Over the years -- or decades -- as people see the same personnel, watch the musicians grow artistically, hear the tight interconnections of the music-making, an extra bond develops. It's almost as if you go to their concerts to hear old friends. So when a longtime member of an ensemble leaves, it gives one pause.
That's what happened with today's announcement that David Finckel, cellist in the Emerson Quartet, will depart at the end of the 2012-2013 season -- which is to say after 34 years. His successor will be ... Welsh cellist Paul Watkins, a 16-year veteran of the London-based Nash Ensemble and former principal cellist of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He also enjoys a career as a conductor.
By the time I first encountered the Emerson Quartet, at the Spoleto Festival USA, the current membership was in place. I imagine that's the only lineup a lot of us have ever known. And what a fabulous foursome -- violinists Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer, violist Lawrence Dutton and Finckel.
Year after year, the Emerson has demonstrated finely matched technique, an intensity of focus, probing interpretations. These guys work together on a level that just seems to land naturally, inevitably on a higher plane. Things that might not work for others -- the violinists alternate first and second chair; the violinists and violist stand during performances -- work splendidly for this group.
Finckel has been a busy cellist outside the quartet for some time, and he wants to devote more time to that. Here's an excerpt from his statement:
"My colleagues of 33 years have been extremely understanding of my desire to pursue, with greater energy, my increasing number of performing, educational and presenting commitments that are independent of the quartet ...
I could not be happier to see [Paul Watkins] take my chair, nor can I wait to hear how marvelous the quartet will sound in its new incarnation ... I am equally excited for the opportunities that await me in the next chapter of my artistic and professional life."
Finckel's colleagues expressed their views in a joint statement:
“Our collegial feelings toward this marvelous cellist are mingled with awe and admiration for his manifold talents as a chamber music player, soloist and artistic director of two major presenting organizations and a recording company ... His passionate, uncompromising commitment to our art could serve as a beacon to those who have lost their way in these economically and culturally disorienting times ...
It is only fitting that David's successor be a multi-talented musician ... Since Paul is almost two decades younger than the rest of us, we see his coming both as an opportunity to reaffirm and renew our commitment to the musical values we have long held dear, and as a chance to ensure the continuation of the Emerson String Quartet beyond the participation of any individual member.”
Here's a taste of the Emerson magic:
"Our DSO to Go app has not only helped our live webcasts reach tremendous success around the globe, but has been an accessible sales channel for many first-time concertgoers without prior ticket or contribution history."