The Emerson String Quartet celebrated its 40th season this year, and partly inspired by their newest member, cellist Paul Watkins, who joined them in 2013, their most recent release includes the works of two of England’s best known composers: Henry Purcell and Benjamin Britten. Violist Lawrence Dutton and violinist Eugene Drucker say the ensemble’s success comes in part from having a sense of humor, being able to express themselves, and being very lucky.
“Sense of humor, that’s the first part, I think, right off the bat. You have to be able to laugh at yourselves, you have to be able to give criticism, and take criticism,” Lawrence Dutton says. “But to be honest, you just have to be lucky, and the fact that when you’re a bunch of young kids putting together an ensemble, you somehow grow together and manage to stay together in a way that works. There’s no guarantee of that, it’s like a marriage, you know, it takes work, but you can be just lucky, and I think we were lucky with… the personalities got along. We’re all very different, but the personalities work together.” When the ensemble formed in 1976, founding members Eugene Drucker and violinist Philip Setzer were still at Juilliard. Dutton and cellist David Finckel would join within a few years, and the lineup stayed for decades. On their newest album, they dive into Britten and one of his inspirations. “It’s at least as much personal as it is nationalistic, Britten’s preoccupation in some ways with the music of Purcell,” Drucker says. “And the fact that Purcell composed a Chaconne – the British term for it is Chacony – which Britten himself edited so it could be performed by string orchestras. Even though we had previously played the Britten second and third Britten quartets, we hadn’t intensively focused on them… Purcell we had never played.” The Purcell piece they play in the video below inspired the rhythms of the final movement of Britten’s second quartet, which is also on their disc Chaconnes and Fantasias – Music of Britten and Purcell.