Classical Invention | Black Dog String Quartet: A Thousand Times Brighter (Independent / 28 April 2023)

Classical Invention
Black Dog String Quartet: A Thousand Times Brighter
(Independent / 28 April 2023)

Vancouver's Black Dog String Quartet bring Western classical music and contemporary sensibilities together with dramatic flair and virtuosic technique. Contemporary vocalists add a contrasting element to the dazzling classical musicianship.

Their 2023 release A Thousand Times Brighter includes nine new compositions. 

"These songs present the quartet in an unique role: the quartet as a band, forming the energetic core of the music, with support on some tracks from upright bass, drums, and brass instruments. The composition reflects our collective interests in contemporary composition, fiddle, folk, and pop music. Recognizable pop forms are mixed with extended instrumental sections, unexpected textures, and extended string techniques. There are stylistic elements borrowed from fiddle music, contemporary classical, Romantic-period art song (especially German Lieder), contemporary folk, and Balinese gamelan.

"The album's primary thematic material is ecology and the natural world. The songs explore specific western Canadian environments such as the interior plateau, the coastal rainforest, and the prairies, as well as our human relationship with these places. Woven through this imagery is a narrative of deeply personal reflections on mental health, intimacy, and dreams."

The Black Dog String Quartet was formed in 2007, and the group has appeared on the recordings of artists such as 54-40, Marianas Trench, Bleeding Through, among others. The individual members of the quartet have performed live on stage with acts such as Rod Stewart, Kanye West, Sting, Michael Buble, Mariah Carey, The Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and Video Games Live.

All The Pretty Little Horses puts the traditional lullabye into a swell of strings that rise and fall with the words. Drums in a rapid-fire jazzy mode are the bottom layer to Two.  The effect is something like musical theatre in its dramatic intensity. In A Dream could also be in a staged production. Call it art song without the operatic style.

How I Remember It is a standout on the release, with its jazzy syncopations on bass and drums. The vocals offer a conventional song structure against the increasingly complex web of string lines. Thompson is a folk song with a lush arrangement of strings, and a story of love lost. 

Black Dog String Quartet
Black Dog String Quartet

In Memoriam

During the production of "A Thousand Times Brighter", Black Dog String Quartet experienced a significant tragedy when their producer/engineer, Olivia Quan, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly of natural causes at just 25 years old. She had nearly finished mixing the album at the time - the final adjustments were done by her colleague, Tom Dobrzanski. 

"Olivia was a young audio engineering phenom, having already worked on multiple Juno-nominated recordings, and the BDSQ considered her a friend. We had specifically selected her to work on this project with us after having worked with her as a session quartet on multiple other artists' albums."

Olivia's colleagues and family set up the Olivia Quan Award for Audio Excellence through Music BC in her memory. The remaining fees we owed her at the time of her passing were donated to this scholarship fund for promising young engineers. "A Thousand Times Brighter" is dedicated to Olivia and the olive tree imagery on the cover is a nod to her (as the name Olivia means 'olive tree'). 

Personnel: Elyse Jacobson, violin | Molly MacKinnon, violin | John Kastelic, viola | Doug Gorkoff, cello (with John Kastelic, Chelsea Rose, and Naomi Kavka on lead vocals)