Guest post on Emerson String Quartet performance

Today we've got a guest post from Iti Agnihotri, a news producer for our local NPR affiliate, KUAF. Iti attended the Emerson String Quartet performance this past Sunday, and was kind enough to share her thoughts with us on the show. Please, read on and enjoy!

The Emerson String Quartet performance, the first in this year’s 10x10 Arts Series, was, in one word, magnificent. It was also the first ever such experience for me. I’ve trained in north Indian classical vocal music for four years, but am not really familiar with the technicalities of western classical music; hence, was eager to learn more.

Is there a better way to start the program than with a piece by Haydn, “the father of string quartets?” I think not. The Emerson String Quartet opened with Haydn op.77 #2. After hearing so much about it at the Countdown Conversation two weeks ago, I looked forward to the piece and thought it was brilliant (as a matter of fact, I’m still listening to it). The music soared and descended, sometimes dramatically. The artists were having fun which, in turn, helped us enjoy the piece more. A fellow audience member appropriately called the performance a game of “musical” musical chairs.

Some fun facts:

*All these pieces are the composers’ last (in Haydn and Beethoven’s case) or latest (in Pierre Jalbert’s case) pieces.

*Beethoven was nearly deaf when he composed his five late quartets (including Beethoven op. 135).

*Beethoven was Haydn’s pupil.

How do I know this? Laura Goodwin of Walton Arts Center and University of Arkansas musicologist Dr. Martin Nedbal discussed all this and much more during the Countdown Conversation. They also said another interesting observation to make during the concert would be the exchange between the members of the quartet, and how the quartet draws the audience into this exchange. Although, all three pieces involved conversation, my favorite was the Jalbert composition, written exclusively for the Emerson String Quartet. You could tell it had an immediate effect on the audience.

I don’t think anyone quite expected the Jalbert piece to be all that it was. Sinister sounding, it was unusual, otherworldly even. Every ebb and flow was highly anticipated. The artists egged each other on and the performance looked physically demanding. No wonder violinist Eugene Drucker, in the pre-show creative conversation with Walton Arts Center CEO Peter Lane, said the piece makes him “break out in a sweat” prior to every single performance.

The eagerly awaited Beethoven op. 135 was the most layered, complex quartet of all. Beethoven teases, exhilarates, and mystifies – all at the same time. After all, he IS Beethoven. A great end to a great concert! The artists received a well-deserved standing ovation.

Yesterday’s concert made me feel how little I know about the world and how much there really is left to explore. I look forward to many more such experiences at the 10x10 Arts Series this year.


Thank you Iti for sharing your wonderful insight and unique perspective on the Emerson String Quartet performance!