When the Emerson String Quartet takes the Memorial Chapel stage Sunday at Union College, they won't need much of an introduction.
"My guess is that they've probably been here over 30 times since they first formed 40 years ago," Derek Delaney, director of the Union College Concert Series, said of the quartet. "They're a legendary group. They appear at Tanglewood almost every year and they are dear old friends of the concert series."
The Emerson String Quartet will take the stage at 3 p.m. with Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer on violins, Lawrence Dutton on viola and Paul Watkins on cello. Watkins is the newest member of the group, having joined during the 2012-2013 season. Past members include David Finckel, Eric Wilson and Guillermo Figueroa.
"They cover the gamut of string repertory," said Delaney. "They'll be doing Shostakovich, his second quartet, and they are quite well-known for their interpretation of his music. He's been a very important composer in the last quarter century of their history."
The quartet, currently in residence at Stony Brook University on the north shore of Long Island, formed in 1976 at the Juilliard School as a student ensemble, and soon turned professional. They took their name from American poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson.
The group has released more than 30 albums and won nine Grammy Awards. In 2004, they also won the prestigious Avery Fisher Prize, awarded to American musicians for outstanding achievement in classical music. In 2015, the group received the Richard J. Bogomolny National Service Award, Chamber Music America's highest honor, in recognition of its significant and lasting contribution to the chamber music field.
The quartet has played with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and performed with vocalists Renee Fleming and Barbara Hannigan, to name a few. Their extensive recordings include works by Bach, Harbison, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Bartok, Webern and Shostakovich.
Sunday's concert is the 10th of the 2018-2019 season, and is being sponsored by Daniel Berkenblit and his wife, Philippine Meister. Berkenblit moved to Niskayuna in 1967, and after becoming a fan of the Union College Concert Series, he began serving as its director in 1969 and remained in the position until retiring in 2011, when Delaney took over.
"He and his wife are sponsoring this event, and I'm very happy to say they're doing quite well and have been coming to all the concerts," said Delaney.
Along with Berkenblit and his wife, the Union College Concert Series has a solid fan base that's also diverse, according to Delaney, .
"Any student throughout the region can get free tickets to our concerts and we do have a lot of young people showing up," said Delaney. "We reach out to a lot of people through social media. We have a Facebook page, an Instagram page, so we are engaging with a lot of people. It's very important for us to share all this great music with as many people as we can."
Along with the beautiful music, Delaney and Union College have one of the best musical venues in the region in Memorial Chapel. It was built in 1925 as a monument to those Union College graduates who lost their lives during World War I.
"It's a great setting and it's a lovely building with great acoustics," said Delaney. "I think that's part of the attraction to our series. We draw musicians from all over the world who are very happy to play here. It's a wonderful space and intimate, and that allows the audience and the performers to really feel connected with each other. It's not just a spectator sport when our audience members come to a concert. People feel fully involved in the show."
The Union College Concert Series resumes Sunday, Feb. 17, at 3 p.m. with a performance by the London-based Doric Quartet.
Emerson String Quartet
WHAT: Union College Concert Series
WHERE: Memorial Chapel, Union College
WHEN: Sunday, 3 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $35; students are free
MORE INFO: www.unioncollegeconcerts.org