This quartet is f***ing transformative

This quartet is f***ing transformative


norman lebrecht

January 25, 2018

Our Berlin diarist Anthea Kreston, herself a violinist in a leading international string quartet, took time out to catch up with the Emersons on tour. Here’s what happened.

The Emerson Quartet is f***ing brilliant. It’s the real deal – a transformative event – in turn I was swept away, fascinated, impressed, and transported to a different time. As I slogged back to my hotel after the concert in Munich, the chubby flakes of snow lazily drifting by, and my feet totally sopping wet, I felt, and still do feel, like I was just let in on a secret, that it was a dream, that someone just spoke to me and tied together all of the loose ends of my life.

Here is what I love about them:
1- total honesty – there is nothing extra, nothing for the audience – it is what it is.
2- rock-solid technique – they are out there, with complete command of their instruments – beautiful set-ups, climbing around their instruments like acrobats.
3- individualism and collectivism finely balanced – each member has such a strong personal vision, and yet they can become one voice instantly, drawn together like neodymium magnets.
4- they are incredibly nice people, which you can feel in the audience.
5- they are patient, loving teachers
6- can I say that their hair looks terrific? It really, actually, does.

Their program – with pianist Evgeny Kissin – was perfectly balanced. Mozart and Faure piano quartets (with Phil Setzer and Eugene Drucker each playing one piece) started the program, and after intermission the Dvorak Piano Quintet. The piano quartets allowed me to more deeply understand the players as individuals – Kissin’s approach to the music was strong – powerful lines, and a reading of the score which allowed the listener to hear every single note, every line with its own shape, meaning. His ability to spin an immensely long phrase was a perfect match for the Emersons – it was as if each movement only had a handful of phrases – each moment transforming into the next, a story slowly unfolding.

Their strength comes from their ability to, each of them, be simultaneously vulnerable, approachable, comfortable with themselves, which makes them so approachable, and makes their art inviting, inclusive, and authentic – it makes you wish you could know them better.

How is it that music can feel like it is speaking directly to you – it takes you by surprise, and you find yourself thinking about something you haven’t thought about in years, or something you don’t even want to think about, or something you never thought about before in your entire life. And then you snap back into reality because Larry just did some crazy C String shift or Phil was just so tender in the counter melody in the Dumka or Eugene just started that note from the air with a whip stroke on the tip, or Paul just played so crispy during the fugue, or Evgeny somehow just looked up and away, and something struck him, and magic happened.

When I got back to the University this week, my groups in the final stages of preparation for their concerts, I was bursting with joy. I was so happy to share my experience, to encourage the students to trust themselves and to not stop until they had found their own truths. To take chances, to become vulnerable, to demand personal perfection. What did I learn from the Emersons? As a student I learned to love the process – to never be satisfied with the depth or complexity of my musical desires, and that these desires are the foundation for everything we do.

To every group this week, I also told them about Ralph Waldo Emerson, what he and the Transcendentalists believed, and how these beliefs are also fundamental to our lives as musicians. I read each group some of my favorite Emerson quotes, which you will find below.

Thank you, Emerson String Quartet, for everything.

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”<


  • Elizabeth Owen says:


  • violinlinlin says:

    I’m inspired. Thanks for the beautiful piece.

  • buxtehude says:

    Another challenge to your resources Sally?

    • John Borstlap says:

      I just came to read this just now, and what a review this is! And how informative, classical musicians being nice about their collegues! That is how classical music always should be and I think mostly that is the case, as the #me/too movement amply shows. I never understand string quartets but after reading this I may give it a shot and I’ll begin with Ligeti 2nd, I see the cd laying here on the desk. Especially the climbing into their instruments appeals to me, let’s see how Ligeti manages that. As for being nice to collegues – the other day we had a plummer here, there was a drain problem, and after 2 hours of work it was still the same so we called another for a 2nd opinion. And the first thing he did was condemning his collegue, how bad he had been, incompetent, etc. etc. really shocking. But he couldn’t do much either and only after a 3rd one who equally called the earlier two names like [redacted] and [redacted], it was discovered that the problem had been the cook who had been distracted by listening to radio 3. Where have the days gone with dear William Glock! And staff here, bickering all the time and gossipping behind one’s back, especially one of the gardeners, who’s always late and forgets the shrubs, is picking on the stabe boys and also them, always speaking badly about others. I hate that! All those rats! We have to understand that only love will heal the world.


  • buxtehude says:

    “Sheep may safely bleat in tune but a voicing that is truly felt, enduring every hammer’s blow, and then to regulate the very action itself — here is how we shall smash the heavens!” -Nietzsche

  • Robert Roy says:

    Well, I love her enthusiasm!

  • Cheryl says:

    Why do those of you who comment read these diary entries? Superior much?

  • Cyril Blair says:

    Also David Finckel looks so much like Lin-Manuel Miranda in that photo.

  • ChiLynne says:

    When a chamber group really nails it, the musical experience is incredible for all. There’s excellence, and there’s sheer magic. Doesn’t happen all that often, but when it does, it’s what keeps me coming to concerts. No recording can capture that. Have heard the Emerson SQ many, many times – not all performances pull me totally into the music and show me things I’ve never heard before, but a few have done just that. And on that note, looking forward to Artemis in Cincinnati.

  • Marg says:

    I would add one more to your half dozen points Anthea …. you cant help loving musicians and their performance when it is obvious they love what they do, they enjoy playing together, and they are emotionally engaged. It is always so obvious, no matter how seriously concentrated they are during their playing …. Ive never forgotten seeing a world class ensemble in Sydney (for which I paid a hefty ticket price), playing perfectly, but they left me cold because it was obviously a case of “Oh, we’re playing the Mozart – this must be Sydney then. One more concert and we’re off home”.