BY KURT ALLEN
Nearly midway through last week’s concert by the Dallas String quartet, the group’s leader Ion Zanca drew laughter from a large audience at the Crockett Civic Center. Not only are there six members of the quartet, none of the members are from Dallas, either.
That mattered little to the audience as they were treated to a show that featured Christmas cheer, entertaining musical mixtures and even a little emotion. It was a show that delivered on the promise of Ann Walker, executive director of the Piney Woods Fine Arts Association, to blow the roof off the arena.
The concert, which featured an eclectic blend of classical, holiday and modern sounds, kicked off the quartet’s tour promoting a new album released in November. Crockett was the group’s first stop of the tour.
Opening with the traditional holiday theme of “Oh, Holy Night,” the group wrapped the show with the distinctly non-holiday Neil Diamond tune “Sweet Caroline,” which included vocal accompaniment by the audience itself. In between these two, the group performed nearly 20 other pieces. The ending of the performance brought the crowd to their feet.
“We are so happy to be here,” said violinist Melissa Priller. “This is our first Christmas album and we’re excited to start our tour right here in Crockett.
In the opening piece, the audience got an instant taste of DSQ’s unique style. After violinists Zanca, Priller and Eleanor Dunbar traded off with peaceful, serene sections, the rest of the group – featuring South Korean bassist Young Heo, Mexican drummer Efren Gusman Jr., and Texan guitarist Anthony Plant – raised the energy level with a crescendo of lively tones. The piece lived up to the group’s style, described as Bach to Bon Jovi.
The next tune was “Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” which quickly built into a light, bouncy and playful tune backed up by a strong piano foundation.
“My Favorite Things,” a popular tune from the movie/musical “The Sound of Music,” turned into a jazzy piece with the trio of violinists playing off each other as the piece built to a strong end.
The first distinctly non-holiday tune followed with Sting’s “Englishman in New York.” Showing their strength as musicians, the group perfectly portrayed a brisk walk through Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, followed by a section that evoked sensations of a carriage ride through a crisp Central Park night.
“As you can see, we will be feature some Christmas tunes, and something else,” said Zanca prior to the next piece. “We come from all over the world and this song exemplifies our life touring and performing on the road.
That piece – “Gypsy Airs” by Pablo de Saraste, opened with a haunting solo by Dunbar, the notes wavering and creating a tone that made the violin sound like it was crying. Then, the rest of the group pushed in, creating a Figaro-like dance piece.
Plant led off the next piece with a self-created arrangement of “What Child is This,” and the familiar tunes of “Greensleeves” dominated the guitar-drum duo performance that followed.
The next song was the group’s first wholly unique arrangement, called “Drops of Jewels,” a nod to Zanca’s young son Julian. The entire piece evoked emotions of a child playing outside, with the music following his activities throughout the day.
The final song before intermission was Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and Zanca encouraged the audience to sing along to the familiar song.
Following intermission, the audience was treated to a distinctly different second performance. The violinists, shedding both their formal attire and their seats, came out dressed in “rocker” clothing, performing the rest of the night while standing.
The first piece of the second half, Led Zepplin’s “Sibelius/Kashmir,” set the tone of a much livelier, rock-driven section. The trio of violinists ditched their traditional instruments and instead used electric versions, which made the resulting sounds even more unique.
With “Carol of the Bells,” the full rock-heavy feature of the group came out. The song, a mainstay of similar groups like Trans Siberian Orchestra, had the audience cheering by the end.
Keeping the pace lively, “All I want For Christmas” offered a childlike feel followed by a dance-worthy pace.
Talking about the group’s style, Dunbar said DSQ had its roots in pure classical music. But as they evolved, so did their repertoire of selections. As the group continued to add more modern pieces, they discovered the challenge of mixing two distinctive styles.
“We were in the studio and I was playing (classical Italian violinist Niccolo) Paganini, and Ion said ‘that’s too many notes.’ To counter, he started playing Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I will Survive,’” Dunbar said.
Soon, the two were “dueling” each other with the two songs, which is how the group created the next piece, “I Will Survive Paganini.”
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was the group’s next piece, and it featured a piano line that sounded like falling snow, followed by violinists creating a by-the-fireplace feel to end it.
The piece “Sugar Plum/James Bond” followed, highlight the group’s ability to merge classical and modern. The solo violin work of Priller created a serene theme that was countered by the more sinister and familiar James Bond theme. The piece easily moved from dreamlike to nightmare with the addition of guitar, bass and drums.
Vanca then shared the story of how he came from his native Romania to the United States and told of how his faith in God helped him find his place and his purpose. He followed the story with a rendition of “Amazing Grace” that was both haunting and uplifting.
In the next piece, Priller and Dunbar battled each other in “Texas Duel,” another DSQ original, each featuring their own unique style and sound in counterpoint to each other.
The next-to-last piece of the night – “I Wish” by Stevie Wonder – had a 1970s disco/dance feel throughout, and gave each group member an opportunity to play solo for the audience.
In the last piece – “Sweet Caroline” – the audience again was invited to add vocal accompaniment, leading to a rousing finish and a standing ovation.
The group’s next tour stop will be Jan. 8 in Colorado. The next major event for the PWFAA at the Civic Center will be Asleep at the Wheel on Feb. 1.