Jonathan Brown joined the Cuarteto Casals in 2002. Born in Chicago in 1974, he studied at the Juilliard School and the Universität Mozarteum in Salzburg. He is currently professor of viola and chamber music at ESMUC in Barcelona and assistant professor of viola at the Escuela Reina Sofía in Madrid.

Jonathan Brown © Josep Molina
Jonathan Brown
© Josep Molina

What is your idea of chamber music heaven?

Good friends, good wine, an audience of amateur chamber musicians, a beautiful setting and endless amounts of time to consider and experiment with all sorts of ideas and ways of understanding the score.

Of what kinds of errors are you the most tolerant?

Missed notes in a concert from someone who is alive to the possibilities of the moment.

What makes an ideal partner in quartet?

Someone who is able to both react to the impulses of the other three members and at the same time live his or her part to its fullest potential.

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

That is a very hard question to answer, it is almost impossible to see myself from the outside. I would hope that one of my more notable characteristics would be some understanding of how the different voices fit together, what the role of each one is at a given moment and my attempt to weave them together into a coherent narrative.

What's your greatest defect?

Again, who knows? But what I just explained involves many details fitting into a longer chain of events; it is easy to lose perspective on the chain and get very bogged down in one particular link.

Cuarteto Casals © Fundació Pau Casals
Cuarteto Casals
© Fundació Pau Casals

What's your favourite occupation (when you're not playing viola, of course)?

There is nothing that brings me more joy than being with my wife and small children, but if I were alone and free from work for an afternoon, I would probably spend most of it reading and trying desperately to take one, just one, beautiful photograph.

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

Let's leave aside the question of medical care, for which I am very grateful to live in the 21st Century. I cannot imagine any more elevated artistic experience than being in Mozart's mind – who knows how much music he may have imagined, but never wrote down?

What is your favourite quartet (or individual quartet movement)?

Of course it is virtually impossible to choose one, but if I had to, perhaps it would be the Große Fuge. There is nothing like it for its sheer scope and emotional / philosophical / religious depth – Missa Solemnis for four individual voices.

What has been your most beautiful concert?

There are many different ways in which one could describe a beautiful concert, but every so often something happens such that the instrument virtually plays itself for the entirety of the concert and both internally and externally everything falls into place. The only instruction I give myself is not to interrupt; why this happens when it does I will never know.

What has been your greatest musical disappointment?

Without doubt, the number of pieces I will never get to play. Even going full steam ahead for another thirty years, there is too much great music written for the string quartet to ever really feel that one knows all of it.

If you were to be reincarnated as a musical instrument (not a viola), which would you choose?

Jessye Norman's voice: imagine being inside of that resonance!

What's your violist's motto?

Be curious.