Born in 1952, Hank Dutt recorded more than 60 studio albums which cover a very broad range of musical genres. He has held the viola in the Kronos Quartet since 1977.

Hank Dutt © Heidi Alletzhauser
Hank Dutt
© Heidi Alletzhauser

What is your idea of chamber music heaven?

Playing those gorgeous chords from the opening of Beethoven’s Op.127 for all eternity doesn’t sound like the worst way to pass the time in paradise.

Of what kinds of errors are you the most tolerant?

If a line is phrased well, if it is full of character, I can overlook slips in ensemble or intonation. Sometimes a small defect can even make a phrase more beautiful or more compelling.

What makes an ideal partner in a quartet?

As in life: someone who listens to you, listens to your suggestions, has ideas of their own. Tacit understanding and trust.

Also: someone who still listens to you when you both are performing in front of other people!

What’s your most notable characteristic when you’re playing?

I spend a lot of time thinking about vibrato – when to use it, the many shades of vibrato, how it shapes the sound.

What’s your greatest defect?

Counting! It ought to be the easiest thing in the world, but in performance there are a million distractions than can steer you into a four-instrument pile-up. Before the first rehearsal, I fill my parts with cues. After rehearsal, I erase half of them and put in new ones. Rinse, repeat.

What’s your favorite occupation (when you’re not playing viola)?

I like the problem-solving aspect of teaching. Finding the right way of expressing ideas to unlock a student’s musical understanding. All the analysis that goes into devising solutions for students helps my own playing as well. It’s very gratifying work.

If you could be any person in the history of music, who would you wish to have been?

I can think of so many performances I would like to have witnessed: the premieres of Beethoven’s quartets, the premiere of the Rite of Spring, Heifetz’s Carnegie Hall debut, Casals playing Bach. My husband usually reminds me that dentistry in those days was very painful, and that I should reconsider.

What is your favorite quartet?

Whatever it is I am playing at the moment. Can it be any other way?

What has been your most beautiful concert?

My favorite concerts have been when the excellence of my colleagues’ playing inspires me to heights I would never reach playing by myself.

Kronos Quartet © Jay Blakesberg
Kronos Quartet
© Jay Blakesberg

What has been your greatest musical disappointment?

Sometimes you work hard on a piece that you believe in, but you can tell that the audience isn’t terribly engaged with it. Who knows where the problem lies: the piece, the performance, the circumstances, the audience? It’s a mystery.

If you were to be reincarnated as a musical instrument, which would you choose?

Does the voice count as an instrument? As a violist, it is sometimes difficult to shake the feeling that the music you’re making is but a pale reflection of the beauty, emotion, and intensity of the human voice.

What’s your violist’s motto?

My teacher David Dawson always enjoined us to “Keep vibrating!” This seems like such good advice on so many levels. Keep vibrating!