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Gerald Carpenter: Emerson String Quartet to Play at UCSB

The ensemble's members will teach a masterclass before Saturday night's concert

The renowned Emerson String Quartet returns to UCSB’s Campbell Hall for an Arts & Lectures-sponsored concert at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 5.

Alban Berg around the time he wrote his String Quartet.
Alban Berg around the time he wrote his String Quartet.

The Emerson String Quartet — Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer on violins, Lawrence Dutton on viola and David Finckel on cello — has not only a secure international reputation, it has a secure slot on the Arts & Lectures yearly schedule as just about the most popular classical music act to play Campbell.

The program for Saturday’s concert consists of three works: the Andante and Menuet, Opus 103 of Franz Josef Haydn, the String Quartet, Opus 3 by Alban Berg and the String Quartet in Eb-Major, Opus 44, No. 3 by Felix Mendelssohn.

The members of the Emerson String Quartet as individuals also will teach a string masterclass with students from the UCSB Department of Music at 2 p.m. Saturday in UCSB Music Room 1145.

Berg (1885-1935) was a pupil of Arnold Schoenberg for six years. He wrote his only String Quartet at the end of his student period, in 1910, as a kind of valedictorian address. It was first performed on April 24, 1911, at the Vienna Musikverein — which makes the Emerson String Quartet’s performance of it almost a centennial observation — and the same concert also witnessed the first performance of Berg’s other early masterpiece, the Piano Sonata, Opus 1.

Schoenberg, though he bestowed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge and technique on his students, could not grant degrees — otherwise, this string masterwork must have earned Berg at least a doctorate, a full professorship and a permanent niche in the Pantheon.

Of the trio of musicians known as the “Second Viennese School” — Schoenberg and his students Berg and Webern — it is Berg who has achieved a tentatively permanent place in modern concert programs. (Musicians admire Webern, but audiences prefer Berg. Schoenberg has found few champions, though only Igor Stravinsky was as important to 20th century music.)

Berg’s haunting Violin Concerto, this String Quartet, his Piano Sonata, the Seven Early Songs, the bold Three Pieces for Orchestra and even the austerely serial Chamber Concerto for Piano, Violin and 13 Winds are now performed with reasonable regularity. Except for the public’s brief embrace of his astonishing opera Wozzeck, however, all of his fame was posthumous. He died in desperate poverty, of blood poisoning. His last words were, “So long as I don’t wind up as a composer of operettas!”

The masterclass is free and open to observers. Concert tickets are $35 for the general public and $15 for UCSB students. Call the Arts & Lectures box office at 805.893.3535, or click here.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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