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Fantastic Four: Emerson String Quartet Returns with Bartók's Boldest
by Joe Shriner
St. Joseph’s Day’s not the only reason to be celebrating this Tuesday. On March 19, in Dixion Hall at Tulane University, the internationally lionized Emerson String Quartet will be back in New Orleans performing string quartets by Haydn, Schumann, and Bartók.
These pieces represent three centuries of the string quartet as a powerful genre in chamber music, scored by three of the form’s greatest composers, and will be performed by musicians at the top of their profession.
One doesn’t necessarily have to be a classical music aficionado to have heard of the Emerson Quartet, who in their 37-year tenure have developed a reputation as the premier string quartet in America. In addition to having recorded stacks of highly regarded albums over the past three decades, they have won nine Grammy Awards, three Gramophone Awards, and the Avery Fisher Prize for outstanding achievement in classical music. Their international renown and continuing praise by music fans and critics alike causes them to draw a pretty large crowd.
This Tuesday should certainly prove to be no different. New Orleans Friends of Music will be presenting the Emerson Quartet on their stage in Dixon Hall at Tulane University at 8 pm. Preceding the performance at 7 p.m., Friends of Music will be continuing its free pre-concert lecture series presented by a musicologist who will discuss in detail the pieces being performed.
The pieces Emerson will be performing are part of their regular repertoire. Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet, Opus, 20, No. 4, is considered among the works that Haydn wrote in 1772 that defined the model of what we now consider the string quartet, paving the way for orchestration by future composers.
Robert Schumann’s String Quartet in A Major is the composer’s first attempt at writing a string quartet, and perhaps because of having less of a grasp on the form, creates an innovative romantic work that strays from the Haydn mold, but has no less of a powerful effect.
The Emerson Quartet won a Grammy in 1989 for their interpretation of Béla Bartók’s string quartets. On Tuesday, they will be performing Bartók’s possibly most thematically and structurally complex of them: String Quartet, No. 3. This piece has no breaks between the four parts, creating one long movement. Because of its intricacy, the dissonance and beauty of the piece could easily be lost on less accomplished musicians. Being able to see the Emerson Quartet perform Bartók’s No. 3 should be motivation enough to attend for those on the fence.
This is not the first time the Emerson Quartet has performed in New Orleans. In fact, this is the 18th time they will be performing on the Friends of Music stage. Those who would wish to see the members of the current 34-year-old line up, however, be sure not to miss this performance. At the end of this concert season cellist David Finckel will be replaced Paul Watkins while he moves on to focus more time his own artistic endeavors.
Tickets are $30. Pre-concert lecture is free. For more information, visit the Friends of Music website or call (504) 895-0690.
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