Simultaneous Strings: Emerson and Calidore team up at Rackham
When Jeffrey Myers, first violinist for the [http://calidorestringquartet.com|Calidore String Quartet], grew up watching the [http://www.emersonquartet.com|Emerson String Quartet], he didn’t imagine members of the world-acclaimed quartet would mentor him -- or that he would share the stage with them.
After all, the Emerson, named for Ralph Waldo Emerson, has accepted nine Grammys for its 30-plus recordings and performed all over the world since being established in 1976. Its members, violinists Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer, violist Lawrence Dutton, and cellist Paul Watkins, have notable careers individually, too.
Yet, when the Emerson [https://ums.org/performance/emerson-string-quartet-calidore-quartet|performs in Ann Arbor] on October 5 at Rackham Auditorium, it will perform with the Calidore, which Myers and three friends -- second violinist Ryan Meehan, violist Jeremy Berry and cellist Estelle Choi -- formed when they were students at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles.
The Calidore String Quartet takes its name from a portmanteau of California, where the musicians met, and doré, the French word for golden. It has released three recordings, played at prestigious festivals across the globe, mentored students at Stony Brook and at the University of Delaware, and conducted master classes and residencies at top universities including Michigan, which awarded the Calidore $100,000 in 2016, the grand prize in its inaugural M-Prize International Chamber Music Competition.
When two quartets perform together, they’re able to retain the intimacy of a chamber music group while allowing orchestral sounds, too. On Thursday, the quartets will perform Strauss’ String Sextet (“Intermezzo”) from Capriccio, Bruckner’s String Quartet in F Major, WAB 112 (excerpts), two pieces for String Octet Op 11 by Shostakovich, and Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat Major, Op. 20.
The relationship began in 2013 when the Emerson was doing a residency at the Aspen Summer Festival. “We went backstage and asked if anybody had time to listen to us,” Myers says, recalling that they didn’t expect much. The Emerson was one of the busiest quartets at the time, wasn't it? But it couldn’t hurt to ask, and the Emerson’s original cellist, David Finckel, took the time to listen. “We ended up playing for him one more time, and he connected us to Stony Brook.”
At Stony Brook, the Emerson mentored the Calidore, which taught younger students. “They let us in on all their secrets,” says Myers, explaining that these are practical approaches to, for instance, rehearsing well when there is too little time to rehearse. “They’ve been very helpful, but they’ve never tried to make us sound like the Emerson Quartet,” he says. “They allow us to have our own musical voice.”
“Last season, we played the Mendelssohn Octet with them at Lincoln Center. It was hard to stop smiling,” he adds.
Paul Watkins, a concerto soloist, chamber musician and Grammy-nominated conductor, left his native London to join the Emerson in May 2013. Drawn to the Emerson because of its “incredible dedication to making the music as good as it can be and having a wonderful sense of humor at the same time,” Watkins notes they play a large number of concerts and cover a larger repertoire without losing love and enthusiasm for what they do. In 2014, Watkins was appointed Artistic Director of the Birmingham, MI-based [http://greatlakeschambermusic.org|Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival], too.
The Emerson has collaborated with other quartets, but “this particular collaboration gives us a very special joy and pride because this young quartet is at the very end of the beginning of a very distinguished career,” says Watkins. “We have had the privilege of working with them at Stony Brook.” Watkins says he’s watched them develop deeply, giving him the “absolute pleasure of passing on what we know to a new generation.”
The Mendelssohn is the climax and centerpiece of the concert. “He wrote it when he was 16. This exciting ground-breaking piece of music just came out of him at this incredibly young age,” says Watkins. “The Shostakovich is again a youthful work.”
The joys of mentorship resonate through this concert. Mendelssohn composed the octet in 1825 as a birthday gift for his violin teacher Eduard Rietz, who expressed his gratitude by copying out instrumental parts by hand for the first performance.
“I said I smile when we play with the Emerson String Quartet,” Meyers says. “I’m sure we’ll leave the audience smiling, too.”
Davi Napoleon is a freelance journalist and theater historian; her book, Chelsea on the Edge: The Adventures of American Theatre, explores the onstage triumphs and offstage turmoil of a theater dealing with cuts to arts funding.
The Emerson String Quartet and the Calidore String Quartet appear together on Thursday, October 5 at 7:30 pm at Rackham Auditorium, 915 E. Washington St., Ann Arbor. Visit [https://ums.org/performance/emerson-string-quartet-calidore-quartet|ums.org] for tickets and more details. Read more about the quartets at [http://www.emersonquartet.com|emersonquartet.com] and [http://calidorestringquartet.com|calidorestringquartet.com].