Matthew Detrick and Apollo Chamber Players Highlight ‘Silenced Voices’ in 2023-24 Series

Each of the four concerts—Banned (October), Canceled (November), Revised (February), and Muted (May)—featured newly commissioned and traditional works

By Laurence Vittes | From the May-June 2024 issue of Strings Magazine

Since its founding 16 years ago, the Houston-based string quartet called Apollo Chamber Players has commissioned more than 50 new works. Consisting of violinists Matthew J. Detrick and Anabel Ramirez, cellist Matthew Dudzik, and new violist Aria Cheregosha, Apollo may have been the first American chamber ensemble to record and perform in Cuba when they laid down Arthur Gottschalk’s Imágenes de Cuba at Abdala Studios in Havana in January 2017.

The ensemble has since finished its 20×2020 commissioning initiative with digital world premieres and global recording projects taking place in the midst of the pandemic. Its With Malice Toward None recording, featuring music by Kimo Williams, Pamela Z, Christopher Theofanidis, Komitas Vardapet, and Eve Beglarian, reached No. 1 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases chart. Apollo’s latest album, Moonstrike, features music by Jennifer Higdon, Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, and Pierre Jalbert. Their seventh, Trace of Time, is due out in June.

Apollo dedicated its 2023–24 Artemis series to the theme “Silenced Voices,” spotlighting artists and thinkers suppressed by the forces of censorship, prejudice, and totalitarianism. Each of the four concerts—Banned (October), Canceled (November), Revised (February), and Muted (May)—featured newly commissioned and traditional works, some with poets, one with chorus, and took place at different venues.

I spoke to Detrick while he was grant writing, one of several administrative hats he wears for the fully salaried group.

The Apollo Chamber Players perform “Clementine” from Florence Price’s “Five Folksongs in Counterpoint.”

Where is classical music headed? 


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I sometimes wonder. From Apollo Chamber Players’ perspective, we want to be a part of the solution for what a diverse and equitable musical canon means in the 21st century. It took us a few years to find our niche; it was 2013 before we had our first commissioned work. Since then, it’s been our mission to connect communities and cultures through globally inspired music. Initiatives like “Silenced Voices” are rooted in a deep love of this country and the ideals of freedom of speech and expression—the ability for America to improve and become that shining city on the hill, and how we can do that through music and art. Also, how can we combine the social activism of the new generation of composers with the standard repertoire? 

How did you achieve that in Muted?

It was about the ultimate forms of censorship, war and conflict and death, juxtaposed with self-censorship through mental illness. The major traditional work was Schumann’s Piano Quintet, with pianist Tuğçe Özcivan, looking at how Schumann suffered his entire life and how mental illness ultimately cost him his life.

Apollo Chamber Players performing Banned Music
Apollo Chamber Players performing Banned Music. Photo: Lynn Lane

We did a piece by a Dutch composer named Dick Kattenburg, who perished in Auschwitz when he was 24. He went into hiding and continued to teach before being captured. He’s not well known in the States, but he is highly regarded in the Netherlands. His String Trio had trademark elements of mid-20th century tonality and polytonality with some thick textures and dissonance; what was interesting was his use of American jazz elements and rhythms. We were all immediately drawn to his music.

We also had a commission by a Dutch composer named Joey Roukens, a millennial composer who’s been recorded on Deutsche Grammophon. His Fifth String Quartet, “Forgotten Dutch Melodies,” was a substantial 20-minute work; a couple of the melodies are centuries old, one from a 17th century songbook.


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And the three preceding concerts?

The first concert in October—Banned—was more specific to banned books and music. We had a piece titled Ban by Allison Loggins-Hull, composer in residence for the Cleveland Orchestra, for quartet, flute/piccolo, and stompbox. She had gone into a library and recorded the sound of books slamming and integrated that into electronics for the stomp. Mark Buller’s Firewall was in five different movements, each inspired by a different banned book, including Fahrenheit 451, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and The Great Gatsby. The traditional works were Virgil Thomson’s Second String Quartet and Copland’s Two Pieces.

The concert in November was titled Canceled—we had to be very careful with our promos so people wouldn’t get confused. The music was by Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky) for quartet and electronics “inspired by censorship in science.” The Burke Baker Planetarium, where we held the concert, gave it just the right ambiance.

Revised, in February, which we gave at both the Holocaust Museum and Unity Church, might have been the heart of the season. It was a collaboration with poets Deborah D.E.E.P Mouton and Outspoken Bean, as well as composers Jasmine Barnes and John Cornelius. Marty Regan wrote a work inspired by the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, which we juxtaposed with Beethoven’s Cavatina from Opus 130 as a template for how we can create music that reflects our own times. This stuff is still happening and still relevant. The question is, without taking specific stances, can we bring this to people’s attention in a way that makes them more empathetic and compassionate for people with different viewpoints? 


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You play a four-concert Satellite series of more traditional concerts at different venues, including Rothko Chapel and the Czech Center Museum. 

All of our concerts have a powerful emotive force behind them. For instance, we do a Czech Heritage concert every year. Last October we did Dvořák’s Sextet. Norman Fischer was the additional cellist from the Shepherd School of Music at Rice; he’s from the last generation of Ken Goldsmith–type leaders and musicians. I’ve leaned on him for a lot of mentorship over the years, as we did with Ken.

What’s on your your new CD?

Trace of Time is due out in June. The title track is by the great bandoneonist Hector Del Curto. There’s Piazzolla’s Tango Ballet and Adolphus Hailstork’s Rhapsody—both Piazzolla and Hailstork studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris a decade or so apart. Piazzolla was also Hector’s mentor and Hector was in his band as a teenager. There’s also Julia Smith’s rediscovered quartet and Jessie Montgomery’s Voodoo Dolls.