Meet the Music Makers: Pacifica Quartet

Brandon Vamos with cello against stone wall and wood fence

By Landon Hegedus, UChicago Presents

In conversation with Brandon Vamos, cellist and founding member of the Pacifica Quartet – originally published in April 2019:

UChicago Presents: What initially drew you and the quartet to Chicago as a place to make your home as a young quartet?

Brandon Vamos: We formed originally in Los Angeles and planned to stay there, but the reason we came back here is that I actually have a history there. I grew up near Chicago, and my parents had been teaching there for many years. We were just trying to make ends meet at that point but there are so many opportunities in Chicago as a young musician, so we thought that we would have a better chance focusing on the quartet and trying to find opportunities to perform and work around the city to help us survive at an early stage in our career. We all love the city now – I’ve been coming to Chicago since I was five years old. I grew up in Macomb, Illinois, and Chicago is one of my favorite places to be.

UCP: 17 years is a long time not only to hold a residency at one institution, but also a long time to just be playing together as a group. How do you feel that your time as a resident ensemble at UChicago shaped the group's approach and your collective ethic?

BV: I think a big part of what shaped us as a quartet was being involved in new music. We were learning a lot of new repertoire each year between working with the student composers and the contemporary chamber ensemble. We were exposed to many new composers and different styles of writing, and it certainly stretched us. We had to learn things quickly, and the music was often challenging with complicated rhythms and structures and fast tempos, and I think that was invaluable to us. It made us see how important it was to be a part of the New Music scene. We were not just an old quartet playing music of the 1700s and 1800s – we were looking forward, and we still feel that way.  One of the reasons we’re premiering a [David Dzubay’s “Oceanic” Quartet] at the University of Chicago is that we know this audience can handle new repertoire, and wants to hear new repertoire.

UCP: What are you most looking forward to about returning to UChicago in this concert?

BV: Definitely the audience. This is an audience that we’ve grown up with, and they’ve been there for us. We’ve known so many people in this audience for a long time, and not only audience members but people we have become friends with and spent time with. So even though we're not playing in Chicago as much as we used to, I don't think there's an audience anywhere that we're as close to as our University of Chicago audience. We like the fact that we're still able to have that connection with that audience, it’s really special for us.