James Dunham

My name is James Dunham, and I play the viola. Like many, I started on violin, but as I grew taller and the violin smaller, the viola began to make more sense to me. Both the sonority and the role of the viola captivated me in a memorable summer as a fellowship student at the Boston Symphony’s famed Tanglewood Music Center, followed by three summers at the Marlboro Festival. There was no looking back from there. California Institute of the Arts drew me westward, where I helped found the Sequoia String Quartet, later to win the Naumburg Chamber Music Award and make numerous recordings for Nonesuch and other labels.

I eventually was invited to join the acclaimed Cleveland Quartet, and proceeded to tour world capitals, record exclusively for Telarc International, and win a Grammy for Best Chamber Music Performance! I have been fortunate to collaborate with artists such as Lynn Harrell, Cho-Liang Lin, and members of the American, Guarneri, Juilliard, Takács, and Tokyo Quartets.

Luckily, I love to travel, so summers find me at festivals from Amelia Island and Sarasota, Florida, to the Aspen, Heifetz International, Madeline Island, Domaine Forget, and Orcas Island Festivals! When not on the road, I love to teach. I have an outstanding class of students at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music where I also direct a special program for advanced quartets. The students keep me young and inspired – we truly learn from each other.

My membership in the Axelrod Quartet has added a new chapter to my life: Outstanding performances on the Smithsonian’s collection of Stradivari and Amati instruments, with colleagues I enjoy tremendously. The repertoire is unparalleled, and the musicianship is inspiring. Playing on great instruments is a huge honor, and I have also been fortunate to be the custodian of a great sixteenth-century viola by Gasparo da Salo. Such choices!

When not performing or teaching (which is rare) I do love to read, do crosswords, and play with my cat, a Maine Coon simply named “Red.”

For more information about me, please visit my website.