The Dover Quartet Wants to Remind Us of Our Humanity Through Music
Prior to their upcoming Beacon performance, the group's cellist talks using music as a tool for peace, Twin Peaks covers, and checking in with your bones.
(Left to Right) Joel Link, Camden Shaw, Bryan Lee, Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt
Photos by Carlin Ma
Since their success at the 2013 Banff International String Quartet Competition, the Dover Quartet’s career has only proven to shine and flourish. While their performances of powerful works by Shostakovich and Laks show incredible caliber, the quartet dabbles in more contemporary facets, including a stab at the world of Twin Peaks, just in time for Showtime’s recent reboot.
Each member of the quartet brings a carefully honed approach to the spectacular works they tackle, as their honors display — their upcoming season includes their debut at Carnegie Hall, a return to the Kennedy Center, and year three of their residency at Northwestern University. On October 22nd, the quartet will be performing in Beacon, at the Howland Chamber Music Circle. The program includes works by Tchaikovsky, Danielpour, and Bartók. Camden Shaw, the quartet’s cellist, spoke about music as a tool for peace, rehearsal schedules, and checking in with your bones.
Your latest release, Voices of Defiance 1943 1944 1945, examines the impact of World War II on composers. What drew you to look at the variable of war and music?
Voices of Defiance actually drew out of a strong desire to record Shostakovich's second quartet, written in 1944; it is an often overlooked quartet by one of our favorite composers. At the time we were discussing our second album, we were also touring with Viktor Ullman's incredible third quartet, written in 1943, and the gears started turning at the idea of an album exclusively of World War II music. I think retroactively the project, really emanating from the pieces themselves, made us think a lot about the relationship between war, or hardship in general, and the creation of art.
On that note, the general impact of government can be seen in music throughout history. With the current political tensions, do you feel yourselves, as a quartet, using music to make sense of it all?
I think music makes sense when all else seems to be madness. In fact, in our current political climate, a concert-going audience is a hopeful look at people coming together based on shared love and appreciation, rather than being divided. Music, along with all the arts, has such a capacity to remind us of our humanity, which in turn binds us together in a healing way.
I loved your rendition of the ever eerie Twin Peaks score. Were you all interested in the show, and Badalamenti’s infamous compositions, prior to your recording?
I'm so glad you liked it! We had a great time working on that project. Dan Schlosberg, the composer who arranged some of Badalamenti's score and composed a wholly original fantasy based on it, was really the driving force behind the project. He loved the show and ever since we met him he'd been talking about it — so at his request we all started watching it, and really fell in love with the show's atmosphere and quirky quality.
You have an exciting season ahead of you, full of collaborations with musicians ranging from Amy Yang to Edgar Meyer. What is the process, and rehearsal schedule like for these performances?
Rehearsing with collaborators while maintaining a heavy touring schedule is very difficult. In most cases, you get one or two rehearsals maximum before being onstage together. We did a small tour with Edgar last year, though, and so in his case our concert together will be a sort of homecoming! I'm so glad you mentioned the collaboration with Amy — she is such an unbelievable pianist and we haven't been able to play with her yet. We've known each other well for years and admired one another's playing, so finally getting to perform together is almost a celebration in spirit.
The Dover Quartet formed while you were all college students at Curtis. What advice would you give to current college musicians, who are hoping to pursue a performance career?
This may not be the most fun-sounding advice, but I promise it's from the heart: I would make sure to examine why one is going into music as a career. I truly believe that you can make a career in music in countless ways, and have a positive relationship with music in your life; but several people very close to me have realized, after seven years of college, that they were really only in music because of some unspoken pressure from their parents or extended family, since they've been doing it very well since they were little kids. From what I've seen, that is a very common and very painful experience for music majors that needs to be more openly talked about. If you really feel in your bones that you're doing it for you, you're going to be great! But check your bones.
Out of the compositions on your 2017–18 roster, which piece feels the most powerful?
That's a tough one! Also, there are some pieces on the '17–'18 roster which we haven't performed yet, so it's even tougher to say. I think Zemlinsky's second quartet has one of the most powerful structures and sense of pacing of any piece I've heard (It all hangs together in one giant arch) and I suspect it will be goose-pimplingly cool to perform! But any piece can give you chills on the right night, and there's some magic in not knowing when a piece will really hit you full force.