rouge in New York's Greenwich Village.

The group's accomplishments have been vast since it started as a student ensemble at the Juilliard School and then seamlessly went professional in 1976: nine Grammy Awards, more than 30 recordings for Deutsche Grammophon and more than 20 premieres and commissions of new works, to name just a few.

Recently, the quartet has turned its attention to the late string quartets by Antonin Dvorak. There's a new recording of the music, plus a three-concert series at Lincoln Center in New York called Adventures in Bohemia.

For their (Le) Poisson Rouge concert, the Emersons paid homage to Dvorak and revisited some of the repertoire that helped them acquire such accolades as Time Magazine calling them "America's greatest quartet."

About This Performance

Janacek At The Center

At the core of the concert is the String Quartet No. 1 by Leos Janacek. The Emersons have been playing both of Janacek's String Quartets for more than 20 years. In an interview with violinist.com, the Emersons' Philip Setzer (who swaps first violin duties with Eugene Drucker) says they were attracted to Janacek's music because of his unique musical language.

"Janacek was fascinated with speech, the spoken word — the rhythms of it, the pitch of it," Setzer said. "I think he was especially curious about the way that the rhythm and pitch of speech changes when you add emotion — when you're speaking softly, or endearingly, or angrily, or passionately. He studied these things throughout his life and imitated that with his music."

Janacek's Quartet No. 1 has an interesting pedigree. It was inspired by Leo Tolstoy's novel The Kreutzer Sonata, which in turn was inspired by Beethoven's Violin Sonata, Op. 47, subtitled "Kreutzer." In Tolstoy's story, Beethoven's violin and piano is represented by a husband and wife whose marriage becomes increasingly bitter and ends in tragedy.

Also on the wide-ranging bill: Samuel Barber's solemn "Adagio," a sturdy Bach fugue and a movement from one of Beethoven's transcendent late string quartets.

Personnel
  • Eugene Drucker, violin
  • Philip Setzer, violin
  • Lawrence Dutton, viola
  • David Finckel, cello

By this time, after playing together for decades, the quartet can basically finish each other's sentences. Perhaps the most-asked question the Emersons continue to field is, "How on earth have you stayed together so long?" Sure, they have their differences of opinion. They've had tense moments. But it's the sense of humor, they say, that keeps them going. Setzer says they generally have a good time — lots of laughs, without taking themselves too seriously.

The only thing they take seriously, he says, is the music.

[+] read more[-] less

More From Classical

Gurtman and Murtha Artist Management

Ruth Laredo On Piano Jazz

Hear "America's First Lady of the Piano" explore the boundaries between classical music and jazz with host Marian McPartland in this 2004 episode.

Ruth Laredo On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/562620476/562624249" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Dancers in "Stalactites," a video by Mark DeChiazza, based on Orpheus Unsung, a theater work composed by Steven Mackey, with Jason Treuting. Mark DeChiazza hide caption

toggle caption Mark DeChiazza

Orpheus Reborn With Dancers, Drums And Electric Guitar

A new video, featuring a score by Steven Mackey with Jason Treuting, retells the ancient tale of love, loss and the power of music.

Penguin Cafe performs a Tiny Desk Concert on May 2, 2017. (Claire Harbage/NPR) Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Penguin Cafe

Penguin Cafe folds in sounds from around the world and throughout music history — Africa, Kraftwerk, Brazil and Franz Schubert.

Composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir revised her piece Aura especially for The Los Angeles Percussion Quartet. David Holechek hide caption

toggle caption David Holechek

Anna Thorvaldsdottir's Volcanic Transmissions

As members of the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet bow their vibraphones, brush their gongs and message their bass drums, the composer's evocative music oozes from blackness.

Ludovico Einaudi, performing live for KCRW. Larry Hirshowitz/KCRW hide caption

toggle caption Larry Hirshowitz/KCRW

Ludovico Einaudi, 'Petricor' (Live)

KCRW

Watch the pianist and composer, joined by a full band, in a stunning live performance for KCRW.

Opera singer Joyce DiDonato created this video to go with her new album, In War and Peace: Harmony through Music. Warner Classics hide caption

toggle caption Warner Classics

In Chaotic Times, A Singer's Plea For Freedom

Opera star Joyce DiDonato does more than sing — she lends her voice to social causes. Watch her new video, a haunting depiction of a woman trapped in conflict.

Back To Top