• Sarah Kwok

Black Dog String Quartet - Friday May 3

Updated: May 31, 2019

Black Dog String Quartet

John Kastelic, violist of the Black Dog String Quartet, talks songs, Brahms, and smells ahead of an upcoming show at the Notional Space on Friday, May 3.

So what’s on the program for this upcoming concert?

So this is the second time we’re performing this program -- the first time in Vancouver. We’re going to perform Brahms’ Quintet No. 2 in G and a whole set of my songs for string quartet. I’ll be singing for those. Filling in for me on viola, as I can't quite manage to sing the stuff while playing it, will be my brother Tony. He’ll be joining us for the Brahms quintet as well.

John Kastelic - violist, singer, and composer

Tell me more about this song cycle

It’s not really a cycle -- they're not especially connected to one another. There are maybe some common themes through some of them but they were all written as independent pieces. It's been a really long project for me, writing these songs. Some of them are probably six years old at this point, so I've been working at them very slowly, and then this year I finally got my act together and finished off a bunch of the ones I’ve been working on for a long time.

And the songs have elements of both classical and contemporary folk music?

Yeah, so my background is in classical music and classical composition but for the last six and a half years now I’ve been writing a lot of folk music for my band Salt Thief. So that's really been my main creative outlet for writing music for the last few years but I still really love writing for classical ensembles. I just don't have the opportunity to do it very often. Part of the origin of these songs is that they're all the songs that I wanted to write for my band, which is a fiddle folk rock band, but they didn't really fit the aesthetic of that band as they’re more gentle songs and longer in form. It took me a long while to realize that I really just wanted to write them for string quartet and eventually when I record them I may add other instruments as well - I can imagine a drum kit with a couple of the songs. They’re definitely folk songs. They’re the sort of songs I would write for a band, but the band now is a string quartet.

How did you blend the styles of classical and folk music together?

I don't think they're all that different -- at least there's no hard line between the two. So when I say blending the styles it's more like you'll notice certain particular elements in certain songs. Maybe the best way to talk about it would be in terms of form -- some of the songs have a really long form, kind of sprawling and a little more through-composed. You'll notice that and then say this is a piece of contemporary classical music but then the lyrics are very much folk song lyrics, the sort of thing I would write for my band. So when I say blending, it’s that there are strong elements and features of one style mixed with strong features of another style. Some of the songs are really just verse chorus verse chorus verse chorus, but having that played by string quartet for me is a way of blending those styles. I don't think blending classical music and folk music is all that remarkable but I have fun with what I do. Another thing I would add is it’s an interesting thing for me to be singing and not playing – I’ve done it a few times now, but it feels strange to sing and not hold an instrument (interested in seeing John multi-tasking? Here you go: https://youtu.be/5_9HyMLL5bM)

Is there a particular reason that you chose to program the Brahms with the songs?

We only have one set of songs and we wanted to have a full length program so we were trying to figure out what else we could play with the personnel we have. Tony is filling in for me in the string quartet on viola during the songs, and we have two violists so we thought we would play a string quintet. And there are a few string quintets with two violas out there. The two by Brahms and the Dvorak were the contenders for me because I love all those pieces, but this one is my favourite. I’ve wanted to play it for a long time.

There's not really a thematic relationship between the songs and the Brahms but having worked on this program for a few months now I think they fit pretty well together. They are a bit of an unlikely pair, but there are some sonic things that are similar. There's a really remarkable density in the Brahms. Just about everyone is playing all the time and it's really orchestral in its writing. There’s a huge sound throughout so much of the piece and that's something I tried to do with the songs as well, trying to maximize the density I could get out of just four musicians. So maybe in my mind that’s the most similar thing between the pieces, but I think they have some of the same flavours. That's probably because Brahms is one of my favorite composers and I love his string writing.

Also, I just wanted to say that our concert on Friday is happening at Notional Space – it’s a really lovely space which is the home of my friends Mark and Yoo-Mi. They're very generous with their space. They promote it as part of a gift economy. They gift the use of their home to us as musicians and we give the gift of music and our audience gives us the gift of their attention. If they feel called to give a financial gift to us as well they're welcome to do so, but these are all gifts that are freely given and there is no expectation around it. It’s a really unique, modern home and it’s wonderful that Mark and Yoo-Mi open it up to musicians as often as they do.

Ok, last question: of everyone that is playing, who smells the best?

Probably Elyse or Molly. Probably not me, and definitely not Tony. Doug smells pretty neutral. I think everyone smells pretty neutral, which is good. The neutral smelling string quartet.

Curious? Come to the show on Friday, listen to some great music, and judge for yourself whose scent is the most pleasant.

More information about the event can be found here: http://notional.space/event-pages/black-dog-string-quartet/

Want to know more about the BDSQ? Visit http://blackdogstringquartet.com/

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