The School of Music’s Oneppo Chamber Music Series brings some of the world’s leading ensembles to one of Yale’s most intimate concert venues. On Tuesday evening, the globally renowned Emerson String Quartet performed the latest installment in the series.
The quartet filled Sprague Memorial Hall with a diverse program of music featuring works by Haydn, Bartok and Dvorak. The quartet comprises violinists Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer, violist Lawrence Dutton and cellist Paul Watkins, who currently serves as a visiting adjunct professor of cello at the School of Music.
“Clearly, the Emersons are one of the most revered quartets of the day, so it’s thrilling for us to have them here — this is chamber music at its finest” said Yale School of Music Communications Officer David Brensilver. “I think it’s safe to say that the Emersons’ performance is indicative of the level of artistry that we bring here to Morse Hall for our students, the Yale community and the larger public to enjoy.”
The evening opened with 18th-century Austrian composer Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet in D major, Op. 71, No. 2, one of Haydn’s six “Apponyi” quartets. At the time, Haydn’s works were performed for the public rather than within the confines of private estates, motivating the composer to write showpieces to dazzle wider audiences. Yet despite a greater emphasis on flashy lines and dramatic passages, these works maintain the artistic detail and ingenuity that established Haydn as one of the most influential composers of his time.
“I thought it was really cool that we were so close to them,” said audience member Karen Hsu SOM ’21. “I’ve never had that experience before.”
According to Brensilver, chamber music is a substantial component of the Yale School of Music’s curriculum. In addition to performances like the one on Tuesday night, visiting chamber musicians offer masterclasses for student ensembles while on campus.
“There’s an educational and practical aspect to this,” said Brensilver. “All of the students regardless of instrument are being coached all the time in chamber group settings.”
Following the Haydn, the Emerson String Quartet performed 20th-century Hungarian composer Bela Bartok’s String Quartet No. 5 in B-flat major. This five-movement string quartet weaves motifs of Eastern European folk music into its melodic lines. This piece, which demands both technical mastery and delicate lyricism, is considered to be Bartok’s most ambitious quartet.
The program closed with 19th-century Czech composer Antonin Dvorak’s penultimate quartet, his String Quartet No. 13 in G major. After spending several years at the National Conservatory of Music in New York City, where he produced iconic orchestral works such as his Symphony No. 9 “From the New World” and his Quartet in F minor, Op. 96 “American,” Dvorak longed for his native Bohemia. Upon his return in 1895, he completed his String Quartet No. 13, filled with expressive Czech folk tunes.
“The [Dvorak] was beautiful,” said audience member Roxane Debaty SOM ’20. “I definitely went through a series of emotions listening to it.”
Several other audience members expressed their enthusiasm for the Emerson String Quartet’s performance on Tuesday night.
“I really enjoyed the second movement of the Bartok and all of the Dvorak,” said audience member Chloe Zhou ’20. “It was atmospheric and evoked the image of walking home at night, and the sounds you hear around you, but a beautiful version of that.”
Audience member Phoebe Liu ’22 noted that she enjoys “imagining that the group has been together for over 40 years and seeing proof of that through their sound.”
“The group balance was perfect,” she said.
The next concert in the Oneppo Chamber Series will feature the Brentano String Quartet on Jan. 29.
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