Eugene Drucker • Philip Setzer, violins • Lawrence Dutton, viola • David Finckel, cello
The Emerson String Quartet was formed at the Juilliard School in 1976. It takes its name from the great American poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882). Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer have shared the responsibilities of first and second violin since the Quartet’s inception, with Lawrence Dutton becoming the ESQ violist in 1977, and David Finckel becoming the ensemble’s cellist in 1979. Ever since the quartet’s first appearances at the Vermont Music Festival in 1977 it has been acclaimed for its insightful performances, dynamic artistry and technical mastery. Important commissions and premieres include compositions by Mario Davidovsky (1980), Ronald Caltabiano (1981), Maurice Wright (1983), George Tsontakis (1984), Gunther Schuller (1986), John Harbison (1987), Richard Danielpour (1988), Richard Wernick (1991), Wolfgang Rihm (1993), Paul Epstein (1994), Ned Rorem (1995), Edgar Meyer (1995), Ellen Taaffe Zwillich (1998), Joan Tower (2003), and André Previn (2003). The ensemble has won numerous awards, including the prestigious Naumburg Award (USA) for Chamber Music in 1978, eight Grammy awards, and three Gramophone awards.
First annual season of recitals at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
First performances of the Complete Beethoven Quartets.
First performs complete cycle of Bartók Quartets on one evening at Lincoln Center in New York, a feat repeated since around the globe; the quartet members join teaching faculty of University of Hartford’s Hartt School of Music. ESQ begins a tradition of playing benefit concerts for various causes ranging from nuclear disarmament to the fight against AIDS, world hunger, and children’s diseases.
First European tour, with regular tours there ever since.
First concerts in Japan and the Far East.
Beginning of exclusive association with Deutsche Grammophon – first CD: Schubert’s Death and the Maiden and Beethoven’s Serioso Quartets; Salzburg Festival debut; regular festival appearances include Ravinia, Tanglewood, Aspen, Mostly Mozart (Lincoln Center, New York), Lucerne, the Schubertiade in Feldkirch, Schleswig-Holstein, and Berlin.
Their Carnegie Hall debut recital with complete Bartók Quartets cycle is recorded live, winning a Gramophone award both as “Best Chamber Music Recording” and “Record of the Year”. It also wins a Grammy for “Best Chamber Music Performance” and is the first chamber-music recording ever to win the Grammy for “Best Classical Album”.
Mozart-year release of the 6 “Haydn” Quartets and the Mozart Flute Quartets (with Carol Wincenc).
CD releases include American Originals (quartets by Ives and Barber) (Grammy for “Best Chamber Music Performance”), and the Schubert C major String Quintet (with Mstislav Rostropovich).
Release of CD American Contemporaries – quartets by John Harbison, Richard Wernick, and Gunther Schuller.
Release of CD with music for piano and strings by Dvoøák (with Menahem Pressler); ESQ receives Medal for Distinguished Service from the University of Hartford, Connecticut.
CD releases: Webern’s Complete Works for String Quartet, and music for piano and strings by Schumann (with Menahem Pressler); individual ESQ members awarded honorary doctorates by Middlebury College, Vermont.
CD release of the complete Beethoven Quartets (Grammy for “Best Chamber Music Album”, 1998).
CD release of Clarinet Quintets by Mozart and Brahms (with David Shifrin).
CD release of the Shostakovich Quartets (Grammy for “Best Classical Album” and for “Best Chamber Music Performance”, as well as Record Academy Prize, Tokyo and Gramophone Award for “Best Chamber Music Recording”, 2000); ESQ collaborates with celebrated director Simon McBurney in a multimedia work entitled The Noise of Time, featuring the Shostakovich 15th Quartet and blending film, movement, taped readings, projection and live performance by the ESQ; named “Ensemble of the Year 2000” by the periodical Musical America.
ESQ 25th Anniversary Season begins in July 2001: ten performances of The Noise of Time at the Barbican Centre, with further performances in Berlin, Los Angeles, New York, and Vienna. ESQ featured at the South Bank Centre, London, and Lincoln Center, New York, in three concerts devoted to works by Haydn, Beethoven, and Bartók. US premiere of Rihm’s Dithyrambe for Quartet and Orchestra. CD release 2001: the “Haydn Project”, a cross-section of the master’s works on two CDs.
Concerts in North America and Europe; quartet-in-residence at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. CD release: “The Emerson Encores” with works ranging from Beethoven to Shostakovich.
Summer festival appearances include Schwetzingen, Ravinia, Aspen, Tanglewood, Divonne, Rheingau, Salzburg, Lucerne, Ascona, Ludwigsburg, and Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart; CD releases: Bach’s The Art of Fugue, Edgar Meyer’s Quintet (accompanied by the composer) and Ned Rorem’s Quartet.
CD releases include Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ. The quartet is the very first chamber ensemble to win the Avery Fisher Prize from Lincoln Center.
CD release of Mendelssohn’s Complete Works for String Quartet (plus a performance of the Octet with the ESQ playing all eight parts) to great acclaim (Grammy, “Best Chamber Music Performance”, 2005). Concerts in North America and Europe at festivals and many universities; plus further performances of The Noise of Time in Moscow and Paris.
Appearances throughout North America and Europe, including the complete Shostakovich cycle in New York and London; the CD entitled Intimate Voices, with works by Grieg, Nielsen and Sibelius, wins their eighth Grammy, “Best Chamber Music Performance” 2007.
Engagements throughout the USA, in Canada, Spain, Germany, England, Czech Republic, France, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden. Festival appearances include the Schubertiade, Salzburg Festival, Menuhin Festival (Gstaad), Tivoli (Copenhagen), and the Mozart Festival (Bath, UK). The quartet celebrates its 30th anniversary season with an eight-concert Perpectives series entitled “Beethoven in Context” in New York’s Carnegie Hall. For this series, Kaija Saariaho has been commissioned by Carnegie Hall to compose a quartet for them in honour of the project and their 30th anniversary. The ensemble celebrates 20 years of exclusivity with Deutsche Grammophon with the release of Brahms’s Piano Quintet (with Leon Fleischer) and the String Quartets nos. 1–3 in the spring.
The Quartet makes several tours of the USA, and also appears in Canada. In Europe it gives its first appearance at the Cité de la musique in Paris, three concerts at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, a three-concert series at London’s Wigmore Hall, and a pair of concerts at the Teatro della Pergola in Florence, with additional concerts in Spain, Austria, Denmark, Germany and Italy. The Quartet continues its residency at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, now in its 28th sold-out season. The Emerson’s world-premiere recording of four- and five-part fugues from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, arranged for string quartet by Mozart and his contemporary, the Austrian composer Emanuel Aloys Förster, is released in spring.
The year begins with concerts in Israel followed by appearances in the USA and a tour of Europe. During the further course of the year the ESQ gives further concerts in the USA, Germany, Denmark, Spain, South America, the UK, and at the Salzburg and Prague Festivals. Their new audio release, Intimate Letters with works by Janáček and Martinů, is scheduled for the spring.