In the highly competitive world of chamber music, no group commands more respect than the Emerson String Quartet (ESQ). With nine Grammy awards and more than 30 recordings for the distinguished Deutsche Grammophon label, the ESQ has set a new standard for achievement among string quartets as we enter the second decade of the 21st century. On Saturday, March 5, Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer (violins), Lawrence Dutton (viola), and David Finckel (cello) will come to UCSB’s Campbell Hall for a recital presented by Arts and Lectures. The compositions on the program are by Alban Berg, Felix Mendelssohn, and Josef Haydn. I caught up with cellist David Finckel as he and his cello made their way through Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, on their way to yet another engagement. Finckel gave me his insights into the works the group will play on Saturday.
What’s a good way to enter the compositional world of Alban Berg?
The best way to approach Alban Berg’s music is to think of him as a hyper-romantic. It’s the voice of the 20th century and the heart of the 19th century that you are hearing together in his work. It’s been very cool to tour with this piece. Audiences are consistently surprised, delighted, and mesmerized by it. It’s also a lot of fun to play.
What about Berg makes his writing stand out for you?
I was just looking at the scores of Berg’s Lyric Suite the other day—that’s his other big composition for string quartet—and the copy I had was autographed to the Galimir String Quartet, the group that premiered it. It’s a pity that the audience doesn’t see the score because this one is totally covered in annotations by the composer. Beginning with Beethoven, composers began to mark their scores to indicate how they ought to be played, and Berg is known for having taken this tendency to an extreme. It’s laden with instructions to every player.
Is it overwhelming to have so much instruction? Would you rather just do it your own way?
Oh no, I want to take the composer’s directions and I hope to realize his intention. I like it. It gives us a lot to do, which is good.
There’s also a piece by Felix Mendelssohn on the program. What is that like?
The Mendelssohn Quartets—there are three of them—come from a real high point in what was a very successful career. Mendelssohn was famous when he wrote them, and he was happily married. He had it all, if any 19th-century composer did. They are like the Rasumovsky quartets of Beethoven—big, extroverted, and filled with confidence. He’s definitely not working out his personal problems in this piece. [Laughs.]
You are playing two movements by Haydn that appear to be parts of a work that was left unfinished, is that the case?
Yes, the Haydn is incomplete. It is just the two middle movements of a quartet. It’s weird—anybody who wrote as much as Haydn you figure what was the big deal? Why didn’t he finish the thing? It’s one of those questions to ask in heaven: “Hey, Haydn, what happened with the Opus 103?”
The Emerson String Quartet will perform at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Saturday, March 5. For tickets and information, call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu.