There’s something nearly unbelievable about witnessing collaboration of the highest caliber. Thursday night, Rackham Auditorium hummed with the reverberations of violins, violas, and celli played by the members of the legendary Emerson String Quartet and the rapidly-rising Calidore String Quartet.
The program consisted of works for 5-8 string players, which guaranteed that every piece involved members of both quartets working together. Even though Emerson has been playing together for a few decades longer than Calidore, there was no sense that musicians in one quartet were stronger than the others: they played together beautifully.
While I questioned their decision to open the concert with slower and lyrical pieces, I ended up feeling more engaged than I was expecting. Every aspect of their collective sound was so exquisite, every long phrase so artfully constructed that it was difficult to resist being swept up in the ebb and flow. Their blend was so pristine that if I closed my eyes, it became difficult to tell if a melody was getting passed around or stayed on the same instrument.
The first half ended with my favorite part of the concert, the Scherzo from Shostakovich’s String Octet. While Shostakovich’s teacher may have frowned on his student’s harsh writing style, the piece was an absolute head-banger. It was impossible to resist grooving along with Calidore and Emerson.
Mendelssohn’s famous String Octet filled the second half, and watching the eight musicians nod, breathe, and bob together through this monumental work made one feel like the fly-on-a-wall of a lively dinner conversation.
It was incredibly special to share the room with professionals who were professional enough to share the stage. Both groups were more than capable of giving their own concert, as they have already done numerous times, but the fact that they chose to come together, try out new interpretations, and combine their unique approaches is what I believe made the evening so beautiful. I’m thankful that these truly great musicians have recognized that some of the best things happen when you link arms.