Emerson String Quartet Opens the Oberlin Artist Recital Series

The Oberlin program is part of their “Farewell Tour” after 47 years together

September 6, 2023

Conservatory Communications

Four men in black suits sit next to one another holding string instruments

The Emerson String Quartet returns to Oberlin College Friday, September 22 for their final performance on Finney Chapel’s stage as part of this season’s Artist Recital Series. The ensemble is disbanding after nearly five decades of performing and recording. 

Their thoughtful programming for this occasion will bring a bit of sentiment and nostalgia to the stage. The concert will open with Felix Mendelssohn’s first mature string quartet—No. 2 in A Minor, Op. 13—written only a few months after the death of Ludwig van Beethoven, whose late-quartet influence is felt throughout the work. It continues with Sarah Kirkland Snider’s Drink the Wild Ayre, the very last piece the Emerson commissioned as an ensemble. The evening will culminate with one of Beethoven’s last works—his monumental six-movement String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat Major, Op. 130, with the original last movement, the Grosse Fuge. 

“The Emerson String Quartet is arguably the most influential chamber group of the last 40 years”, reflects Oberlin violin professor Sibbi Bernhardsson. “While the Guarneri Quartet paved the road for all touring chamber groups in classical music, Emerson became rock stars of the field with their multiple Grammy awards, their large scale projects and their ability to sell out large concert venues worldwide on a consistent basis.” 

It is poignant that the Emerson String Quartet has chosen the opus 130 string quartet, with its famous Cavatina, and the Grosse Fuge for their “Farewell” tour and for this performance at Oberlin. The work contemplates thresholds and honors an obvious one on these artists’ immediate horizons. Adjectives commonly used to describe this work of Beethoven’s are profound, other-worldly, nostalgic, epic, tragic, emotional, triumphant. The inclusion of this work is also a reprise here at Oberlin. For the Emerson Quartet’s very first appearance on the Artist Recital Series in 1985, they performed opus 130. 

Drink the Wild Ayre was titled by the composer as a nod to both the namesake of the Emerson String Quartet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and his well-known quote, “Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, Drink the wild air's salubrity.” With Kirkland's intentional spelling of “Ayre”—which is an uplifting, song-like lyrical work—she refers "to the questing spirit, sense of adventure, and full-hearted passion with which the Emerson has thrown itself into everything it has done for the past 47 years."

In addition to their performance, the quartet will also lead four master classes for Oberlin students, where they will share their expertise. Centering student opportunities to interact with guest artists and ensembles is a priority at Oberlin. 

“It is simply astounding,” exclaims Bernhardsson, “that the Emerson has been at the top of the field for so long. It is exciting to have them perform one of their last concerts ever here at Oberlin. It will be very inspiring for our community to observe them work with our students in master class settings.”

Individual tickets for Emerson String Quartet’s performance are $35 for the general public. Discounted tickets are $30 for senior citizens, military, and Oberlin College staff, faculty, and alumni. Student admission is just $10. Oberlin students with a valid ID have access to free tickets through our Claim Your Seat program.

Tickets are available online and by phone at 800-371-0178. Patrons may also purchase them in person between noon and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, at Oberlin College's Central Ticket Service, located at 67 N. Main Street, in the lobby of the Eric Baker Nord Performing Arts Complex.

Learn more about the Arts at Oberlin.

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