Catasauqua Press

Friday, December 6, 2019

For Dover Quartet, music is a bond for decade-plus

Thursday, November 21, 2019 by KATHY LAUER-WILLIAMS Special to The Press in Focus

The Dover Quartet is somewhat unique among classical quartets, in that its four members have been playing together for nearly 11 years.

Violinists Joel Link and Bryan Lee, violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt and cellist Camden Shaw have been together since they met as students at Curtis Institute, Philadelphia.

“That we have the same membership since we formed is a notable thing,” says de Stadt. “We have such an intensive chemistry. It really feels like a family. And when it comes to playing in a quartet, it really is about the chemical reaction between four people.”

The Dover Quartet performs, 2 p.m. Nov. 24, “Chamber On Stage” series, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown.

In the series, ensembles perform on the stage, but with the performers’ backs to the orchestra seats in which the audience usually sits. Instead, audience members are seated at the back of the stage facing the performers, creating the feeling of an intimate space, while still taking advantage of the acoustics of the hall.

The Dover Quartet’s rise from an up-and-coming ensemble to a top spot in their field has been fast. The Philadelphia-based quartet catapulted to international notoriety after a sweep of the 2013 Banff International String Quartet Competition.

De Stadt says the four members began playing in chamber groups at Curtis but not together. She and Shaw were playing in one quartet while Link and Lee, who had met at age 13 at a summer music camp, were playing in a different quartet.

De Stadt says she and Shaw had taken note of the talent of the two violinists and when their quartet started to disintegrate “we pounced on them.

“We like to say we formed from a topless quartet and a bottomless quartet,” she quips.

Right away the performers clicked and they had the “relationship talk,” de Stadt says.

“Everyone was cautiously optimistic about going for it as a group,” she says.

The group stayed at Curtis for an extra year, fine-tuning their technique and then auditioned as a quartet for the master’s program at Rice University.

“Doing that was the biggest sign of our commitment to each other,” de Stadt says.

After graduating from Rice University, Dover Quartet competed at Banff Competition, where the young performers swept the awards.

“That’s when our career really launched,” de Stadt says.

The quartet was in huge demand all over Canada after winning the high-profile competition in Alberta.

Since then the quartet has performed 120-150 concerts a year and has returned from a whirlwind European tour in which they gave seven concerts in eight days. The group has performed internationally including in Australia, Tasmania and Hong Kong.

The four members are outstanding solo artists. Link took first prize at the Menuhin Competition; Lee and de Stadt have played as soloists with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Tokyo Philharmonic, and Shaw has released a solo album debut on the Unipheye Music label.

De Stadt credits the group’s meteoric success to its unique sound as well as to each musician’s talent.

“By nature we’re a unique group,” she says. “We think of our instruments as our voices. We view our music as if we are expressing ourselves vocally. Even when we argue, we sing things to each other.”

The quartet fell in love with the standard repertoire and play everything from Mozart, Beethoven and Hayden to Bartok and Shostakovich.

The group commissions a new piece every year. Their encore often includes a Duke Ellington composition.

“We perform music from the 18th century to today,” de Stadt says. “We like to encompass all of music. Music is its own language and we enjoy it all.”

For the Symphony Hall concert, Dover Quartet will perform an eclectic program, including Mozart, Paul Hindemuth and Brahms.

The program opens with Mozart’s “Adagio and Fugue, K. 546,” a piece that de Stadt says is “quite fiery, even for Mozart.”

Hindemith’s “Quartet No. 3 in C Major, Op. 16” from 1924 is the “most out-there sounding piece on the program,” de Stadt says.

“It taps into a more gnarly, chromatic world,” she says.

The final piece, Brahms’ “Quartet No. 3 in B-flat Major, Op. 67,” is one of de Stadt’s favorites.

She says the piece is a bit unique for Brahms since it is his only quartet in a major key and has a “much brighter and bubbly” vibe.

She also enjoys the piece because the “viola part is awesome.

“It is very viola heavy,” she says. “All the other instruments are muted.”

She says the “Chamber on Stage” program is typical for the group.

“It is quite varied,” she says. “We like to play it all. It’s who we are as musicians.”

The Dover Quartet is involved with “Music for Food,” an initiative enabling musicians to raise resources and awareness in the fight against hunger. Information: musicforfood.net.

Seating for the “Chamber on Stage” series is general admission. Tickets are available for the regular orchestra seats section, however, the performers will have their backs to the audience.

Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall box office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; millersymphonyhall.org; 610-432-6715