This weekend's concert by the renowned Emerson String Quartet at the UA's Crowder Hall kicks off more than a half-dozen Beethoven programs scheduled throughout the winter, to be performed by visiting chamber music groups, the local Coyote Consort, and the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. The symphony presents an all-Beethoven program in February, while from November through April UApresents is staging an ambitious series of seven concerts showcasing the entire Beethoven string quartet cycle.
There's no particular anniversary to celebrate, however. Two hundred years ago, in the year 1779, Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was coming toward the end of what's called his early period, still influenced by the great composers Mozart and Haydn. He was still a few years away from his rebellion against the traditional structures of classical music. So why so much Beethoven, and why now?
The short answer is the turning of the millennium. Ken Foster, executive director of UApresents, said in a release that he's long wanted to bring the entire Beethoven string quartet cycle to Tucson. "What better time than this millennial season to bring together these superlative ensembles performing what may well be the greatest body of Western European art music even written?"
The long answer is the extraordinary stature of Beethoven in music history.
"All composers are influenced by Beethoven, whether they decide to reject some of his music or to use it, " explains pianist Tannis Gibson, who will perform the Young Beethoven concert with her Coyote Consort at the UA in January. "The strength and clarity of his music, the working out of his ideas, the development of his musical ideas within a piece, his tremendous rhythmic sense: Beethoven took all that to an unprecedented level."
General audiences are more familiar with Beethoven's grand symphonies, and TSO will present one of the most popular, Symphony No. 3, Eroica, at its February concert, along with the overture to the composer's only opera, Leonore, and his Triple Concerto. Eroica, first performed in 1805, signaled Beethoven's dramatic break with the symphonic past.
What's interesting about the string quartet cycle, says Gibson, is that it charts the trajectory of Beethoven's changing musical interests.
"The string quartets really form a sort of an arch of Beethoven's composing life, early, middle and late," she says. "If you follow that you have a good idea of the growth of Beethoven's music." Most of the chamber music concerts in the UApresents series will demonstrate that arch in miniature, by offering three pieces, one from each of the three main Beethoven periods.
The Emerson String Quartet's Concert 1, on Saturday evening, offers the early Quartet in D Major (Op. 18, No. 3) from 1798-1800; the Quartet in F Major (Op. 59, No. 1) of 1806, dedicated to Count Rasumovky, a Russian ambassador to Vienna who played music himself; and the late Quartet in A Minor (Op. 132), composed in 1825, long after the composer had lost his hearing.
On the program at Sunday's Concert 2 are the Quartet in F major (Op. 18, No. 1) from 1798-1800; and the Quartet in B-flat Major (Op. 130), from 1825-26, performed with the "Grosse Fuge" finale (Op. 133).
Violinists Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer, violist Lawrence Dutton and cellist David Finkel formed the Emerson String Quartet back in 1976, and they've gone on to play worldwide, tallying a long list of awards. Most recently, they won critical acclaim for their Beethoven and the 20th Century concert series, which alternated between the composer's string quartets and contemporary pieces.
Chamber music has long had devotees in Tucson, nurtured in part by the decades-old Arizona Friends of Chamber Music. Gibson notes that the music was originally performed in drawing rooms and salons, so UApresents is staging its series in the small-scale Crowder Hall instead of its usual venue, 2500-seat Centennial Hall.
"Great chamber music really can draw in its audience," Gibson says. "It's intimate. The audience is part of it...This is an event for people who love chamber music, for people who love Beethoven and for people who love both."
The Emerson String Quartet plays at 8 p.m. Saturday, November 6, and 4 p.m. Sunday, November 7, at UA Crowder Hall, at the south end of the pedestrian underpass at Speedway Boulevard and Park Avenue. Tickets are $30, with discounts for students, children, and UA faculty and staff. Join the Emerson musicians for a pre-concert lecture one hour prior to each performance; and at a 1 p.m. open rehearsal Sunday in Crowder Hall. A free reception follows the Sunday concert. For tickets and information call 621-3341.
The UApresents chamber series continues with Tucson's Coyote Consort on January 28; Germany's Petersen Quartet on February 11 and 12; and the Colorado Quartet on April 15 and 16. For information call 621-3341.
The Tucson Symphony Orchestra's Beethoven Triple Play concert will be held February 17, 18 and 20. Call 882-8585 for details.