Say you are sitting in Lippes Concert Hall in Slee Hall on UB’s North Campus on Wednesday evening, April 22, 2015, listening to the Dover Quartet performing a program that includes works of Haydn, Shostakovich, and Dvorak. And sitting next to you is the Dover’s cellist, Camden Shaw, whom you are watching perform along with his colleagues, violinists Joel Link and Brian Lee, and violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt. He leans in close and, speaking very quietly, says: “The thing you should focus on and make yourself open to is how much we try to inhabit the emotion, the spirit of the moment in the piece—the moment of each character in the piece. What we strive for is a genuine experience for ourselves that we hope transfers out to the audience as well. It is not about playing the notes well or demonstrating technical skill but really living in a character. It is a little bit like theater in conveying emotion directly. And I think that is something we do well.”
That the Dover Quartet does it well, indeed fantastically well, is indisputable. Brought together by their chamber music teacher, Schmuel Askenazi at the Curtis Institute of Music, the quartet has been performing since 2008. Its steady development as an internationally renowned ensemble has been buttressed by successes at numerous competitions, culminating in winning the first and all subsidiary prizes at the 2013 Banff International String Quartet Competition. That triumph helped further launched their career that has encompassed more than 100 appearances in North and South America and Europe this season alone.
Accolades for the quartet have been enthusiastic: “glowing sound, delicious sonority, distinctive, confident, sinewy, sublime, taut, nuanced, gorgeous, nearly psychological illumination of the themes and phrases.” The New Yorker summed it up: “The Young American String Quartet of the moment.”
Their Slee/Visiting Artists Series appearance that starts at 7:30pm next Wednesday includes works from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Most recent of the three is Dmitri Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 7 in F-sharp minor from 1960. It is the shortest of the 15 he wrote, and was dedicated to the memory of his first wife Nina, who died in 1954. The Shostakoviches were unconventional in having something of an open marriage. The work is abrupt, painful and intense, projecting musically a sense of coming full circle, as cellist Shaw speculates: “As if he is wondering what has changed, nothing or everything.”
Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 11 in C Major creates a certain unsettled feeling right out of the gate, a mood Shaw describes as excited, leading to a lullaby in the second movement. “It was on of Schoenberg’s favorite quartets of all time,” Shaw adds. From Haydn, his Quartet in G Major, is one of 68 he wrote; a model of classical form and superlative craftsmanship that takes the listener to special places of color, rhythm and form. Tickets are $15 for the general public, $10 for the UB community.