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Dallas String Quartet bringing eclectic show to CAC

When most people think of a string quartet, it conjures up images of classical music being performed in a big symphony hall. What usually doesn’t come to mind is the music of Led Zeppelin, Bon Jovi, Guns N’ Roses, Coldplay and Lady Gaga.

But the Dallas String Quartet has set out to change that.

Blurring the lines between classical, rock and pop music, the Dallas String Quartet utilizes its bevy of unique arrangements to provide a truly original program that keeps its audience in a constant state of awe. This month, those in the area will have the chance to experience this genre-bending show for themselves, when the group comes to Williamsport for a performance at 7:30 p.m. March 19 at the Community Arts Center, 220 West Fourth St.

“We actually have some family and friends in that area, so we are very excited (to be playing in Williamsport),” said Ion Zanca, composer and violinist for the quartet. “We saw a picture of the venue and it looks beautiful, so we are excited just to be there.”

Having sold out famed venues across the world, the DSQ has performed with acts like Chicago, Josh Groban, and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, just to name a few. It has also played for Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, and at many national sporting events, including NBA, NFL and NCAA football games.

Zanca said the quartet has enjoyed so much success through the years because it gives fans an “eclectic program” that “takes them on a musical journey from Bach to Bon Jovi.”

“The show starts with classical instruments — like violins — and builds up, because we start with music that is very classical,” Zanca said. “We feel like that is a good time for the audience to warm up and for the musicians to warm up.

“By the end of the first half, when we finish ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ everybody is bringing some intensity to it,” he added. “It gets really fun.”

Along with Zanca, the other musicians comprising the DSQ include violinists Eleanor Dunbar and Melissa Priller, and bassist Young Heo, with full accompaniment by guitarist Anthony Plant and percussionist Efren Guzman. Zanca mentioned that the chemistry between the members of the group is “interesting” because of their varied musical backgrounds; half of them are classically trained, while the other half got their start in jazz music.

“It is a continuous process of learning from each other, because our backgrounds are so different,” he said. “The way we read the music, the charts, the harmony — the way we look at everything (is different). It allows us to come up with some different stuff because of that difference between the two trainings.”

In creating the unique program it brings to the stage nowadays, Zanca said the members of the DSQ started by just trying out a variety of popular songs to see what was doable with stringed instruments and what wasn’t. He said that R&B and hip-hop were hard to imitate with strings because of the words involved, but that rock music was much easier to accomplish. Making use of electric violins, the group is able to add effects that make their instruments sound like guitars, which allows them to mimic the solos on songs like “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Living on a Prayer.”

“It is pretty fun, actually, to try that,” Zanca said. “It makes us feel like we are rock stars, and that is every classical musician’s dream — to be a rock star.”

Of all the pieces it performs, among the toughest is a mash-up that includes the music of Paganini and Gloria Gaynor’s disco hit “I Will Survive,” according to Zanca.

“That is tough because those are very opposing styles,” he said. “The history behind it is that we were at rehearsal one time and one of the violinists was just playing these really fast notes from Paganini, and one of the other musicians just started playing ‘I Will Survive.’ So, we came up with this really cool and original arrangement that’s called ‘I Will Survive Paganini.'”

While the audiences typically find the entire performance to be mesmerizing, Zanca said the biggest reaction of the night usually comes when the DSQ plays its version of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” Putting its own classical spin on the tune, the quartet starts out by playing a violin concerto from Sibelius for a few minutes before transitioning into Zeppelin. When the change finally happens, those in the crowd eat it up.

“The audience gets taken back a little bit, because you have those two pieces that normally don’t go together,” Zanca said. “They are really surprised.

“In the first half, we have a little more classical music, so when we start playing the classical (in the second half), they expect that it is going to be similar to the first half, but then it just goes in a completely different direction,” he added.

Throughout its show, Zanca said the DSQ likes to explain how and why the group wrote the music the way they it did. This, he said, allows the audience to enjoy the program all the more.

“The way we program the concert is to tell a story, so the people can relate to (the music),” he said. “That allows them to be a part of it, rather than just being a spectator; they can feel what we feel.”

For more information or tickets to the show, visit Caclive.com.

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