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Touring Scenarios: Places, People and Passion

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Alamy
Alamy

One could argue that the touring life of a musician is the most wonderful fringe benefit of a professional career. Of course the music itself and the camaraderie of extraordinary collaborators hold places of primacy in my quartet experience, but over the past thirty-four seasons my world has grown to enormous proportions of extraordinary depth and richness because of the places and people now as familiar to me as my own home, and in some cases, as my own family.

Temples of Chamber Music
String Quartets enjoy the largest variety of performance venues of any performing ensemble, mainly since string quartets play works intended for smaller spaces. I feel sorry for my fellow musicians, who, because they play in large ensembles, don't have opportunities to play in some of the world's most intimate, jewel-like spaces: London's Wigmore Hall, Boston's Jordan Hall, Vienna's Brahms-Saal (part of the Musikverein) or the small hall at Amsterdam's Concertgebouw. These halls have become the Emerson's homes-away-from-homes, so familiar are their comforting backstage rooms, marvelous acoustics and memorable architecture. Held in equal affection are venues often unknown to the larger world: the idyllic hilltop barn in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, home of South Mountain Concerts; the breathtaking town hall of Perugia; the elegant ballroom of the Hotel Römerbad in the Black Forest; the warm and inviting Meany Auditorium at the University of Washington and the extraordinarily intimate Harris Concert Hall at the Aspen Music Festival, where the Emerson recorded, in front of hushed live audiences, all fifteen quartets of Shostakovich. I hope to return to all of the places that have been such a part of my life, but if and when I do, I'll be performing different music with different colleagues. That is an adventure I eagerly await.

The World's Best Audience
Chamber music fans are very special listeners who care not for spectacles, stars, glamour or social climbing. The Emerson has enjoyed the loyalty of thousands who have literally watched the quartet grow to maturity. One of the most rewarding aspects of touring is the opportunity to greet these same people every couple of years or so. In your mind they become inextricably connected to their locales. As we don't normally communicate with audience members between engagements, we will unavoidably learn of the passing of a familiar listener amidst the gaiety of a post-concert setting. To our global audience we are forever indebted. They have literally given us the precious life in music we enjoy so much, and for as long as I play the cello I will be there for them.

Soldiers for Music
While it is true that we are booked by major organizations such as Lincoln Center, London's South Bank Center and Los Angeles's Disney Hall, all of which possess salaried staffs working in offices, a huge number of chamber music series are run by volunteers, often out of their own homes. These passionate individuals simply can't tolerate life without chamber music. It's been a privilege to know so many of them, and I have a recurring dream that someday they could all meet. How inspiring it would have been for Horst Meyer, a German immigrant, low-temperature physics professor at Duke University, to have met Ted Williams, the sadly now-deceased African-American chemistry professor at the College of Wooster, both of whom were responsible for bringing chamber music to their cities. How much fun it would have been to see Klaus Lauer, the hotel director and chamber music presenter from Badenweiler, Germany, compare notes with Dr. Daniel Berkenblit, the anatomic pathologist from Schenectady, New York, who programmed the Union College Concert Series for forty years. I'm sure the volunteers of the Friends of Chamber Music in New Orleans, who take ticket orders over their home phones, would love to visit with the Friends of Chamber Music in Denver, who sell out an 800-seat hall with a waiting list of 200 every season. And how they would all love to meet Eric Wilson, who, at 80-plus years, is still riding his bicycle and programming the Vancouver Friends of Chamber Music series, where he presented the first-ever North American Shostakovich Quartet cycle by the Borodin Quartet back in the late 1960's.

The presence of these vital individuals will eventually fade, but the effect on their communities will live long, often in the hands of inspired inheritors of their vision. These soldiers for music, past, present and future deserve the recognition and support of audience and industry alike. My gratitude, friendship and advocacy of their work will remain steadfast, long after my departure from the Emerson Quartet.