Emerson String Quartet life and biography

Emerson String Quartet picture, image, poster

Emerson String Quartet biography

Date of birth : -
Date of death : -
Birthplace : New York City, New York, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2012-04-30
Credited as : string quartet, Oscar Shumsky students, won nine Grammy Awards

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The Emerson String Quartet is a New York–based string quartet in residence at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Previously the Quartet was in residence at The Hartt School. Formed in 1976, they have released more than twenty albums and won nine Grammy Awards. Both violinists in the quartet were students of the noted violinist Oscar Shumsky. 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 Drucker and Setzer alternate as first and second violinists.

During the final decades of the twentieth century, music critics hailed the arrival of the Emerson String Quartet--whose namesake is poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson--praising the impressive sound of these musicians. The Emerson musicians--Eugene Drucker, Philip Setzer, David Finckel, and Lawrence Dutton--had collected a total of six Grammy Awards by 2001, including two for Best Classical Album of the year. The Emersons, according to critics, came to represent the apex of their art, and they set a new standard for performance of the Bartok String Quartets in 1989. In 1997, their interpretation of the elusive and extremely difficult Beethoven Quartets captured the emotion of the pieces. In 2000, the quartet's recording of the Shostakovich Quartets brought Western music critics to a new appreciation of the Russian composer's work.

Observers have applauded the Emersons for their unique individuality and some have suggested that the underlying personal independence retained by each member of the quartet is a key factor to the success of their collaborations. Emerson String Quartet founders Drucker and Setzer began playing in chamber ensembles as violin students of Oscar Shumsky at New York City's renowned Juilliard School of Music during the early 1970s. Drucker distinguished himself in 1975 with a prize-winning performance at the International Violin Competition in Montreal, Quebec, and then took a bronze medal at the 1976 Queen Elisabeth of Belgium International Competition in Brussels. Additionally, as a winner of the Concert Artist Guild prize that year, he performed in a New York City debut. His instrument of preference is a prized Antonius Stradivarius instrument made in Cremona, Italy, dating back to 1686.

Cleveland, Ohio-born Philip Setzer came from a musical family. His parents were musicians with the Cleveland Orchestra, and young Setzer began his musical studies at age five. Among his early teachers were Josef Gingold and Raphael Druian. Setzer took second prize at the Meriwether Post Competition in Washington, D.C. in 1967, and along with his colleague, Drucker, took a bronze medal at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 1976. Both Setzer and Drucker have contributed their talents as visiting professors of violin at the University of Hartford's Hartt School of Music. In 1997, Setzer lent his expertise in master classes at the Isaac Stern Chamber Workshop at Carnegie Hall. The following year he contributed his talents to the Isaac Stern Chamber Music Encounter in Jerusalem, Israel. Setzer's instrument of preference is a modern violin by Samuel Zygmuntowicz of Brooklyn. Setzer inspired Paul Epstein's Matinee Concerto and premiered the piece with the Hartt Wind Symphony. Despite criticism from conservative traditionalists, Drucker and Setzer regularly switch positions in their performances between first and second violin parts. In fact, by their own admission, they go to great lengths to equalize the lead position between them. In presenting the selections of most composers, the two violinists divide the repertoire evenly, although each performer has a specialty. Drucker takes the lead for pieces by Debussy, and Setzer plays first chair for Ravel's works.

Dutton, on viola, joined Drucker and Setzer in 1977 and the trio added cellist Finckel in 1979. Dutton began his musical studies on both the viola and violin with Margaret Pardee before devoting his studies exclusively to viola at the Eastman School where he studied under Frances Tursi. He later studied with Lilian Fuchs at Juilliard and received both bachelor's and master's degrees from that school. At Juilliard, Dutton distinguished himself as a winner of the Walter M. Naumberg scholarship. Like his colleagues Drucker and Setzer, Dutton is a visiting professor at the Hartt School of Music. His world-class accomplishments include concert performances with noted string players such as Rostropovich and Shumsky, as well as Lynn Harrell, Misha Dichter, and Isaac Stern. His guest performances extend from the Guarneri Quartet to the Beaux Arts Trio. Dutton's instrument of choice is a 1796 Pietro Giovanni Mantegazza viola from Milan, Italy.

