Beautiful Blend: Emerson and Calidore String Quartets at Rackham


Emerson and Calidore String Quartets at Rackham

The legendary Emerson String Quartet (above) was joined by the Calidore String Quartets at Rackham Auditorium for octet performances in addition to their usual foursomes. Photo by Lisa Mazzucco.

Classical music fans clapped in high anticipation as the Emerson String Quartet walked onstage at Rackham Auditorium for its UMS concert on Thursday, Oct. 5. But it wasn't just the four-decade-old Emerson ensemble for which the audience was excited; fans were also eager to hear the Calidore String Quartet, a newer ensemble that hooked up with its mentor group for this concert, including performing as a blended octet.

Emerson String Quartet is one of the most notable string quartets in classical music. Some of its accolades include nine Grammy Awards and the prestigious Avery Fisher Prize, which is widely regarded as one of the highest honors for American instrumental musicians. The group was inducted into the Classical Music Hall of Fame in 2010, which further distinguished it as a powerhouse.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles-based Calidore was founded at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in 2010 and the quartet's name is a blend of the words California and "doré,” which is French for golden. I’m sure performing at Rackham brought back pleasant memories for Calidore as it won the top award and $100,000 in 2016's U-M Prize competition, which is the largest award for chamber music worldwide.

Emerson and Calidore String Quartets at Rackham

The young Calidore String Quartet was worthy of sharing stage time with the veteran Emerson String Quartet at Rackham. Photo by Sophie Zhai.

The concert began with Emerson performing the opening sequence of Capriccio Op. 85 by Richard Strauss, a quiet and more meditative piece, which some might think is slow for an opener. But Emerson gradually pulled the audience into its therapeutic melodies, which I appreciated as it calmed my otherwise chaotic day. With Calidore joining Emerson later in the excerpt, the four string instruments expanded to eight.

Emerson and Calidore complemented each other and produced a cohesive and fluid performance with both quartets easily flowing through their respective parts in this piece and throughout the program, which included 11 works. The uniformity in the octet was noted despite the slightly contrasting elements. Songs included Two Pieces for String Octet Op. 11 by Dmitri Shostakovich and Octet in E-flat Major Op. 20 by Felix Mendelssohn, with the former being my favorite. From my own experience, Shostakovich’s works aren’t the easiest to play but the octet pulled it off with style and substance. His pieces brought out a sudden upbeat pace and after meditating with my eyes closed, they suddenly opened with surprise due to the ending bringing a dramatic rush of energy and a standing ovation from the audience.

Emerson and Calidore’s flow of interchangeable stage presence was very smooth from start to finish and unless you were familiar with both groups prior to the evening, it might’ve been hard to distinguish between the two. Although Emerson was the veteran ensemble on stage, Calidore was able to carry its performance with the same sophisticated style and delivery.

Even though the Emerson String Quartet has been performing for over 40 years and has collected countless achievements during its career, Emerson's performance of these classical works still had a modern, adaptive, and fresh appeal. One need not be an classical music savant to enjoy the quartet's sweet and expressive takes on Shostakovich and Mendelssohn. This is especially important as classical music is often perceived as being too dense, hard to interpret, or irrelevant to today’s mainstream music. Having been a classically trained musician, I found myself relating to the concert experience in a way that transported me back to childhood.

As the groups finished the final notes of the Presto portion of the Mendelssohn Octet, the concert seemed to end rather quickly, much to my disappointment as I enjoyed the performance. Clocking in at a little over an hour and a half, it might be safe to say that both the Emerson and Calidore quartets left their audiences wanting more. If that was their intention, they pulled it off perfectly.

➥ "[|Simultaneous Strings: Emerson and Calidore team up at Rackham]" (Pulp preview)

Sean Copeland is a desk clerk with the Ann Arbor District Library.