Take 5: Camden Shaw (Dover Quartet)

by Dan Hickey

This edition of Take 5 features an interview with Dover Quartet cellist Camden Shaw. Called “the young American string quartet of the moment” (The New Yorker), the ensemble will release its second album on Cedille Records titled "Voices of Defiance" on October 13.

The album explores three tragic yet beautiful WWII-era string quartets, the most well-known of them being Dmitri Shostakovich's String Quartet no. 2. Accompanying this piece are lesser known but emotionally powerful works: the third string quartet by Polish composer Szymon Laks, who survived multiple concentration camps during the war; and the third quartet by Viktor Ullmann, who composed and was killed at Auschwitz.

The Chicago Tribune  proclaimed, “The Dover Quartet players have it in them to become the next Guarneri String Quartet — they’re that good," citing the group’s “expert musicianship, razor-sharp ensemble, deep musical feeling, and a palpable commitment to communication.” Formed in 2008 at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music and recently appointed as faculty quartet in residence at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music, the Dover Quartet has won multiple awards, including the Grand Prize and all three Special Prizes at the 2013 Banff International String Quartet Competition, the Cleveland Quartet Award in 2015, and a 2017 Avery Fisher Career Grant.

What is your most recent project and what sparked your interest in it?

Our most recent project is a documentary about chamber music.  We've been filming for about a year now, following the quartet on our travels around the world!  The idea came to us when we realized people were constantly amazed that we were classical musicians... why were they so surprised?  Because we're young?  We decided to create a documentary to dispel the many misconceptions about classical music and show what life in a string quartet is really like.

If you weren't a musician, what would you be?

If I weren't a musician, I would design sailboats.  Much like the design of musical instruments, there's a wonderful dance between form and function in designing boats, and the curvature of a sailboat hull is not so different from the arch in a beautiful musical phrase.

Was there a formative moment for you as an artist?

I've had many formative moments as an artist, but one was listening to my teacher, Peter Wiley, play the opening of the slow movement of the Brahms F-major Sonata for me in a lesson.  He put so much passion into it, and his point was that you can always feel even more from the music; I will never forget the way he played it!

What album/band are you listening to right now?

Right now I'm listening to the album "Bitte Orca" by the Dirty Projectors.  Dave Longstreth, the band's composer, composes with a bust of Beethoven in his studio just like Brahms and Mendelssohn did before him.  In many ways I think Longstreth is my favorite living composer, even though he writes for an indie rock band!

What makes the Chicago classical music scene unique?

The Chicago music scene is so multifaceted:  you have the Symphony, the Lyric Opera, the Ravinia festival, and COUNTLESS independent presenters of chamber music.  It's a thriving and beautifully diverse palette of music, all year long!

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