GREAT BARRINGTON — Like other stuck-at-home musicians, violinist Eugene Drucker made and streamed videos during the lockdown. But he also kept his well-practiced hand in with sidelines as a composer and novelist.
Drucker, a member of the estimable Emerson String Quartet, made a series of five videos with the quartet during the hiatus. He worked on a novel based on “Hamlet.” He composed a second song cycle to poems of the late Denise Levertov, who was a friend. And he dusted off the major violin concertos for practice. Now he’s about to give his first public performance since March 2020 in a Berkshire Bach Society fundraiser.
The Berkshire Bach program — 5 p.m., Saturday, June 26, in the First Congregational Church — which also marks the society’s 30th anniversary, features Drucker, cellist Roberta Cooper and harpsichordist Arthur Haas in Bach sonatas and excerpts from his “Art of the Fugue.” It is the Berkshires’ for substantial program for a live audience since lockdown.
Lockdown? Did somebody say lockdown?
Drucker, an 8-time Grammy Award-winning artist, remembers a horror story from 2020 when the Emerson made five attempts to adjust a previously planned European tour to meet concert presenters’ pandemic demands. The first four attempts collapsed.
Then, he said, “we were supposed to leave on the March 11 for a two-week tour, and on [March 10] we started getting notifications that our concert in Vienna was canceled, and a master class in Madrid, and a concert in Madrid, and a concert in Finland, and a concert in La Rochelle in France, and a concert in Poland at the end. And so we had to decide within about 24 hours, are we flying over there or not, to play just the concerts that hadn’t been canceled, knowing that they probably will be canceled within the next couple of days, and then maybe being stuck over there?
“We decided not to go.”
As the U.S. emerges from its COVID-19 nightmare, the Bach society resumes its pre-pandemic concert schedule. Next week’s opener will be followed by a choral concert, a program of organ masters, a community “Messiah” sing-in, and the traditional “Bach at New Year’s” program built around the six “Brandenburg” concertos. It will be given on New Year’s Eve at the Mahaiwe and be followed by performances in Troy, N.Y., and Northampton. For every Berkshire concert, student tickets are free, and some free seating is offered to essential workers.
Drucker, 69, and Cooper (his wife) have been playing almost every year in the New Year’s concerts here, and he has frequently appeared as a soloist in other society concerts. He carries the title of music director of the New Year’s programs.
His connection with the Bach group stems from his long association with Kenneth Cooper, its former music director, who died last March. When Cooper retired as New Year’s director in 2017, Drucker succeeded him.
Drucker’s introduction to Berkshire Bach actually dates back to 1994, when his wife joined the New Year’s ensemble.
Three days after the Bach concert here, the Emerson String Quartet resumes concertizing with a program in the Central Park bandshell in New York. A “smattering of other events” includes an early August residency at the Yale Summer School of Music in Norfolk, Conn. Touring begins this fall with a leisurely schedule of about 10 programs that include a tentative date in September at South Mountain in Pittsfield.
In between, Drucker will continue his creative endeavors with work on his Hamlet novel, his third.
The first novel, published in 2017, was “The Savior,” a story of a violinist forced to perform a crude experiment on prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp. A second, semi-autobiographical novel, “Yearning,” is due to be published this year.
The Hamlet novel, Drucker says, sees Shakespeare’s tragic hero through the eyes of his best friend, Horatio. The writing will involve somehow having to fill in gaps in the play, but, Drucker says, “the purest love that Hamlet demonstrates” is for Horatio.” While Horatio is often regarded as a relatively minor character, “I figured if Hamlet is such a brilliant person and he thinks so highly of Horatio, there must be a reason for it.”
During the lockdown, Drucker says, “sometimes I felt as if I had hit a dead end with my practicing.” Though he had studied and played the major concertos, “I just wanted to see if I could elevate my playing by practicing a lot, pushing against the boundaries of my technique,” And though he had to stop from time to time because of physical wear and tear, “it worked to some extent.”
During the long months, he and Roberta found that “the music that gave us the most satisfaction to practice was Bach.” The unaccompanied sonatas and partitas are music that “feels very complete in itself,” he says.
From such experiences, Drucker draws a distinction between “emotional sustenance,” as in the slow movement of a Brahms symphony, and “spiritual sustenance,” as in slow movements of Beethoven’s middle and late string quartets. Bach, he says, also takes a listener to that higher, mountaintop level.
Let the Berkshires’ summer music season begin.