As the Emerson Quartet embarks on its final tour, the members talk to Bruce Hodges about their instruments, their future and their past as one of the great string quartets
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‘Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.’ This quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson might be one of the most prescient summations of the extraordinary ensemble that – 47 years ago – was inspired to take his name for what Time magazine would later call ‘America’s greatest quartet’.
For more than four decades the Emerson Quartet has been regarded as one of the world’s foremost ensembles, with scores of recordings and thousands of performances worldwide. That legacy will soon wind down to a grand finale, the group having announced in 2021 that the 2022–23 season would be its last.
Founded in 1976 at the Juilliard School, New York, the group was one of the first quartets to alternate the first and second violin spots – still unusual in a field in which often ensembles will choose one or the other and remain that way. Robert Mann, one of their mentors at Juilliard, advised them against doing this; they considered his suggestion, but eventually ignored it. Years later he apologised, admitting, ‘I was wrong.’
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