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234th Season

The Emerson String Quartet


The Emerson String Quartet stands alone in the history of string quartets with an unparalleled list of achievements over three decades: over thirty acclaimed recordings produced with Deutsche Grammophon since 1987, nine Grammy® Awards (including two for Best Classical Album, an unprecedented honor for a chamber music group), three Gramophone Awards, the coveted Avery Fisher Prize and cycles of the complete Beethoven, Bartók, Mendelssohn and Shostakovich string quartets in the world's musical capitals, from New York to London and Vienna. The Quartet has collaborated in concerts and on recordings with some of the greatest artists of our time. After more than 32 years of extensive touring and recording, the Emerson Quartet continues to perform with the same benchmark integrity, energy and commitment that it has demonstrated since it was formed in 1976.

The 2009-2010 season comprises more than ninety engagements worldwide, with a three-concert series at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London's Southbank Centre, two concerts at Wigmore Hall, and performances in Prague and at the Edinburgh International Festival. European tours feature multiple stops in Spain, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Austria and France. North American engagements are highlighted by a three-concert series entitled Adventures in Bohemia in the recently-renovated Alice Tully Hall at New York's Lincoln Center. A correlated 3-CD set for Deutsche Grammophon of Dvo?ák's late quartets, Cypresses and the viola quintet will be released in 2010. Additional concerts include Philadelphia, New Orleans, San Diego, Boston, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Houston, Salt Lake City, Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver, among others. In 2010, the Emerson embarks on a rare tour of Asia, visiting Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Taipei. The Quartet continues its residency at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, now in its 30th sold-out season.

2006-2007 marked the Quartet's 30/20 Anniversary Season - celebrating 30 years of quartet activity and 20 years as exclusive Deutsche Grammophon recording artists. Carnegie Hall honored the Quartet with an historic nine-concert Perspectives series, titled Beethoven In Context, held in the Isaac Stern Auditorium. Juxtaposing Beethoven's quartet repertoire with notable compositions spanning three centuries, the series received an overwhelming response from audiences, which leapt to their feet after every concert, and the New York Times covered the series with eight outstanding reviews. "Concertgoers have come to count on these superb musicians, who are celebrating their 30th anniversary with this series and who continue to play with technical command, musical insight, vivid imagination and tireless enthusiasm." (The New York Times). Additional performances of note were a Shostakovich cycle at Washington's Kennedy Center and two extensive European tours, which included concerts in London, Vienna, Prague, Berlin and Paris and complete Beethoven cycles in Valencia and Badenweiler. Deutsche Grammophon released a two-CD Brahms album consisting of the three string quartets and the Piano Quintet with Leon Fleisher. As a special tribute, Deutsche Grammophon and iTunes joined forces to offer an exclusive three-disc retrospective of the Emerson in June 2007 - a project featuring recording triumphs intermingled with personal interviews.

In the fall of 2002, the Emerson joined Stony Brook University as Quartet-in-Residence, coaching chamber music, giving master classes and providing instrumental instruction. The ensemble conducted its first three International Chamber Music Workshops at Stony Brook in June 2004, 2006, and 2008. In addition to these duties, the group performs several concerts during the year at Stony Brook's Staller Center for the Arts, and continues its educational affiliation with Carnegie Hall. The Quartet has conducted three Professional Training Workshops at Carnegie's Weill Music Institute, focusing on the Bartók quartets, quintets of Brahms and Dvo?ák and most recently the Beethoven quartets, in conjunction with the Perspective Series. In 2000, the Emerson was named 'Ensemble of the Year' by Musical America, and in March 2004, became the 18th recipient of the Avery Fisher Prize - another first for a chamber ensemble.

Throughout its history, the Emerson String Quartet has garnered an international reputation for groundbreaking chamber music projects and correlated recordings for Deutsche Grammophon. In 1988, the Quartet attracted national attention with the presentation of the six Bartók quartets in a single evening for its Carnegie Hall debut. The Emerson's subsequent release of the cycle received the 1989 Grammy® Awards for "Best Classical Album" and "Best Chamber Music Performance" and Gramophone Magazine's 1989 "Record of the Year Award" - the first time in the history of each award that a chamber music ensemble had ever received the top prize.

In March 1997, the Quartet released a seven-disc set of the complete Beethoven quartets and organized a series of performances over two seasons at New York's Lincoln Center entitled "Beethoven and the Twentieth Century," a total of eight concerts that each paired two Beethoven quartets with a twentieth-century composition. Initial reviews of this series were so strong that the remaining performances were completely sold out; the Beethoven recording earned a Grammy® Award for "Best Chamber Music Album."

In 2000, the Emerson performed the complete Shostakovich quartets at Lincoln Center in New York and in London, in a cycle divided between the Wigmore Hall and the Barbican. Each series culminated with The Noise of Time, a theatrical presentation directed by Simon McBurney (Street of Crocodiles, The Chairs) featuring the Quartet and Complicité, Mr. McBurney's theater company. Blending film, choreography, taped readings and live music, the multimedia work explored the haunted life of Dmitri Shostakovich through his 15th String Quartet. Since 2001, The Noise of Time has been repeated to great acclaim in Los Angeles, Berlin, Vienna, Paris and Moscow. In 2008, New York Magazine named The Noise of Time one of the most important contributions to the arts in New York since the inception of the magazine.

The theatrical nature of Shostakovich's music and its powerful effect on audiences led the Emerson to record the Shostakovich Quartets live during three summers of performances at the Aspen Music Festival. Meticulous editing eliminated virtually all background noise, and the recording on the Deutsche Grammophon label has been praised for its intensity and energy. The five-disc set won the 2000 Grammy® Awards for "Best Classical Album" and "Best Chamber Music Performance," as well as Gramophone Magazine's "Best Chamber Music Performance" Award for 2000.

Additional projects of note included the 2001 US premiere performances of Wolfgang Rihm's quartet concerto, Dithyrambe, with Christoph von Dohnanyi and the Cleveland Orchestra in Severance Hall, Boston's Symphony Hall and New York's Carnegie Hall. Through these theatrical and orchestral experiences, the quartet became intrigued with the idea of standing while performing and began to experiment with this style in chamber music appearances. The two violinists and the violist of the Emerson now stand for most performances; the cellist plays on a small podium.

Recordings on the Deutsche Grammophon label include the most recent release, May 2009's Intimate Letters, featuring chamber works by Janá?ek and Martin? and winner of the 2010 Grammy® for Best Chamber Music Performance, J.S. Bach Fugues from "The Well Tempered Clavier", the Grammy® Award- winning Intimate Voices, a recording of Grieg, Nielsen and Sibelius string quartets, and the complete Mendelssohn string quartets and octet, which received 2005 Grammy® Awards for "Best Chamber Music Performance" and "Best Engineered Album, Classical." The Emerson Quartet has also recorded Haydn's Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross, Bach's Art of Fugue, The Haydn Project (a selection of seven quartets from various periods of Haydn's career) and The Emerson Encores, preceded by interpretations of quartets by Schumann, Brahms, Dvo?ák, Smetana, Tchaikovsky, Borodin and Prokofiev, the set of six quartets Mozart dedicated to Haydn, the Schubert Cello Quintet with Mstislav Rostropovich, the Schumann Piano Quintet and Quartet with Menahem Pressler, Dvo?ák Piano Quintet and Quartet with Pressler, and the complete string works of Anton Webern and Samuel Barber's Dover Beach with baritone Thomas Hampson. Several of these recordings were nominated for Grammy® Awards. In 1994, the Emerson won its third Grammy®, for "Best Chamber Music Recording" with a disc of "American Originals" - the quartets of Ives and Barber.

Dedicated to the performance of classical repertoire, the Emerson String Quartet also has demonstrated a strong commitment to the commissioning and performance of 20th- and 21st-century music. Important commissions and premieres include compositions by Pierre Jalbert (2011), Lawrence Dillon (2010), Bright Sheng (2007), Kaija Saariaho (2007), Nicholas Maw (2006), Andre Prévin (2003), Joan Tower (2003), Ellen Taaffe Zwillich (1998), Edgar Meyer (1995), Ned Rorem (1995), Paul Epstein (1994), Wolfgang Rihm (1993), Richard Wernick (1991), Richard Danielpour (1988), John Harbison (1987), Gunther Schuller (1986), George Tsontakis (1984), Maurice Wright (1983), Ronald Caltabiano (1981) and Mario Davidovsky (1979).

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 Lawrence Dutton and cellist David Finckel. The Quartet has performed numerous benefit concerts for causes ranging from nuclear disarmament to campaigns against AIDS, world hunger and children's diseases. The Quartet members were honored by the Governor of Connecticut for their outstanding cultural contributions to the state, and in 1994 received the University Medal for Distinguished Service from the University of Hartford, where they were quartet-in-residence for two decades until 2002. In 1995, each member was awarded an honorary doctoral degree by Middlebury College in Vermont. They have also received a Smithson Award from the Smithsonian Institution. In 2006, the quartet received an honorary doctorate from Wooster College, where it has performed frequently. In May 2009, the four musicians were honored with a doctorate from Bard College.

The Emerson String Quartet has been featured in New York Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, USA Today, Elle, Bon Appétit, Gramophone, The Strad, and Strings. Television appearances include PBS's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, WNET's City Arts, WLIW's Metroguide, and A&E's Biography of Beethoven and Breakfast with the Arts. The ensemble has been the subject of two award-winning films: the nationally televised WETA-TV production In Residence at the Renwick (Emmy Award for Excellence, 1983) and Making Music: The Emerson String Quartet (First Place for Music, National Education Film Festival, 1985). To commemorate its 25th-anniversary season, the Quartet compiled a commemorative book entitled Converging Lines. Written in the members' own words, the book contains never-before-published text, graphics and photos from the Emerson's private archives. The Quartet is based in New York City.

"America's greatest quartet." -Time Magazine

"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." -The New Yorker

"The Emerson gives 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 Emerson String Quartet website

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