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Coming to America

Paul Watkins, newly named cellist with the Emerson Quartet, tells Christian Lloyd how it came about

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Paul Watkins has recently been announced as David Finckel’s successor as cellist with the Emerson Quartet. This afternoon he told me how it came about, his ambitions for the future, and his decision to leave the Nash Ensemble after 16 years.

‘I didn’t have to audition to join the Emersons – they just phoned me up and asked if I’d like to join. As far as I was concerned, it came out of the blue, although I know them very well: I think they thought about who they wanted to work with, decided to see what my reaction would be, and then start thinking about other people afterwards if they had to. Luckily my reaction was positive. The whole thing happened very quickly, over the first few weeks of this year. I went over there in January for an intense weekend of playing. It all seemed completely natural and worked with no problems, so it seemed like the right thing to do.

‘I’ll be moving to America with my family. I’ve had strong connections there for around 20 years, as my wife is from New York – she’s the daughter of Jaime Laredo. I’ll be continuing as music director of the English Chamber Orchestra, from across the pond, and I’ll still be making recordings. My contract as principal guest conductor with the Ulster Orchestra is coming to an end, and I’m hoping to fill that gap with some conducting duties in the States.

‘The most difficult part of this decision, for me, was the fact it meant leaving the Nash Ensemble. I feel terrible about breaking up the string group, which has been so solid and consistent, first with people like Marianne Thorsen and Lawrence Power, and now Laura Samuel.

‘Regarding the Emersons’ repertoire, I’m most looking forward to performing Beethoven, Bartók and Shostakovich. I’ve always played string quartets since I was at the Menuhin School, so I’ve had a good overview of string quartet repertoire. There’ll certainly be lots I have to learn, which is part of the attraction of doing this.