Believing out loud
THE EMERSON QUARTET talks to BILL NEWMAN
Live or on disc, one marvels at their marvellous clarity and articulation
- whatever the tempi indication - that throws into relief inner colours
and nuances. How much does superb musical teamwork relate to past traditions?
Cellist David Finckel hearkens back to the great string players.
'Many never heard Kreisler and Szigeti and their styles of playing, but
it's nice to know that people are out there listening, trying to understand
what we are trying to do, more. Isn't that true? They are not going to understand
what a portamento is.' Szigeti in his final recording years was the keenest
musicologist I had then come across, bowing, fingering and phrasing in order
to get the soul out of music. How many violinists can perpetuate his authenticity?
Violist Lawrence Dutton takes up the argument. 'Boy! Our heroes are that
older generation. We are lucky, growing up and listening to that stuff.
Gene (Eugene Drucker, lst violin) and Phil (Philip Setzer, 2nd violin) both
studied with Oscar Shumsky, a legend out of the Kreisler tradition, and
Gene's father Ernst played second violin in the Kreisler Quartet for two
years. Phil's parents are both violinists. His Dad played in a quartet from
the Cleveland Orchestra.' Setzer explains: 'It was called the Symphonia
Quartet which had connections with Glenn Gould, making the only recording
of his String Quartet. I have the score, and we should really do it. It's
like early Schoenberg, with a great fugue! We had other performers at our
house and I grew up listening to records of Beethoven Quartets and the Schubert
String Quintet with the Budapest. Music was always on and both my parents
were fans of Kreisler and Heifetz. Zukerman and Perlman today are in that
tradition, but many young students really don't know who Kreisler was. He's
the guy that wrote Praeludium and Allegro, they say!'
Finckel is emphatic about his early days. 'I was brought up on the Bach
Brandenburgs before I got into cello. I always thought I would be a musician,
never thinking of anything else. I played cello at 11 and piano before that,
so it was kind of natural. The whole family played cello - uncles, cousins,
grandfathers, and I won some competitions - it was very simple for me and
I still love it.' Finckel's recitals with Wu Han are widely praised, but
relaxation is difficult, constantly practising old and new repertoire with
so much going on. Setzer: 'David requires to get away from it, and I need
to recharge my batteries every so often. For me it's not so much where I
go to but where I go from. I just have to stop playing for a couple of weeks
- not to be on stage some of the time without giving out so much, but just
digging down there! To rest - not physically, but emotionally.' Larry Dutton
sees it as 'playing out of the quartet for periods, doing solos and chamber
music with others. That's important for all of us. Three of our wives are
also musicians, and there are our children, but when the Quartet started
out it grew and grew. That was fantastic, but then we had to learn how to
control it. We play over 100 concerts a year as it is and need to tell the
people running it that we won't give any more in any tour - we do 2 weeks
at a time, but at the beginning had 3, 4 and sometimes five-week stints.
Almost half our career is spent in Europe, but it is a balance between performing
and recording. In New York we have Max Wilcox producing. I like to unwind
by back-packing going into the mountains.' Eugene Drucker likes to read
in French and has a degree in English literature. 'On a recent tour of Japan
and Australia I thought it appropriate to bring along Homer's Odyssey .
Sometimes I felt like Odysseus in sight of the goal, and not quite getting
there!' He also jogs to stay healthy.
Copyright © 4 May 2000 Bill Newman, Edgware,
The Emerson Quartet. Photo: Sheila Rock
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