Artist Interview: Dover Quartet

By Erik Petersons on October 13, 2014

Considered one of the most remarkably talented string quartets to emerge at such a young age, the Dover Quartet makes its third appearance on our Series–its first since becoming the quartet-in-residence at Curtis last year. We spoke with them about their December 9th PCMS program as well as their interest in music education.

Erik Petersons: Your program features a Beethoven and a Shostakovich quartet and concludes by collaborating with Roberto Dí­az for Brahms' Quintet in G Major, Op. 111. How did you choose these pieces, and what has it been like to work with Roberto?

Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt (violist): Whenever we choose programs, it is based on music that we love. Whether it be music written for us by living composers whose music we love and respect, or music from hundreds of years ago, what it all comes down to is the four of us deciding what pieces will make us the most excited to perform and share with audiences all season long. This particular program pairs our absolute favorite string quartet composer, Beethoven, with another personal all-time favorite of mine, Shostakovich. The early Beethoven Quartet (Op. 18/3) is actually rather light and upbeat for Beethoven's music, delightfully playful and cheerful, with an absolutely stunning variations movement in the middle. Similarly, Shostakovich's 7th quartet is his shortest and most concise, and it is very interesting to see those two composers showing a different side of themselves in both of these pieces. Brahms' G Major Viola Quintet is a masterpiece, and one of the main reasons we chose it is because we haven't had a chance to perform it before this year (we will be performing it for the first time this month, September 7th, at Music Mountain in Connecticut) and we have been dying to play it. We are so happy to be able to perform it this season with Roberto, and have loved collaborating with him many times over the past few years. Personally, it is such a treat every single time to get to perform with my own teacher and mentor from Curtis, and to work together as colleagues is an honor. Working with Roberto is so much fun and very easy, the rehearsal atmosphere is comfortable–serious when we need to be, but with humor and seriously great stories from Roberto never far around the corner.

EP: Aside from the musicians who influenced your formation as a quartet back when you were students at Curtis, what other inspirations helped shape your identity as a quartet? How has the group evolved since you started playing together in 2008?

Camden Shaw (cello): One of the exciting advantages of working so closely with three other musicians is that you come to understand them and their playing in a context. We were all inspired by the same ensembles growing up, but listened to a wide array of instrumentalists who shaped our playing tremendously. Both violinists, for instance, grew up with recordings of Joseph Silverstein, and you can hear many of Silverstein's philosophies of sound and expression in their playing. It's been interesting to see how our different backgrounds and tastes have gradually become one cohesive idea of what sounds good–ideally, drawing and extrapolating from the musical truths that made our idols sound great. That level of cohesion is probably what has developed the most since we've formed.

EP: Having finished your quartet residence at Curtis this past season, can you give us a picture of what the year was like? What was your involvement like in Curtis's Community Artists Program and Young Artist Initiative?

CS: Over the last year at Curtis, we had the opportunity to coach many of the students by playing with them in ensembles, through the Young Artist Initiative.  It was an amazing experience for us working with such bright young musicians, and to see their passion for chamber music, which has always been such a strong focus at Curtis. We also had the opportunity to play for members of the faculty there, and it was so helpful to have a pair of ears in the room that you can really trust. We've known these teachers for so many years now, but they still find ways to stretch you! We also were involved in the Community Artist Program there, which both guided and funded several musical events in or near Philadelphia. We gave master classes, worked with student composers, and performed at several schools including Princeton, Westchester University, and Settlement Music School. It was an incredibly busy and gratifying year!

EP: What are some of your goals and aspirations as a quartet as you look towards the future? Are there any recordings on the horizon for you?

Joel Link (violin): What I love about the quartet life is that there are so many aspects to the career and many ways to define it. We are currently enjoying a really exciting concert schedule, but I know we are all looking forward to a time when things calm down (especially travel-wise) and we can have a life at home. I am definitely looking forward to a teaching residency, as I love working with motivated and creative young people. Recordings are certainly in our plans for the very near future, and we are really eager to transition into that next stage of development.

EP: Before you take the stage, the quartet will be conducting a master class with students at one of Play on Philly's programs. Could you describe the master class experience and the value of working with young musicians? And also, what do you hope they take away from the experience?

JL: The master class experience has always played a vital role in any musician's development, both as a teacher and a student. As we have begun to learn, teaching really allows the teacher to become even more aware of themselves. We always feel we have so many things to work on in our own playing right after we have given a master class. It's really a wonderful opportunity for personal growth. We hope to share our passion for music with young people who share the same love we do, as well as to share what our experiences both individually and collectively have taught us.

EP: The Dover Quartet is a member of Music For Food–an initiative to help musicians fight hunger in their home communities. Your program will raise money to support the Weavers Way Community Programs at Stenton Family Manor. Tell us about your interest in this program.

MP: I first heard about Music For Food from its founder, Kim Kashkashian, while participating at the Marlboro Music Festival a few years ago. I was instantly drawn to the program because it literally and in a very physical way helps do what we all know music does do–nourish us. The chance to connect the musical nourishment of the soul with actually feeding people in need was so exciting and fulfilling, so when I brought the idea to the quartet everyone was on board enthusiastically right away. It's been wonderful to work closely with Kim and watch as the program grows and spreads.

EP: You have performed twice on the PCMS series. With your upcoming concert, what is it like performing in the city where you studied and continue to live?

Bryan Lee (violin): As a Philadelphia native, I grew up attending concerts at PCMS. The level of artists coming in was (and still is!) amazing, and I can't even begin to describe the impact that these concerts had on me as a young boy. It helped foster my love for chamber music! It's always very special performing in Philadelphia, especially with so many friends and family in the area and it's an absolute honor to perform on the series.