18-year old viola virtuoso, Dillon Scott. Photo Credit: Contributed
An Extension of His Voice, A Young Violist Emerges
Written By: Phil Gianficaro
The visual is inspiring yet somewhat deceiving. Dillon Scott, 18-year-old viola virtuoso, pauses before sharing a composition from among history’s masters. He gently rests his chin on the instrument’s lower bout. He wraps his left hand around its neck; his deft fingers preparing to awaken the magic of the strings. His right fingers gently hold the bow. As he begins to play, his audience is transported to a time and place where only pleasure calls home.
But here, while Scott has inarguably taken hold of the viola and his audience, what is perhaps not evident at first glance is the incredible hold it has taken of him.
“The viola is an extension of my own voice,” said Scott, a 2022 North Penn High School graduate, whose nationally honored talent has earned him a full tuition scholarship to the renowned Curtis Institute of Music, in Philadelphia. “Without it, I’d be a diminished version of myself. When I play my viola, I can express something special in me.”
The specialness of Scott’s talent is undeniable as he draws the bow ever so passionately across those magical strings that extend to his soul. He was offered full, merit-based scholarships to many of the more acclaimed conservatories in America, including perhaps the most widely known, The Juilliard School, in New York City, before deciding on Curtis, which has but a four percent acceptance rate.
“When you pick music schools, and when you talk to most kids who will decide on a city or country school, 90 percent of your decision is based on who your teacher will be,” said Scott, who chose Curtis, in great part, because of Roberto Diaz, a violist and school president. “That decision will be lifelong and impact your life 15 years from now.
“I played for him this summer at his summer camp, and he was really impressed with me. He taught my teacher (Adriana Linares, renowned violist of the Dali Quartet and founder of ArCoNet Strings Program), so I already had a good connection with him. She used to talk about him during our lessons. She brought him in for a few master classes when I was in (Penndale) middle school, and I played for him. I was infatuated by his presence, and grew close with him.”
For Scott, the viola is the oxygen that has sustained him since he first took hold of the instrument at age 9.
“At the time, there was no particular reason to choose the viola,” he said. “But now, looking back, it was because it was just different. My father (James) played piano and sang with the Philly POPS Festival Chorus, and I had taught myself piano before my parents had me take lessons. But I was drawn to the viola. It wasn’t familiar. It was the love of the unknown.”
Scott’s playing brilliance has been recognized at numerous competitions. In 2021, he was awarded third place nationally at the 24th Annual Sphinx Competition for young Black and Latinx classical string players, and first place at the Nelly Berman Young Classical Virtuosos of Tomorrow competition in a performance at the Kimmel Center. He placed second in the Tri-County Competition in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
This summer, Scott was among 37 gifted young musicians worldwide invited to attend the Perlman Music Program summer music school in New York. The program was founded by Toby Perlman, whose husband, Itzhak Perlman, today’s preeminent classical violinist, is on staff and conducts the youth orchestra twice weekly during the seven-week camp.
“He is one of my heroes,” said Scott. It was hard to realize I used to see him on videos, but now he’s right there in front of me. It’s like being in a fourth dimension. There’s an element of wisdom you feel speaking to him. He’s met so many heads of state, famous musicians, and performed with everyone. You feel connected to him. It’s kind of a sacred moment.”
The viola serves as both microscope and amplifier for Scott, affording listeners a deeper, louder understanding of the musician. But another special aspect of Scott’s ability as he prepares for a future playing viola around the world is his responsibility to celebrate those who paved the path he now ventures upon. Composers of color like Florence Price, the first African-American woman to have her music played by a major U.S. orchestra; George Walker, the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music; William Grant Still, the first American composer to have an opera produced by the New York City Opera; and the British-born Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.
“Aside from pushing the boundary of what a violist is capable of, and of wanting to challenge contemporary composers, I want to honor underrepresented composers of color,” said Scott. “As a person of color, it’s my duty to honor these people. Part of my repertoire in future concerts will be to honor these people who deserve to be honored.”
Scott’s dream is to live a lifestyle where he travels the world and collaborates with other artists, working as a chamber musician and as a soloist, which will allow him to become immersed in various cultures and learn more about the connective tissue that fuses art with life.
“I’m an expressive person; I love performing,” said Scott. “I’m thoughtful and reflective and, in some ways, a very detailed person. I will sit in my room for four hours and critique a piece until I’m satisfied it’s OK. Art is something that connects the world and parts of the human experience. I plan to be part of that.”