philip Setzer

Philip Setzer interview: keeping it fresh

As the Emerson Quartet completes its Chamber Music Northwest residency, a founder talks about new music, a new music/theater project, and what great violinists really think about onstage


I had never been to a chamber music concert until one time in the early 1980s a friend persuaded me to go the the Renwick Gallery in Washington DC to hear, in the words of the Washington Post’s music critic at the time, “The young and splendid Emerson String Quartet.” Surrounded by huge Old Master paintings, my friend Anne and I sat spellbound while these four musicians wove their Schubert and Mendelssohn tapestries. I had enjoyed the grandeur of symphonic music as a lucky student recipient of free tickets, and attended the Washington Opera regularly with my brother. But I had never before experienced the subtle intimacy of chamber music, and I was hooked.

The Emerson Quartet are Chamber Music Northwest’s Artists in Residence this season. Photo: Tom Emerson.

After 40 years of performing together, the Emersons are, well, older (as are we all), but undoubtedly even more splendid. I’ve been fortunate to interview every member of the Quartet, the most recent being the modest, virtuoso violinist Philip Setzer. One of the wonderful things about chamber musicians is that they are all virtuosi, and yet each is an integral part of the family comprising the ensemble.

With the Quartet wrapping up its two-year run as Artists-in-Residence at Portland‘s Chamber Music Northwest, it‘s time to complete my series of Emerson interviews. Just before he left Portland, we talked about old music (especially Shostakovich), new music, violinists who compose, communicating with audiences (and vice versa), Setzer’s role in the Emersons’ recent explorations of combinations of music and theater, and much more.


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