MIDDLEBURY, Vt.-Classical music fans have a rare opportunity to hear a world-class performance by an acclaimed and wildly popular string quartet returning to Middlebury College for a free concert Saturday, Sept. 18.

The Emerson String Quartet plans an evening of quartets by Mozart, Britten and Beethoven-including Beethoven’s opus 131-beginning at 8 p.m. in Mead Chapel on Hepburn Road off College Street (Route 125). The doors will open at 7:30 p.m. for this free event, which was made possible by the support of the Institute for Clinical Science and Art, established by the late Dr. F. William Sunderman of Philadelphia.

Formed in 1976 and together as the current four members since 1979, the Emerson String Quartet is based in New York City but is at home on concert stages and at chamber music festivals around the world. The quartet’s members are violinists Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer, cellist David Finckel and violist Lawrence Dutton. The group borrowed its name from American poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson.

This spring, the Emerson became the first chamber music group to win the prestigious Avery Fisher Prize-the “Oscar” of the classical-music world. The quartet has received six Grammy Awards as well, including two in the best classical album category and several others for its recordings of the complete cycles of string quartets by Bartók, Beethoven and Shostakovich. The ensemble has recorded exclusively for Universal Classics/Deutsche Grammophon since 1987. Recent releases have included recordings of works by Haydn and Bach.

Giving approximately 100 concerts a year, the quartet appeared last season at major concert venues in the United States, including Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and the Smithsonian Institution. It also toured Europe and Asia with stops in Barcelona, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Taipei and Seoul.

The Emerson String Quartet has become a fixture, setting a high standard within the music world. The New York Times called the ensemble “technically resourceful, musically insightful, cohesive, full of character and always interesting.” A Newsday critic declared, “Bit by bit, the Emerson has staked its claim to being the one indispensable quartet in a world that is constantly creating more, excellent ensembles.” And after a performance at London’s Wigmore Hall, a reviewer for The Times (of London) simply stated, “Surely, you think, with musicians like this there must be hope for humanity.”

In recent years, teaching has taken on a larger role for the group’s members, now all in their 50s. Since the fall of 2002, they have worked as quartet-in-residence at Stony Brook University on Long Island, coaching chamber music, giving master classes as well as concerts, and providing instrumental instruction. Last year, they also began leading the biennial Carnegie Hall workshops formerly headed by the late violinist Isaac Stern.

The Emerson String Quartet concert is free, and no tickets or reservations are necessary. For information, contact the Middlebury College Box Office at 802-443-6433 or visit the College’s Web site at www.middlebury.edu/arts/.

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