Notes From Our Final European Tour

03/13/2013 08:52 am ET | Updated May 13, 2013

On our final European tour with David Finckel, we've already played in London, Copenhagen, Freiburg, Vienna, Basel and Badenweiler (in the Black Forest). We're in Italy now, about to play in Pistoia and Perugia, then on to Munich to finish the tour. This entire season, and especially the last few months, makes us feel like we're approaching the end of an era. Of course, we know that it's the beginning of a new chapter for both David and the Emerson Quartet, as we welcome our wonderful new cellist Paul Watkins for rehearsals and concerts in May and as David continues to expand his other musical activities.

In the course of working together so intensively for 34 years, we've accumulated lots of habits and traditions, both as individuals and as a group. As David has already noted in his blog posts, we've grown close to many presenters and supporters in various parts of the world, and this closeness has often been cemented through festive post-concert dinners in restaurants or private homes. David and Larry are always ready to photograph the delicious and colorful dishes that are presented to us. David usually inquires about the local specialties, both food and beverages, and seems eager to experience everything that life has to offer while he's on tour. This is all the more remarkable considering how much non-quartet work he has to take care of. I'm sure I don't know the half of it, but he has many deadlines to meet in his capacity as artistic co-director of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and of Music at Menlo - not to mention the sonata and concerto repertoire he has to keep in a state of readiness for his next solo or duo concert. I've often thought he has the energy of three people, and needs less sleep than one. How else could he find time to visit places of interest while we're on tour, often making only a brief visit to each city? We were in Moscow in December for less than two days, having come straight from a concert in Boston, but he visited Rostropovich's grave in the cemetery where so many great Russian musicians are buried.

My experience while on tour is different: over the years I've come to accept that I am less and less of a tourist. In our early years of European concertizing, I made a point of seeing many museums in Amsterdam, Paris and London, for example, whether or not I had a day off. Nowadays -- it may be partly because I know that within two years, I'll be back in many of these cities -- I am often content to stroll around and simply absorb the atmosphere of a town, as I did today in rainy Florence, or last weekend in Vienna, rather than pressure myself to visit a museum if I don't have the time, energy or mental focus necessary to make it worthwhile.

I believe that as we grow older, our salient characteristics often get accentuated. We become more of who and what we are, occasionally even to the point of caricature. If we understand that, and if each of us can accept himself and his colleagues as they are, we can have a great time, both together and during the many hours we each spend alone in hotel rooms or restaurants. This is as good a moment as any to repeat what we often say when interviewers ask us the secret for staying together so long: a sense of humor is essential in trying to maintain a sense of perspective about oneself.

I agree with what David has written in his blog, that one of the best things about our profession is the variety of cities and cultures that we are privileged to experience, as well as the many wonderful people we meet along the way. In London, Copenhagen, Freiburg and Vienna, we each spent time with dear friends, including some of the managers with whom we've developed cordial relations in each country. In Badenweiler, we had lunch with Klaus and Annette Lauer and their beautiful daughter Anna. Klaus and Annette used to run the magnificent Hotel Römerbad, which had been in his family for over a century, and where he developed one of the most sophisticated musical and artistic forums in Europe. Pierre Boulez, Elliott Carter, Wolfgang Rihm and many other luminaries of the contemporary music scene performed there and had world premieres of their music in the Hofsaal. We were privileged to present three complete Beethoven cycles (6 concerts each) in Badenweiler, plus Bartok and Shostakovich cycles and many single concerts since our first appearance at the hotel in 1984. The combination of an extraordinary setting (with a medieval castle, ruins of Roman baths, parks, forest paths and vineyards all within easy walking distance), close personal friendships developed over the years not only with the Lauers but also with some of their loyal clientele, and the greatness of the music we performed was always a heady stimulant, providing ample inspiration for future projects. On various occasions, family members and close friends from the U.S. joined us in this seemingly magical place. We each had our young families with us for the second Beethoven cycle we played at the Römerbad, in November 1995. Several artistically composed black and white photos of the four of us with wives, children and close friends bring back many memories of that time, including nostalgic reminiscences of the immensely gifted photographer himself, Albrecht Ohly, a dear friend who passed away a few years ago.

It is hard to imagine that David, Phil, Larry and I have just played our last concert together at a venue with so many powerful associations for each and all. For the three of us who will remain, there is the comforting knowledge that we can return to the various scenes of our past activities and renew our shared musical experiences with Paul. We can take pleasure in proudly introducing this brilliant musician to our friends and listeners. And I've often tried to reassure audience members that they have not heard David Finckel for the last time. I know that he will return in some capacity to many of our favorite haunts. He loves music, food and concert life too much to stay at home.