Donald R. Clauser, 67, a Philadelphia Orchestra violist for 38 years before retiring in 2004, died Sunday in Voorhees of an infection following surgery. He had been ill for some time.

Known for a sense of humor that tumbled out in soft-spoken but choice quips, Mr. Clauser entered the viola section of the ensemble during the Eugene Ormandy era. The orchestra's historic tour to China was a highlight for him.

He enjoyed art and antiques, and his instrument qualified as both. Mr. Clauser played a rare Brothers Amati viola made in Cremona, Italy, in the early 17th century. It had been in the collection of the Medicis, and bore a striking feature: the Medici coat of arms.

"It was something he was extremely proud of and loved to play," said Curtis Institute of Music director Roberto Díaz, who was principal of the viola section when Mr. Clauser retired.

"He was a great colleague . . . and always had a wonderful anecdote about something or someone that had everyone laughing like crazy." He was, Díaz said, a "wonderful" part of the viola section.

"In the orchestra you can't always tell that much [about how an individual player sounds], but on those occasions when he was showing me something on the instrument, it was very colorful, beautiful, expressive playing."

Mr. Clauser was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and raised in Santa Fe, N.M., where his father had a sporting goods store. After receiving a bachelor's degree from the University of New Mexico, he moved to Boston, where he studied at Boston University with Joseph de Pasquale.

Having earned a master's in Boston, he followed de Pasquale to the Curtis Institute of Music, becoming a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra - where de Pasquale had become principal violist - before receiving his diploma.

He is survived by his partner, William Braun, an organist, and a sister.

The family plans a memorial service for a later date.

Contact music critic Peter Dobrin at 215-854-5611 or pdobrin@phillynews.com. Read his blog at http://go.philly.com/artswatch.