Abigail Rojansky

Verona Quartet: musical conversations

Young, diverse string quartet performing this week at Chamber Music Northwest succeeds through strong communication and connection


It’s a good thing the Verona Quartet members are young and energetic, because they’ve been getting quite a workout in Portland this month.As part of Chamber Music Northwest’s 2018 Summer Festival, they will play Haydn, Beethoven, and Brahms at Portland State University’s  Lincoln Hall on Tuesday, Shostakovich’s Quartet #3 at northeast Portland’s  Alberta Rose Theater on Wednesday, and this Saturday and Sunday at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium they will take part in the all Dvorak program that closes the 2018 Summer Festival. They’re also participating in various community outreach activities.

The Verona Quartet performs at Chamber Music Northwest this week.

Not that their Oregon schedule is unusual. The Verona Quartet is a full-time ensemble — chamber music is what they do, and they do a lot of it away from home. The quartet has given concerts and residencies in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Middle East. This is their eighth week on the road this summer.

Like every string quartet whose players I’ve ever interviewed, the Verona is particularly attracted to contemporary music. Among the new works it’s commissioned is one by Michael Gilbertson, which was recently chosen as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Another, Julia Adolphe’s Star-Crossed Signals, was inspired by the signals used to communicate between ships at sea. The Verona will perform it for the New at Noon concert in Lincoln Recital Hall at Portland State University this Friday.

Abigail Rojansky, the Verona Quartet’s violist, is adamant that “classical” music should not be considered old fashioned and stagnant, but that it is constantly changing, as is our understanding of it. The young ensemble’s makeup reflects that process of change.

On a perfect Portland summer evening last week, I chatted with Rojansky at a courtyard picnic table at Reed, the quartet’s current lodging. The Verona’s multinational touring schedule mirrors the group’s diverse backgrounds: two men, two women, four nationalities. Rojansky grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, first violinist Jonathan Ong is from Singapore, second violinist Dorothy Ro is from Nova Scotia, and cellist Jonathan Dormand hails from Yorkshire, England. To make things easier they call Dormand “J.D.”  When I ask if any of them are married, she smiles and says no. “And the next question,” she offers, “is if any of the members of the quartet are ‘together,’ and the answer again is no.”