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New Classical Tracks: Dover Quartet reminisces about Beethoven

The Dover Quartet performs Beethoven's string quartets. Courtesy of the artist
5min : New Classical Tracks: Milena Pajaro Van de Stadt
24min 20sec : New Classical Tracks: Milena Pajaro Van de Stadt (extended)

Dover String Quartet — Beethoven Complete String Quartets: Volume 1/The Opus 18 Quartets (Cedille)

Milena Pajaro Van de Stadt is the violist in the Dover Quartet. The quartet has featured the same four members since they began 12 years ago, which in addition to her includes first violinist Joel Link, violinist Bryan Lee and cellist Camden Shaw.

As part of Beethoven's 250th birth anniversary, they're recording his complete string quartets. The first volume features Beethoven's early Opus 18 quartets.

When Beethoven's early quartets first made their appearance, they were considered to be challenging both for the performers and listeners. What changed to allowed people to hear these quartets for what they were?

"Like with all groundbreakers like Beethoven, at first there's going to be a lot of resistance or like it doesn't make sense that you would break these types of rules and and do this new thing. But really, it opened so many doors that looking back on it, that's the only way it could have been in order for us to keep on growing with the art form."

If someone was hearing these string quartets for the first time, what would you encourage them to listen for in each of these quartets?

"Opus 18, No. 1, is truly and literally full of surprises from the very first bar. First of all, you have a quartet playing together, so you have four instruments, but they're in unison. So that's a surprise. Then everyone stops playing after one bar and there's a grand pause. Think about what you're expecting and just notice how he goes against that almost every few seconds. It's just such a fun ride, that first movement.

"And there's a reason that he decided to put that piece, even though it wasn't the first one he wrote, first in the set. I think that's because it really felt like he was putting not only his best foot forward, but his most clear depiction of his own personality forward.

"No. 2 happened to be the first Beethoven quartet I ever played. I was still a violinist back then, funnily enough, I was playing second violin when I played that one, so it's really fun to come back to it now as a violist and still be in the inner voices of that piece. In the first movement the instruments are basically having a conversation the whole time. Any time we're ever going to play that piece, I already am in a good mood. It is just so light and charming and fun.

"The slow movement of that one is already Beethoven showing himself breaking the mold. He introduces this gorgeous slow theme in C Major. Then just as we think we're entering the beginning of this world of the slow movement, he stops everything and puts a fast section right in the middle. It's based on the little tag at the end of the slow section that suddenly becomes this really sparkly fast theme. It just comes out of nowhere. It's totally Beethoven just messing with you.

"And then we get to No. 3, which was actually the first quartet that he wrote. Right after the exposition you go into this murky, turbulent world that's very foreshadowing of his his later years, which is fascinating to see in the very first quartet that he wrote.

"The slow movement of that piece is chorale-like the way it opens. He does something surprising, which is have the moving line in the second violin. So you get a lot of warmth in that slow movement because the inner voices seem to have so much control over what's going on."

What is one of the most important things that celebrates Beethoven's legacy? Why is he so important?

"I think the thing that celebrates him the most is the fact that he is literally able to connect humanity of all generations and all over the world. His music has just reached that far. It's that it speaks to people that easily, that immediately."

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

Resources

Dover String Quartet — Beethoven Complete String Quartets: Volume 1/The Opus 18 Quartets(Amazon)
Dover Quartet (official site)

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