Emerson String Quartet's Ann Arbor concert
features tragic, hauntingly beautiful music.
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ome of the worst writing
about classical music results
froth well-meaning efforts to
give extra-musical meanings
to purely musical ideas.
Mozart's symphonies, for example,
are not about the conflicts faced by a
young genius in a competitive musical
world; they are about the conflicts
between stringed instruments and
brass, major and minor, tonic and
But there are composers who pur-
posely infuse their works with autobi-
ographical elements, and the Emerson
String Quartet has chosen three such
works for their Dec. 13 concert at the
University of Michigan's Rackham
The concert begins with Bedrich
Smetana's String Quartet in e minor,
subtitled "From My Life." It continues
with Dmitri Shostakovich's String
Quartet No. 8 in c minor and con-
cludes with Franz Shubert's String
Quartet No. 14 in d minor, subtitled
"Death and the Maiden."
"It's an emotionally charged pro-
gram," said Eugene Drucker, violinist
in the 26-year-old ensemble.
Drucker, who was raised in a secular
Jewish home, is married with an 8-
year-old son. His violinist father, who
played in the Busch Quartet and in
the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra,
escaped from Germany in 1938, along
with two brothers.
Among the other Emerson Quartet
members, violinist Philip Setzer also is
Jewish. Both of his parents played in
the Cleveland Orchestra.
The Emerson performance, spon-
sored by the University Musical
Society, is the 10th Ann Arbor appear-
ance for the group.
Drucker and Setzer alternate in the
quartet's first violin chair; the two first
met at New York's Juilliard School of
Music in the early 1970s.
"We both worked with [violinist]
Oscar Shumsky, and we got together
to play chamber music, at first with
various changes of personnel,"
"We learned one quartet a year in
the early years — it seems amazing
now, when we have such an enormous
While studying at Juilliard, Drucker
also earned a bachelor's degree in
English literature from Columbia
University. He now writes most of the
quartet's program notes.
The Final Four
Because the group became a formal
quartet in 1976, the year of the
Bicentennial, they wanted an all-
American name. Adopting the name
"Emerson" — after 19th-century
philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson —
was an arbitrary choice, Drucker told
an interviewer from the New York
Times Magazine in 1993.
"In Germany," he said, "they think
transcendentalism has a lot to do with
our playing, even though none of us
has read a word of Emerson."
About that time, the group's original
violist decided to switch to violin and
left the quartet; 11 prospective mem-
bers auditioned for the spot.
The position went to Lawrence
Dutton, another Juilliard student, who
had begun his training at the Eastman
School of Music in Rochester, N.Y.
The final member of the quartet,
David Finckel, is a protege of Russian-
born cellist/conductor Mstislav
"While this is our 26th season, the
foul' of us have been together for 23 of
those years," Drucker said.
In that time, the group has recorded
much of the world's greatest quartet
literature through Universal
Classics/Deutsche Grammophon; won
six Grammy Awards, including two
for Best Classical Album; and per-
formed the complete cycles of Bartok,
Beethoven and Shostokovich through-
out the world.
In 2001, the Emerson Quartet won