Lawrence Dutton

Interview: Lawrence Dutton on the body, the viola and the Emerson Quartet

Lawrence Dutton, violist for Chamber Music Northwest headliners the Emerson Quartet, discusses the group's future and its 'Passing the Torch' program

By ALICE HARDESTY

The Emerson String Quartet, one of America’s iconic quartets, is coming back for Chamber Music Northwest’s summer festival on July 15-17 at Reed College with a three-concert program called “Passing the Torch.” This is the Quartet’s 39th season, all with the same personnel until three years ago, when cellist David Finckel left the Quartet and was replaced by Paul Watkins.

Artswatch talked with Emerson violist Lawrence Dutton about matters of sound, blend, and the body, and how the eminent Emerson is passing the torch to some dynamic young groups.

The Emerson Quartet playing last summer at Chamber Music Northwest/Photo by Tom Emerson

The Emerson Quartet playing last summer at Chamber Music Northwest/Photo by Tom Emerson

First, the Viola’s Role

No viola jokes this time, only admiration and affection. The viola has a wonderful mellow sound. What would you say is the viola’s role in the string quartet?

Oh boy, how to answer this question! If you think about how this instrument was developed, the violin emerged in the early days, and then, out of all the gambas, the cello became the bass instrument. The viola is really the bridge from the violins to the cello. We are only a fifth lower than the violin, but we are tuned an octave above the cello. In many ways what we do is like the violin, but the sound production relates more to the cello, so we try to fill out that middle range. It’s a distinctive sound.

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