Robert Mann, first violinist of the Juilliard String Quartet, once remarked to me how much he enjoyed playing at the University of Chicago's Mandel Hall--an appreciative audience, he said, in an ideal environment. Appropriately the venerable hall, whose warm acoustics make it especially well suited to chamber music, will celebrate its 100th birthday this weekend with a concert by the Emerson String Quartet--the Juilliard's successor as America's greatest string quartet. Mandel Hall, named for department store magnate Leon Mandel and designed by the same firm that did the Art Institute, is one of the campus's main assembly spaces, but its reputation as a lecture and music venue has spread internationally. Nobel Prize winners and philosophers have spoken there; the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under various conductors, has performed there, and so have nearly all the famous quartets, as well as vocalists from Elly Ameling to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Both the Emerson and the Pacifica have proven their stamina by taking on 20th-century challenges--the Emerson all of Shostakovich's quartets, the youngish Pacifica all of Elliott Carter's--but those impressive feats aren't reflected on the program here. The Emerson will instead play Beethoven's Quartet in A Minor, a piece they've recorded a few times, then bring out the Pacifica to join them on Mendelssohn's Octet in E-flat--not a favorite of mine, but musicians apparently enjoy playing it, and when you've got eight first-rate stringers on the same stage, that's a recipe for transcendence. Friday, October 10, 7:30 PM, Mandel Hall, University of Chicago, 1131 E. 57th; 773-702-8068.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Andrew Eccles.