Emerson String Quartet: Tiny Desk Concert

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Tom Huizenga | November 6, 2023
The cameras were rolling long before the Emerson String Quartet played a note behind the Tiny Desk. A documentary film crew followed the band into our lobby and kept rolling tape as the players unpacked their instruments, sat down to warm up and joked ceaselessly among themselves.

The reason for all the fuss was to mark the final days of the nearly 50-year career of one of modern history’s most durable, beloved and prolific chamber ensembles. Just two days after we captured this performance, the band played its final concert together in New York, where it all began in 1976 when a couple Juilliard students thought putting together a string quartet might be a fun idea. Forty-some albums, nine Grammys and countless concerts later, we were honored to document one of the band’s last performances.

Typical for the Emersons, the music they chose was wide-ranging. A dash of Haydn served as a witty amuse-bouche, then on to a mini-movement from late in Beethoven’s career, when the composer could swing his moods with shockingly modern abandon. At the heart of this bittersweet concert is the Emersons’ achingly beautiful performance of George Walker’s Lyric for Strings. The Washington, D.C. native, in 1996, became the first Black composer to win a Pulitzer. The elegiac music poured out of the players in rich, intermingling layers.

But the band couldn’t leave on a somber note, so it closed with a rambunctious interpretation of the finale to Ravel’s string quartet — an appropriately effervescent way to say goodbye.

Haydn: String Quartet, Op 33, No. 5: Scherzo
Beethoven: String Quartet, Op. 130: Presto
Walker: Lyric for Strings
Ravel: String Quartet in F: Finale

Eugene Drucker: violin
Philip Setzer: violin
Lawrence Dutton: viola
Paul Watkins: cello

Producer: Tom Huizenga
Director/Editor: Kara Frame
Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin
Videographers: Kara Frame, Michael Zamora
Series Producer: Bobby Carter
Audio Assistant: Hannah Gluvna
Production Assistant: Ashley Pointer
Photographer: Catie Dull
Tiny Desk Team: Suraya Mohamed, Maia Stern, Joshua Bryant, Hazel Cills
Series Creators: Bob Boilen, Stephen Thompson
VP, Visuals and Music: Keith Jenkins
Senior VP, Programming: Anya Grundmann

#tinydesk #nprmusic #emersonstringquartet
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NPR, NPR Music, National Public Radio

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