Music of the Americas: As you approach the one-year mark from your Banff International String Quartet Competition win, how has your approach to ensemble playing evolved?
Dover Quartet: I think in many ways our approach to playing has evolved to respond to an evolving environment. With such an intensive performance schedule this year, the way that we prioritized issues in rehearsal changed for two main reasons: we have less rehearsal time than we once did; and we're also performing so often together that many things we used to have to work on are becoming much more instinctual. In short, I think we focus more on how we want a piece of music to feel, because in the end that's the most important thing.
MotA: One might say that, in beginning as an ensemble at Curtis, you were lucky, in the sense that the intensity of training and absolute focus is pervasive there. How have your relationships with your mentors, such as Shmuel Ashkenasi from the Vermeer Quartet, evolved in the last year as you’ve grown and matured as an ensemble?
DQ: We certainly feel lucky to have had the opportunity to study at Curtis together—already we had so much in common musically because of the remarkably consistent ideals of the faculty there. We were also very fortunate to have studied at Rice University as a quartet after Curtis, which gave us much needed time and nurturing to develop our group skills even further. The amazing thing about how our relationships with these mentors have evolved, though, is that they are always focused on what needs improvement. As we've matured, the focus has come away from intonation and togetherness, for example, and leaned toward things like emotional complexity, textural layering, and developing an educated interpretation of how each composer uses certain markings or compositional techniques. That's what makes them great musicians and mentors—they always want development, and they hold themselves to that same expectation.
MotA: Vivian Fung’s third string quartet will be on your program at Americas Society this October. What do you find strongest about Fung’s compositional voice? What did you bring to the work that earned you a special interpretation prize at BISQC?
DQ: Vivian Fung's third quartet is a remarkable piece that has everything that makes music work: pacing and structure, relatable thematic elements, emotional honesty, and so many more great qualities. What made the piece even better was that it synthesized the traditional falling tetrachord (the basis of Bach's famous Chaconne) and a painful chant-like prayer, creating the feeling of something both ancient and yet newly exotic; a sort of spiritual common ground, connecting all people past and present.
Video: Dover performs Vivian Fung's Third String Quartet at BISQC (2013)
We can't say for sure what it was that the judges responded to in our performance, but what we hope is that we let the piece come alive as much as possible. With great music, the goal is to find out how to get out of the way of the music, and also to believe in the music's message. Of course, no performance can come close to how something sounds in the composer's mind!
MotA: Do you envision yourselves as a Tokyo, Emerson, or Juilliard, meaning a group that will stay together for decades? Do you consider the string quartet to be an institution that is fixed or one that has potential to grow and evolve?
DQ: We do plan to be together for decades. One of the best things about a string quartet is how it develops over time, and if we didn't stay together for quite a while it would be a bit like opening a fine wine before it has a chance to mature! In terms of the institution of quartet, the idea of evolution is vital. Of course, we'll always be presenting the core repertoire and keeping that music alive, but we also need to help facilitate the writing of new quartets, and explore the stylistic possibilities of these instruments, which are nearly infinite when one gets creative.