Simin Ganatra, Brandon Vamos and Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 2

When the global pandemic made it impossible for the Pacifica Quartet to play for us in Sleepy Hollow, the members of the board Friends Of Music Concerts were determined to find a way for the ensemble to connect with us online. Simin Ganatra, violinst, and Brandon Vamos, cellist, suggested a discussion of how the ensemble approaches Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 2 in A Major, Opus 68.

Since both musicians — as are the other members of the Pacifica Quartet, Austin Hartman and Mark Holloway — teach music at Indiana University, we knew this would be a wonderful opportunity to create a timeless experience.

Once we had Simin’s and Brandon’s commitment, we asked our supporters to submit questions that would help shape the conversation. Graciously, Simin and Brandon have taken those questions to heart and created a thoroughly engaging discussion of their journey through classical music, from their days as young students through the world of festivals and on to their current work as performers on on the global stage.

In this conversation, Brandon discusses how Shostakovich’s second quartet stands out as a remarkable piece, often creating an electric feel with audiences. He explains that the piece has an operatic feel and this is because early in his life, Shostakovich stopped writing operas because of the problems he was getting into with authorities but he wanted his work to have that operatic feel without words. Brandon is especially fond of the third movement, a scherzo, which is usually a light movement for a quartet but Shostakovich doesn’t treat his third movements like that often. “There’s something dark and brooding behind the surface of his scherzo,” Brandon says. “We are playing muted the entire movement but the color of the movement is not soft. It’s often forte and fortissimo.”  This creates a feelng of restraint which Brandon says is very much the way Shostakovich was living his life in Russia at the time.

And now that you have the benefit of this insightful introduction, please enjoy this hauntingly beautiful performance of the Pacifica Quartet playing Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 2 in A Major.

BBC Music Magazine’s wrote, “Pacifica’s Shostakovich cycle is already shaping up as definitive.” Among their achievements, the Pacifica Quartet was named quartet-in-residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 2009 to 2012 (a position previously held only by the Guarneri String Quartet), and in 2009, they  received the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance.

They record for Cedille Records and their full discography is available from the Cedille Records website. The Quartet released their latest album, Contemporary Voices last summer. In January 2021, it was awarded a Grammy for the best performance by a chamber ensemble.

Pacifica Quartet album Contemporary Voices
Pacifica Quartet: Contemporary Voices

The album features works by three Pulitzer Prize-winning contemporary composers: Shulamit Ran, Jennifer Higdon, and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Their recording of Shostakovich’s complete string quartets is available on The Soviet Experience Boxed Set.  They are scheduled to appear in Sleepy Hollow, New York with Orion Weiss on April 2, 2022; visit our concert listing page for full details. And if you are not already receiving our email updates, sign up for news about this and other performances in the box on the right side of this page. — Gus Venditto

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