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Farewell Performance

The final Buffalo appearance of the Emerson Quartet’s longstanding cellist

The current four members of the Emerson String Quartet—violinists Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer, violist Lawrence Dutton, and cellist David Finckel—have performed together since 1979, when Finckel joined the group, which had been founded three years earlier. Since that time, the quartet has made numerous Buffalo appearances, but when the Emerson Quartet appears on the stage of the Mary Seaton Room of Kleinhans Music Hall on Tuesday, May 7 at 8pm, it will mark not only the final Buffalo performance of Finckel as the group’s cellist but also his final solo appearance with the quartet.

To mark David Finckel’s departure from and British cellist Paul Watkins’s debut with the Emerson Quartet, all five musicians will perform together for the first time on May 11 at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC, when Watkins will join Finckel and the quartet for the final selection on that program, Schubert’s String Quartet in C Major, D 956.

In the three plus decades that the current members of the Emerson Quartet have performed together, they have earned the distinction, through their impeccable musicianship, of being the best string quartet now performing in the country and one of the finest in the world. Buffalo audiences will not want to miss this final opportunity to hear these four musicians perform together.

Between 1989 and 2009, the Emerson Quartet won seven Grammy Awards for Best Chamber Music Performance from the 30 albums that it recorded. The quartet has also been twice awarded the highly coveted Grammy Award for Best Classical Album, first in 1989 for its landmark recording of the complete string quartets of Bartok, and again in 2000 for its complete Shostakovich string quartet cycle, thus encompassing a recorded legacy of the two arguably most important composers for the string quartet medium in the 20th century.

The reason that Finckel is relinquishing his position as the cellist of the Emerson Quartet is not, of course, that he plans to spend his retirement quietly fishing. Finckel is one of the busiest classical musicians in the country, and he and his wife, the pianist Wu Han, have long been the artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the highest-profile chamber music organization in America. They are also the founders and artistic directors of Music@Menlo, a chamber music festival in the San Francisco Bay Area. Finckel has also been passionately committed to nurturing the careers of young musicians through a wide array of education initiatives. He joined the legendary violinist Isaac Stern in teaching, both at Carnegie Hall and at the Jerusalem Music Center, and he has been instrumental in establishing teaching residencies under the auspices of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in Korea and Taiwan. All this organizational activity by Finckel has also occurred alongside his critically acclaimed performing career as half of a duo with his wife. Their appearance in Buffalo two years ago, in the now regretfully moribund Ramsi P. Tick subscription concert series, was one of the highlights of the classical music season.

Mozart composed his String Quartet in D Major, K.499 in 1786, after the set of six quartets he had dedicated to Haydn, and before the set of three quartets he dedicated to King Fredrick William II of Prussia. This work, dedicated to his friend, the German composer and publisher Franz Anton Hoffmeister, often uses polyphony in a manner more reminiscent of an earlier era. Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 34 is the second of his mature string quartets, and the unusually prominent viola part reminds us that the composer spent almost a decade as the principal violist of a Czech orchestra. Alban Berg may have composed his six-movement Lyric Suite in 1925 using methods derived from his mentor Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve tone technique, but no less an authority than Theodor Adorno, a leading member of the influential Frankfurt School of critical theory, described the work as “a latent opera.”

Buffalo audiences might be interested to learn that a subscription ticket for the five-concert series by the Emerson Quartet at the Smithsonian Museum costs $325. In comparison, the Buffalo Chamber Music Society’s season subscription price for its seven-concert series, which invariably features a dazzling array of the very best American and international chamber groups, remains a genuine bargain at only $100.

Tickets are $30, $10 for students. For more information, visit

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