Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Cellist Finds Immediate Rapport with Emerson Quartet

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Cellist Finds Immediate Rapport with Emerson Quartet

Article excerpt

It doesn't happen often. In fact, the Emerson String Quartet, which since its founding in 1976 has established itself as one of the world's top chamber music ensembles, had not had a personnel change for 34 years.

In 2012, the New York-based ensemble announced that its cellist, David Finckel, would be departing on amicable terms after the 2012- 2013 season to pursue his own musical interests, and that British cellist and conductor Paul Watkins would replace him. This was no mere human relations maneuver, and no open audition was held. A 25 percent change in musicians would demand that any new player has the technical and musical ability to match the Emerson String Quartet -- not to mention that certain je ne sais quoi so intrinsic to a group's sound, blend and identity.

The Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society has presented the Emerson String Quartet 16 times, but a concert at 7:30 tonight at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland will mark the first performance with Mr. Watkins on cello.

I caught up with Mr. Watkins by phone. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

Have you been to Pittsburgh before?

I've never been to Pittsburgh before.

Do you have any plans for your first trip here?

Well, as is often the case in the life of a traveling musician, there's precious little time to look around. ... We often come in on the day and get straight to rehearsing or whatever. I think if I get a little time to look around before the afternoon rehearsal I'd be interested to see the Downtown. I've been told the hall is absolutely incredible, so really looking forward to that.

Make an analogy for the layperson. Being the new member of the Emerson String Quartet is akin to ...

Ah right, well ... that's a difficult analogy, really. People often describe a string quartet as a marriage between four people. It's really like a four-way relationship. For me, it's like slipping into a very, very intense and detailed and loving relationship between these musicians. One of them's left for his own reasons, with no acrimony at all, just he's moving onto different things. I've got to come and make sure I don't upset the balance of the thing too much. I suppose it would also be in a way like a new member coming into a sports team or something, but I guess it would have to be a small sports team, of just four people.

Maybe doubles tennis or something.

Yeah, exactly.

You've been in Emerson since May. Do you still feel like the new guy?

I guess I'm going to feel like the new guy for quite some time, and that's absolutely fine. The reason that I decided to sell my house and move my family and come across the Atlantic was that after playing with them even just for a relatively short period of time -- way back last year, in fact at the beginning of 2012, we played together just privately -- I felt that we had such a rapport already, that it seemed like fitting in and being the new guy wasn't going to be a difficult process, really. …

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