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Interview with Doric String Quartet

In association with the Dulwich Festival’s 25th Anniversary and the Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Doric String Quartet will perform at Christ’s Chapel, Dulwich on 16th May.

The Doric String Quartet was formed nearly 20 years ago, and is now recognised as the leading British string quartet of its generation with a world-wide reputation. Their programme for Dulwich Festival – Purcell, Debussy and Beethoven – illustrates the wide range of their musical accomplishment.

We caught up with Cellist and founding member, John Myerscough,  to ask him about the reasons behind the Quartet’s ongoing success.

How did the Doric Quartet form?

Alex (first violinist) and I met when we were nine years old at a summer music camp for kids. We went on a chamber music course every Easter and Summer holiday and were all put into groups. When we were fifteen we were put into a group together and stuck at it really and that’s where we are at today. It’s quite special in that we grew up musically together.

This year marks your 20th anniversary, two founder members remain, yourself and Alex, what are the reasons for your staying power in the changing world of chamber music?

I think first of all it’s having huge ambition. We want to do it and make it work. It’s about working hard and persevering. It’s easy to give up when you’re in your twenties and make a quick buck, however we stuck with it. With Chamber music there’s no overnight success, it’s a long but incredibly rewarding journey.

What is key to successfully working and performing together as a group?

It’s the ethos of the group. We work in an open, friendly and supportive environment, we don’t believe in having any egos in the room. As a unit we have a confident ego, however we don’t allow individual egos, instead we care and trust one another and have a positive attitude, there’s no criticising or fighting.

You’ve been described as “blending together as of one mind”, how do you achieve this?

The way we work together musically is very intense – finding the fundamental structure in pieces of work. We work together to find how the harmony of a piece of music works, rather than the melody. It’s about the chord structure and the way it’s built. We behave as one entity, coming from the same place and we all know what we are listening out for. This is the most successful way of playing together and we are all committed to the task.

What are your biggest musical influences?

One of my biggest influences was my teacher, Rainer Schmidt, of the Hagen Quartet. He was my main mentor. We all have different musical interests and experiences so bring them all to the room. We create our own inspiration – I’m definitely inspired by the other three. You can’t really be influenced by other music, you definitely focus on your own response to the music and have to concentrate on your own music. Other people are a distraction, it becomes confusing. In terms of classical music, we have been influenced by the period instrument movement.

How do you leave your own impression on well known musical pieces?

We try to do the best we can. We interpret music in the most vivid way possible particularly with pieces that people know so well. We try and make them relevant today and try and bring out the contrasts within the music. If it’s sad or very beautiful, then we try to make it really clear. We want to make it really relevant, so that it’s more than just a lovely piece of music. We would rather someone absolutely loved or hated it rather than just saying it was nice and giving only an average reaction.

You’ve spent a lot of time as a quartet in the recording studio, can you tell us how you approach the recording process and do you have any current plans for another CD?

It is of course very different than performing live, however we try to create the atmosphere of a live concert and perform to the microphone so we sound as ‘live’ as possible. Being able to listen to yourself back allows us to really push our own interpretations, it pushes us to the extremes of our characters and our dynamics. Our next disc coming out will be Mendelssohn, in September, followed by a Benjamin Britten disc.

What will you be performing at the Dulwich Festival and what do you particularly like about these pieces?

It’s an interesting programme which includes three very different pieces.  Purcell is a new venture for us, it wasn’t written for a string quartet. It’s pure and expressive and a good counterbalance to the rest of the programme.

Debussy was the first piece we ever played and we enjoy playing it a lot. Helene is also French and it has also been one hundred years since Debussy died.

Beethoven is really the pinnacle of string quartet repertoire and is both an extraordinary and humbling experience. It captures the whole human experience and is earth shatteringly epic. We try and play as much Beethoven as possible, it’s why we play in a string quartet.

What appeals about performing at the Dulwich Festival?

Well Helene and I live in Brockley so we are very happy to be doing concerts in London! It’s a real ‘home’ concert. Dulwich Picture Gallery is so wonderful and I love going to the Gallery. Christ’s Chapel is such a beautiful place, a place of tranquillity in a crazy busy city.

The theme of this year’s Dulwich Festival is ‘Celebration’, what does ‘Celebration” mean to you?

Every concert is a celebration, a celebration of human creativity and so much joy. There’s an element of it being a social celebration but also of working together as a team, celebrating ‘being together’.

Doric String Quartet at Christ’s Chapel, Dulwich Village

PURCELL: Five 4-Part Fantasias
DEBUSSY: String Quartet in G minor Op 10
BEETHOVEN: String Quartet No 13 Op 130

Wednesday 16th May 7.30 pm
Tickets £22, £20 Concessions and Friends, includes a glass of wine; under 18s £10
Please note tickets are on sale via the Gallery in the normal way; also via Eventbrite or on the door ( cash or cheque only).

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