Finckel, a rare American student of Mstislav Rostropovich, was born to a family of cellists. After some years of study under the guidance of his father, Finckel made his debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra at age 15, in recognition of a prize-winning performance in that orchestra's junior competition. Two years later, Rostropovich, upon hearing Finckel play, took him as a student for nine years. At the end of his studies Finckel was honored to perform as a soloist with Rostropovich and the Basel Symphony Orchestra. Additionally, Finckel was the first Piatigorsky Artist Award recipient from the New England Conservatory. He has performed in recitals throughout the eastern United States and teaches regularly with the Isaac Stern Chamber Music Workshops in the United States and Israel. He also contributes his time to the summertime master class program at the Aspen Music Festival. Finckel spent three years during the late 1990s as the artistic co-director of SummerFest La Jolla.

As the four musicians gelled into a quartet during the late 1970s, their expectation for the future remained undefined. As they completed their studies, they continued to perform in quartet on a limited basis, increasing their repertoire and expanding their performance schedule throughout the 1980s. In 1987, the Emerson String Quartet signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon, a relationship which resulted in a wide assortment of recordings, including a number of award-winning albums. By 2000 public performances by the four musicians had increased to approximately 100 per year. The quartet's 1989 recording of the six Bartok String Quartets received a Grammy Award for Best Classical Album of the Year--a rare distinction for a quartet recording. The album, according to critics, set a new standard. On that recording, Drucker and Setzer, as is their habit, each played lead violin on three quartets apiece. The album also received the Grammy Award that year for Best Chamber Music Performance. In 1994, the Emersons' Ives: String Quartet Nos. 1 and 2/Barber: String Quartet, op. 11 took the Grammy as the Best Chamber Music Performance of 1993.

In the mid 1990s, the quartet undertook a sizable task in recording the entire collection of 16 Beethoven quartets. As was typical, Drucker and Setzer switched off, performing lead violin on eight quartets apiece. David Patrick Stearns in USA Todaycalled the recordings "explosive," and the album earned the Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance in 1997. As a follow-up to the release, the Emersons appeared in a series of Beethoven concerts at the Lincoln Center in New York City throughout 1997 and 1998. In a subsequent Beethoven performance at Caruth Auditorium in Dallas, Texas, in 1999, the Emersons rendered "a strongly profiled presentation by a distinguished musical team," according to Dallas Morning News critic Olin Chism in describing the Emersons' performance of the Beethoven Opus 132. Similarly, James Wierzbicki in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted that the Emersons' Beethoven Opus 130 and 131 was "awesome music, and the Emerson Quartet gave it its due.... Consistency of approach--along with collective virtuosity and penetrating interpretations--is what makes the Emerson Quartet such a stellar ensemble."

In 1999, as the twentieth century drew to a close, so too did the Emerson's project to record the 15 string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich. Because Shostakovich was largely misunderstood by Western audiences, his quartets, according to the Emersons, are extremely unique and cannot properly be appreciated unless heard in live performance. Shostakovich: The String Quartets, as a result, was recorded from a series of live performances at the Aspen Music Festival. Justin Davidson in the Minneapolis Star Tribune called the collection "gripping, ambitious, and unsettling," in its expression of the odd moods of the pieces. The album earned Grammy Awards for Best Chamber Music Performance and Best Classical Album in 2001. Justin Davidson remarked that the Emersons' interpretation of the third quartet "tempered fury with stylish restraint, [and] offered a more elastic interpretation." The Emersons received additional plaudits for their rendition of the Shostakovich String Quartet No. 15, a piece that was written while the composer remained hospitalized in 1974, shortly before his death. Shostakovich died in 1975, and music historians believe that the composition represents the inspirations of a gravely ill composer as he was subjected to the emotional extremes brought on by sedative medications to ease the pain of his illness.

In 1995, composer and double bass player Edgar Meyer composed a string quintet of four movements expressly for the Emersons, who recorded the piece with Meyer on bass in 1998. Also in the catalog of compositions written expressly for the Emersons is String Quartet No. 2 by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. According to Tom Cardy in the Evening Post, "If there's an equivalent to rock superstar status in classical music today, one contender must be the Emerson String Quartet."

For their noteworthy careers, each member of the Emerson String Quartet received an honorary doctorate degree from Middlebury College in Vermont in 1995.

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