The Emerson and Calidore Quartets
by arwulf arwulf
From the October, 2017 issue
In 1976, four aspiring musicians named their newly formed string quartet after Ralph Waldo Emerson, the New England essayist and versifier known for his socially progressive idealism. The Emerson Quartet became an influential force in the resurgence of the string quartet tradition.
The Calidore Quartet was formed in 2010 by students enrolled at Colburn Conservatory in Los Angeles. Their name comes from two sources. The first half honors the state of California; "dore" traces back to words in various languages for "gold," "gift," "portal," and "buzzing bee."
Generations apart, these two ensembles have recently intensified their collaboration. Their joint concert at Rackham on October 5 will feature a sextet by a septuagenarian, a quintet by a middle-aged symphonist, and two octets written by adolescents.
Richard Strauss's nostalgic, ruminative Sextet was written as a prelude to his final opera, Capriccio. It will be performed with excerpts from Anton Bruckner's Quintet. Though Bruckner is mainly recognized for his vastly proportioned symphonies and liturgical choral works, the quintet is a work of great depth and ingenuity--biographer Hans-Hubert Schoenzeler writes that it "stands in direct line of succession to the Late String Quartets of Beethoven."
Dmitri Shostakovich wrote Two Pieces for String Octet at age eighteen, while composing his First Symphony, and dedicated them to his best friend, the poet Volodya Kurchavov, who succumbed to typhus in the Crimea during the summer of 1925. Much of the emotionally infused tonal palette that Shostakovich would employ over the next fifty years is foreshadowed in this intriguing and little-known opus.
The concert will culminate in the realization of Felix Mendelssohn's String Octet. It was Mendelssohn who brought the Calidores together. While learning his Second String Quartet, they came to the realization that their paths were intertwined. With Mendelssohn, said violinist Jeremy Berry in an online interview, rather than hearing compositional or instrumental technique, what you get is a raw, direct transmission of how the sixteen-year-old composer was feeling.
When the Emersons recorded Mendelssohn's complete quartets for Deutsche
Grammophon records, they also took on the composer's Octet, using eight different instruments, overdubbed. Violinist Eugene Drucker explains that "the texture is constantly varied, and motivic material is passed back and forth between individual parts and every conceivable combination of pairs, trios or larger numbers playing in thirds, sixths or octaves."
Two generations of virtuosi will share the stage at Rackham. Sixteen hands will swarm over eight instruments. Gooseflesh! The room may appear to spin as Mendelssohn's florid scoring summons the transcendental poetry of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who envisioned the Muse engaged in building a house. "She lays her beams in music, in music every one, to the cadence of the whirling world, which dances round the sun."
[Originally published in October, 2017.]
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