In describing concerts, the words quiet, reserved and polite don’t usually come to mind, but the aforementioned adjectives are the only way to describe the audience’s reverent restraint during the Emerson String Quartet’s Tuesday night performance at Campbell Hall. The eight-time Grammy winners took the wind out of all who witnessed their show, which featured works by everyone from the 18th-century master Beethoven to the 20th-century composer Dmitri Shostakovich.
The quartet’s concert spanned centuries and cultures, effectively capturing the allure of classical string music and giving their performance the kind of modern twist that comes from combining the classic and the contemporary.
Philip Setzer, Eugene Drucker, Lawrence Dutton and David Finckel did not only play the music, they made it their own. Their expressions and body language added depth to the performance and enabled the audience to experience classical music with a vitality and physicality with which the genre is rarely associated.
The opening set of the night was from 18th-century composer Franz Joseph Haydn, and it set the mood for the rest of the night with its depth and emotional range. Setzer’s lead violin helped establish a rhythm to the simple set of notes, which easily and effectively transformed the piece’s depressing tone to one of joyousness. At the end of the first set, the audience seemed not to know whether they should cry or clap.
Drucker took the reigns for the next two sessions, and things really got started with Shostakovich’s composition. The evocative strings established the kind of mood that is more often associated with the visual, rather than aural, arts. In fact, the quartet could very well have been playing the soundtrack to a great cinematic scene. This type of performance can be accredited to the fact that the quartet’s goal is to immerse itself completely in the music.
Drucker also led the final set of the night, Beethoven’s string quartet in F Major. The musicians moved as one, and watching them pluck their strings was much like watching the action at a heated tennis match. Two would play notes while the others waited for the honor to play next, then all at once the four combined and something magical and moving occurred.
Despite the fact that the audience did not actually participate in the performance, the audience’s enthusiastic reception at the recital’s end clearly conveyed the close personal bond it had developed with both the musicians and the music during the course of the show. As the quartet members raised their bows in unison to signal the concert’s end, one thing was clear: The Emerson String Quartet is not just a talented group of musicians; it is the kind of group that can make even the most passive audience passionate about the music it plays.