EMERSON STRING QUARTET VIOLINIST EUGENE DRUCKER COMMENTS ON THE EMERSON’S THREE-CONCERT SERIES IN ALICE TULLY HALL: SUNDAY, MARCH 23, WEDNESDAY, APRIL 23 and SUNDAY, MAY 5
*First Series in New York City With Cellist Paul Watson*
With the arrival of cellist Paul Watkins in May of 2013, the Emerson Quartet has embarked on a remarkable new journey – one filled with freshness, warmth and impressive accolades. Mr. Watkins, a distinguished soloist, award-winning conductor, and dedicated chamber musician, has joined the ensemble for its 37th season, and his dedication and enthusiasm have already infused the Emerson Quartet with a rich tone and vibrant sense of humor. On Sunday, March 23, the Emerson Quartet begins a three-concert series in Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, which is focused on the last five quartets of Shostakovich juxtaposed with Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” and the last quartets of Mendelssohn and Britten. The unifying theme in these programs is the preoccupation with death. Violinist, Eugene Drucker describes the series as follows:
“Our series will feature the last 5 quartets of Shostakovich juxtaposed with Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” and the last quartets of Mendelssohn and Britten. Britten and Shostakovich were friends, partly through the role of Mstislav Rostropovich as a major interpreter of their works. Apart from this personal connection, if one had to identify a unifying theme in these programs, it would be a preoccupation with death.
Mendelssohn wrote his dark, obsessive Op. 80 after his beloved sister Fanny died of an aneurysm. He never recovered from the shock, and died himself half a year later. This quartet has none of the lightness we usually associate with Mendelssohn, even in the movement that occupies the traditional place of the Scherzo. The slow movement is one of the most elegiac pieces in the whole chamber music repertoire, and the finale is virtuosic but driven. There seems to be no relief from the oppressive atmosphere, the emotional burden that the composer was carrying.
Schubert wrote his D Minor Quartet immediately after learning that he had syphilis, four years before he died at the age of 31. The fixation on death in the slow movement, a theme and variations based on a song Schubert had written earlier about a harrowing encounter between a young girl and an allegorical death figure, spreads through the entire work. The quartet opens with a portentous descending triplet figure, which through repetition and development in the course of the first movement takes on the dramatic heft of a fate motif. The finale is a demonic tarantella, a dance of death.
The Recitative and Passacaglia with which Britten closes his third quartet, written during his final visit to Venice the year before he died, make several references to his opera, “Death in Venice.” Britten observed that the quartet ends with a question, and it is not one that is resolved. The first violinist of the Amadeus Quartet, which premiered the work, said, “Ben wrote his own death.”
The last five quartets of Shostakovich express many different moods, from the epigrammatic mysteries of the Eleventh and the thrilling deployment of sonic resources with which he ends the Twelfth through the searing anguish of the Thirteenth, the bittersweet Mahlerian elegy in the slow movement and coda of the Fourteenth, to the unutterable bleakness of the Fifteenth, a series of six slow movements written in the last year of the composer’s life, when he was suffering from a neuromuscular disease that made it difficult for him even to write notes on the page. Speaking of the static, almost paralytic fugue with which he opened the Fifteenth Quartet, Shostakovich said it should be played so slowly that even the flies in mid-air would drop dead. Still, all five of these quartets have moments of great beauty and lyricism, as well as the trademark visceral impact that makes the music of this tormented composer so unique.”
EMERSON STRING QUARTET
ALICE TULLY HALL
SUNDAY, MARCH 23 at 5:00PM
Shostakovich: Quartet No. 11 in F minor, op. 122
Mendelsohn: String Quartet No. 6 in F minor, Op. 80
Shostakovich: Quartet No.12 in D flat Major, Op. 133
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 23 at 7:30PM
Shostakovich: Quartet No. 13 in b-flat minor, Op. 138
Britten: Quartet No. 3
Shostakovich: Quartet No. 14 in F# Major, Op. 142
SUNDAY, MAY 4 at 5:00PM
Shostakovich: Quartet No. 15 in E-flat minor, Op. 144
Schubert: String Quartet in d minor, D. 810 “Death and the Maiden”
Tickets, starting at $45, are available online at LCGreatPerformers.org, by calling CenterCharge at 212.721.6500, or at the Avery Fisher and Alice Tully Hall box offices, Broadway and 65th Street.