Philipp Elssner will officially join the DaPonte String Quartet in June. Photo courtesy of Philipp Elssner.

Philipp Elssner actually wanted to play the trumpet first.

He was 5 years old, and his family had recently immigrated to the United States from Germany. His parents always said he was the “most musical infant” of their three children. But an instructor told his family that children that young have not yet developed the required mouth muscles for that instrument, so Elssner picked up a violin instead.

Now, at 24, he is the newest member of the DaPonte String Quartet. The ensemble formed in 1991 in Philadelphia but moved to Maine a few years later and has been based here ever since. They have been looking for a new violinist for more than a year, since Elssner’s predecessor, Ferdinand “Dino” Liva, had to step back from his role for medical reasons. (He’s still involved as staff.)

Elssner will join the quartet officially in June. He studied violin and music theory during his undergraduate years at the Cleveland Institute of Music and recently completed his master’s degree in music theory at McGill University in Montreal. His family has lived in Ohio, Maine and North Carolina. They still have a house in Northport, where he is living now.

What do you love about playing the violin?

I think because I find I can communicate best through music. It’s such a cathartic experience playing a really beautiful piece of music, and I feel like I can best express all aspects of my personality when I’m playing that, maybe, I have a harder time expressing through words. I just love being in front of audiences, too. It’s really nice to be able to share something that I love so dearly with an audience and then seeing how they react, and just feeling that energy is kind of addictive.


What do you think having that background in music theory adds to your experience playing the music, working as a violinist?

Most of all, it adds depth to the performances. Because it’s easy to just play the notes on the page. And that can be a relatively convincing performance in itself, but if you really understand why the composer chose to write it the way they did, or if you understand more about the larger structure, the deeper structure of the music, I think you’re able to make a more compelling performance and really tell a story with the music, too.

What are you excited about in being part of the quartet?

The other musicians are all wonderful, of course, and they have such a depth of experience, having played professionally for so many years. They’ve played so many pieces in the repetoire that I honestly feel like I’m going to learn a lot, which is great, because I love learning more about music. And as I said, I love performing. I really love performing in my own community. So to be able to play very often up and down the coast of Maine and inland, too, is really a dream come true. And I’m really looking forward to bringing more music to people I know and people I don’t know yet. …

I’m also very excited because I know they like doing recording projects, and they have worked with some great, great audio engineers in that area. I wrote my master’s thesis on recording practices in funk and hip-hop, so anytime I get to do anything with recording and being in a story, it’s fun for me. … I basically got to sit around for a summer, listen to all my favorite non-classical music and delve into the nitty gritty details in a similar way as I do with classical music.

You’ve played in other environments, with orchestras and solo. What quartets are you excited to play? Is there a piece you are itching to try with the DaPonte String Quartet?

There’s lots of things I haven’t yet had the chance to play because I’m still relatively young. I really want to delve into the classics. I want to play some more Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn is one of my favorite composers. I’d like to play more Brahms. We played one of the Brahms quartets in the audition, and that was a real joy for me because those are difficult pieces. And I’ve never had the time or the high level of players to be able to play those things. So I think what I’m most excited is that we’ll have the freedom to play anything because they’re all very capable musicians and we have the time to rehearse. So, honestly, I’m most excited about the diversity of things we’ll end up playing.

Who are your favorite non-classical artists?

I love a lot of funk music. I listen to, like, Sly and the Family Stone. Or more crossover artists, like Earth, Wind and Fire played a big part in my thesis because they have such a great big ensemble, big band. Bobby Womack is one of my favorite soul singers. And then I wrote a little bit about very recent trap music because I think it’s really interesting, and I especially enjoy Young Thug’s music, which is about as far as you can get from classical music, I’d say. But maybe that’s why I like it. It’s kind of countercultural in some ways, and it’s exciting and I think really musically interesting, too.

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