Nine Grammys, three "Gramophone" Awards, the Avery Fisher Prize, and many others - the New York City-based Emerson String Quartet is the unrivalled champion of international chamber music. On Saturday, the audience admired the first performance of this ensemble at the 18th Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival in Warsaw.
When several years ago the artists made a complete recording of Beethoven's string quartets, a reviewer of "Stereophile" called them "the Mount Everest of the string quartet canon", a music critic of "The New York Times" stressed their freshness, resplendency and virtuosity, and the Gramophone concluded that the Emerson String Quartet "continually offers new insights into some endlessly enthralling music. Do hear them". The Saturday show of the Emerson String Quartet at the Warsaw Royal Castle commenced with one of the festival patron's quartets: the String Quartet in E minor Op. 59 No. 2. Piercing chords that opened the turbulent Allegro, the extremely intense and dense sound of violin and viola (Molto adagio), later galloping, and again grave and solemn in the finale (Presto), provided thrills. Emotions peaked when the New Yorkers reached for Dmitry Shostakovich's String Quartet in B flat minor Op. 138. They gave their all to this uneasy piece and sparks seemed to fly from their instruments. It is no wonder, then, that after the musicians gave an equally splendid performance of Beethoven's Quartet in C major Op. 59 No. 3, the festival audience was reluctant to let them go.
The Saturday programme of the 18th Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival had another great event for us. The Warsaw Philharmonic hosted the International Classical Music Awards ceremony, with awards given by music journalists and critics from all over the world. The event, held for the first time in Poland, was honoured by the presence of great artists, the laureates of this year's ICMA: conductor Charles Dutoit, pianists Andreas Staier, Joseph Moog and Andrea Bacchetti, violinist Daniel Hope, violist Adrien Boisseau,Signum Quartet, as well as conductor and composer Krzysztof Penderecki. The Polish highlights of the ICMA gala included the Polish label DUX, which was awarded for releasing Maestro Krzysztof Penderecki's complete symphonies, performed by The Polish Sinfonia Iuventus Orchetra under the composer's baton.
Special Achievement Award also went to the Ludwig van Beethoven Association, which has organized the Easter Festival for 18 years. On receiving the award from ICMA Jury President Remy Franck, Elzbieta Penderecka, overcome by emotion, stressed that the Festival owes its success also to its closest co-workers who make the Association strong.
Krzysztof Penderecki, who was honoured with a statuette, expressed his thanks first to Malgorzata Polanska, the director of DUX label, because, he indicated, his complete symphonies were recorded on her initiative.
Unfortunately, the event also had a sombre tone. ICMA jurors gave a Special Achievement Award to the SWR Symphony Orchestra Baden-Baden and Freiburg, but before announcing their verdict they were informed that the orchestra will be disbanded for economic reasons.
The award gala was followed on the Philharmonic's stage by a concert of prizewinners, who performed with The Polish Sinfonia Iuventus Orchestra under the baton of Charles Dutoit (first-rate performance of Hector Berlioz's "Roman Carnival" Overture), José Maria Florêncio (excellent Concerto in G minor BWV 1058 by Johann Sebastian Bach, with Andrea Bacchetti as a soloist) and Krzysztof Penderecki, with whom the young artists gave a bravura performance of the composer's Adagio from Symphony No. 3. What I liked most was another great violin performance of this year's Easter Festival, this time by the youngest ICMA awardee - violist Adrien Boisseau, who delighted the audience with a splendid interpretation of Max Bruch's Romance in F major Op. 85. The ceremonious evening concluded with Adagietto from L'Arlésienne Suite No. 1 by Georges Bizet, in which the Polish orchestra was conducted by a member of the SWR Symphony Orchestra - Holger Schroter-Seebeck. This performance had a symbolic overtone. It was also perceived that way by the audience, who warmly applauded to express their solidarity with the orchestra, which found itself in a very difficult situation.

Tomasz Handzlik