Dallas String Quartet bringing eclectic repertoire to CAC

Published 03.05.2020


(EDITOR'S NOTE: Due to the global coronavirus outbreak, the March 19 performance was tentatively rescheduled for Oct. 2.)

The Dallas String Quartet will deliver its passionate fusion of classical and contemporary music to the Community Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 19.

Described by The Wall Street Journal as “not your grandmother’s string quartet,” DSQ has sold out high-profile venues, symphony halls and blues havens alike, and played alongside such artists as Josh Groban, Chicago and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. It has performed for Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, the college football playoffs, and NBA and NFL organizations, and continues to expand its following on Pandora, Spotify and Sirius XM radio.

The quartet comprises composer/violinist Ion Zanca, violinists Eleanor Dunbar and Melissa Priller, and bassist Young Heo, with full accompaniment by guitarist Anthony Plant and percussionist Efren Guzman.

The Dallas String Quartet, which adds to the traditional complement with guitar and percussion, will perform at Williamsport’s Community Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 19.Below, Zanca (wearing a bow tie in the photo at right) answers questions about the group’s influences and upcoming performance, which promises to take its audience on a journey to the nexus of classical music and modern pop – where artists like Beethoven and Bono collide.

Your cover versions of works by such diverse artists as Lady Gaga, Coldplay and Guns N’ Roses might surprise patrons who have a different picture of string musicians. What inspired you to shatter those preconceptions and deliver such a unique repertoire?
Our background is obviously classical; we're a string orchestra. I remember one time, nobody could hear us. It was like we were furniture, and I was very upset about it because I know we have so much to offer. So we started thinking about alternative instruments – electric violins, for instance – and incorporating them into our public performances.

Adding a classical vibe to a classic rock song so engaged the audience, we started thinking, “Maybe there's something to this.” And after we recorded our first album, it just got crazy from there, with really cool, really creative arrangements. And now it's a full-time thing.

Is there a favorite piece, one that you never tire of playing, that the Williamsport audience should listen for?
"Oblivion," a really gorgeous one by Astor Piazzolla, is my favorite. It's the first in our concert, and I’ve never questioned changing it. My second favorite opens our second act: a mix that begins with the cadenza from “Sibelius' Violin Concerto,” then goes into "Kashmir," (a fresh spin on a Led Zeppelin staple).

Your most recent release was a collection of holiday music (“A Very Merry Christmas With Dallas String Quartet”) that instantly and infectiously evokes the season. How did you put a new spin on material that is so well-known to so many?
You appreciated my dilemma. We avoided doing a Christmas album for about seven years because there's so much Christmas music out there. How could we add to that? So what we tried to do is to invite more musicians, more arrangers, add new flavors. It was the first time we worked with brass – who puts horns and percussion in a string quartet? – and we had a blast.

The physicality and high energy of your performances is obvious. How do you maintain that level of playfulness and intensity in concert after concert?
When you're playing 18 concerts in 22 days, it can feel like you're dragging your feet. You ask yourself, “How can I make this piece exciting again, even after 17 times in a row?” So we feed off the energy of the audience and the energy of one another. We try to surprise each other. Instead of 16 bars, someone might go on for five minutes, and you think, every time there's a transformation, “I see what you did there!”

Plus, we're happy people. That's part of who we are. We start out classical and, as we go through to Led Zeppelin, we see the audience following along. They relax and have fun, not taking themselves too seriously. We do, too, because we're genuinely happy to be there.

Is there an artist on your wish list?
I would like to do something with a singer, either as a project or an entire album. And I want it to be as exciting as everything else we do. We would love to work with Erykah Badu, who is also from Dallas. What is the farthest thing from a string quartet? Hip-hop, maybe!

As the group’s founder, how did you assemble the quartet to allow for both individuality and a singleness of purpose?
That's been a journey. A string quartet has a cello, two violins and a viola ... and we had a cellist who also played guitar, who strummed his cello with a pick. His father died and he moved to Argentina, so we were auditioning left and right. And I thought, “Why are we trying so hard to find a cellist who sounds like a bass player. Let's just get a bass player!”

It took a while to get away from the idea that, if we explored other instruments, we'd somehow ruin the music. Along the way, we added horns, we added drums and guitar ... because, in the end, we have to serve the music. I don't care how we get there. Are we saying anything with the music? That's the most important thing. Half of the group is jazz, half is classical ... and we learn from one another. That allows us to be creative with our arrangements and with our performances.

You’ve traveled from Romania to Texas; where does the road lead from there?
I used to think I wanted to live in New York City. But, here (in Dallas), I have space to park my car, and I'm fine with just visiting New York! Our goal is to collaborate with the best musicians possible and to include more original music. In the beginning, when no one knew us, who would want to hear our own music? We also want to submit our work for consideration by The Grammys. Some of us are members (of the Recording Academy), and now is the time. It's exciting ... it's a long process ... but we're ready.

For ticket information on the Dallas String Quartet’s March 19 performance at the Community Arts Center, call the box office at 570-326-2424.

The Community Arts Center is a wholly owned subsidiary of Pennsylvania College of Technology. It is one of the top performing arts venues on the East Coast. Since its reopening in 1993, approximately 1.5 million guests have enjoyed over 1,000 productions.

For more about the college, a national leader in applied technology education, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.