Meet the Alumni: Dover Quartet


As the first string quartet in residence at Curtis and an increasingly sought-after international chamber ensemble, the Dover Quartet often functions as a unit. Here, we hear the individual voice of members Bryan Lee, Joel Link, Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, and Camden Shaw in a series of podcasts from Kai Talim (Skip the Repeat). Kai spoke with each member of the quartet over several months from November 2017 to August 2018. Browse these quotes from Milena and Joel or listen to the full podcasts below.

Full podcast with Bryan Lee

Full podcast with Camden Shaw 



Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, photo credit Carlin Ma
Photo credit: Carlin Ma

Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt

“We choose to be in the quartet, because we love playing in the quartet. And, more importantly, we love playing with one another.”

On choosing the viola:

I lived in Oxford when I was four and five years old. We walked through a park, and I saw someone outside with their violin case open, busking. And apparently, I pointed to it and said, “That's what I want to play.” So [my parents] went and bought me a little violin, and I started Suzuki lessons.

All of fifth grade in elementary school, I played cello in the orchestra. And I played timpani in the band. I loved trying out other instruments. [In high school] I got really serious on trombone. I played in jazz band, youth symphony, I took private lessons every week. I loved it. And in a weird way, I kind of consider trombone my gateway drug to the viola.

Two sisters who were in my youth symphony both played violin. I played violin, my brother played cello—we thought we should make a quartet. One of us should just play viola. And I actually begged to be the one. I was like ‘ooh, a new instrument I get to try, let me do it.’ Every [new instrument’s] timbre was like finding another voice, and seeing if you could make it yours. Playing the viola is really exciting to me, and playing it in the quartet was what made me fall in love with it. From the moment that I started playing viola in that string quartet, I had two goals: I wanted to be a violist and I wanted to be in a string quartet.

On forming the Dover Quartet:

[After] that first concert together, [the quartet] had the relationship talk, where we’re like, ‘Do you want to stay together past school, or is it just a fling?’  And everyone was on the same page.  

On connecting with audiences:

You don’t have to be an art major to go enjoy an art museum, right? There’s this weird stigma with classical music, where people feel like they shouldn’t go to a concert because they don’t know about it, or they haven’t studied it, or they’re scared they don’t know how to behave or what to wear. And so we kind of want to break that barrier. That’s one of the reasons it’s been really great to start talking at concerts, before you play.  You kind of break that wall and humanize one another by connecting with the audience that way.

Listen to the full podcast here.

Joel Link

“We weathered a lot of big storms and I think it’s a tribute to how driven we are as people and how committed we are and how much we love what we do.”

On the challenges of a professional quartet:

At some point you’re kind of burning the candle from both ends and then you’re trying to represent yourself in a way you are proud to represent yourself. But it's also just really tough because, honestly, you're just exhausted. That's the stuff you don’t really think about when you’re in school. Thats the reality of a performing, traveling lifestyle. We need to make sure that everyone’s getting as high a quality product as we can possibly give while doing things at an incredibly fast pace.

[My goddaughter] just turned one recently. But getting to her baptism in Prague was a bit tough. [Her parents] really wanted me there and they worked it out to be the morning of a concert that we had in Germany, and hired a professional driver to get me there on time. Who actually the driver wound up being? No joke, Antonin Dvorak’s great-great-grandson. I think when things really matter to you, you have to make it work.

If you’re not super-happy musically and personally (and you’re not going to be happy financially in the beginning), there’s a lot of stress. So we weathered a lot of big storms and I think it’s a tribute to how driven we are as people and how committed we are and how much we love what we do.  

On forming the Dover Quartet:

It was very early on in our quartet’s formation that [Shmuel Ashkenasi] just said, “You know, I just want to let you know, you guys should get married. I’ve been in the business for a long time and I think you have what it takes.”

On connecting with audiences:

I think it’s really about being able to draw people to classical music and make it really accessible because we're just normal people who really honestly create.  I mean we love what we do, but we’re not craving more concerts. I think we crave routine. Hopefully we’re not boring people that wear suits that show up and play this music that’s completely not accessible to the people. We play the music because we believe it’s accessible for everyone and we want to share how much we care about this beautiful music with the whole world.

Listen to the full podcast here.

Joel Link, photo credit Carlin Ma
Photo credit: Carlin Ma

The interviews have been edited for length.