Music communicates emotion; in its well attended Hopkins Center concert on Saturday, September 30, the Emerson String Quartet managed to capture the emotion within quartet pieces through the players’ synchronicity and delicacy of performance. As recipients of multiple honors (including nine Grammy awards) and 40 years of experience playing as an ensemble, they promised to offer an incredible performance.
The concert began with my favorite piece, Quartet No. 17 in B flat Major, K. 458 “Hunt”, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. What drew me to the music was the joy within the notes, the effortless exchange between the artists as they created what was, for me, a beautiful fall day. In a talkback with the audience after the concert, the musicians commented that it is sometimes easier to play a sorrowful piece than a joyful one, as the latter must feel as if you are effortlessly tossing the notes. It’s easier to relate to a sorrowful piece when struggling with the music.
Shroud, the modern work by Turnage, was more engaging than the Mozart to my surrounding friends. Tyler Ansel ’19 said, “The heavy rhythm sections were lit.” Christian Rizzuto ’18 said Shroud “had a lot more dynamic contrast and harmonic dissonance, which added a heightened sense of drama.” Scheridan Vorwaller ’18 added that the Mozart was “very pretty and lyrical,” but preferred the modern work for its animated feeling. As a whole, the composition had an understandable overarching sadness as the first and last movements were in commemoration of friends of Turnage who had passed on. What my friends found dynamic, I found stressful, and their different reactions surprised me.
The closing piece, String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131, by Ludwig Van Beethoven, was played attacca: each movement of the composition began immediately after the previous one, without a pause. This meant an immediate change in mood, and a member of the quartet later commented that Beethoven chose to leave those transitions very raw. The music begins in bliss, and proceeds to get more and more difficult. After a performance, one of the quartet joked, “Beethoven won again.”
I found interesting the strategy of placing the newer composition between works by the familiar names of Mozart and Beethoven. Engaging a crowd in newer composers takes them away from what’s more familiar to them and introduces a new style of music. I’m guilty of leaning towards familiarity, so I appreciate the way the ensemble provided contrasting styles and made the timeline of music a very present part of the concert. This dynamic continued in the after-discussion, which touched on the ways in which music is interconnected between people. They spoke of how the composer for Shroud had a connection to their cellist through a friend, and talked about an upcoming collaboration with a pianist who had wanted to ensure they could bond as friends before working together musically. Similarly, composers such as Mozart and Beethoven were members of a larger, collaborative community within the musical world, just as the Emersons share connections with the composers and musicians of their time.