The section quartet consists of two violins, a viola, and a cello, but please don’t call it a string quartet. “We’re a rock band,” insists first violinist, arranger, and founder Eric Gorfain, allowing, however, that “we’re playing classical instruments and we’re classically trained, so we kind of straddle the line.” Cellist Richard Dodd is less willing to compromise. “We play electrified instruments, really hard and loud, like a band,” he says. “I try to play with very little vibrato, and I get a solid bite into the string all the time. It’s a very aggressive style that probably wouldn’t go over too well with many orchestras.”
Gorfain assembled the Section Quartet in 1998 as a studio group to serve as a string “section” on recordings with more conventional rock bands. Before long the group was issuing CDs of its own, each providing unique string-ensemble approaches to the songs of a different band. Eventually the Section Quartet started doing live gigs too, some on its own, some opening for other acts, some in collaboration with other artists.
By now, the Section Quartet has worked with artists as diverse as pop, rock, R&B, and alt-folk stars David Bowie, Wilco, Christina Aguilera, Sam Phillips, Fiona Apple, Pink, Al Stewart, the Zombies, and Peter Case. On its own string-tribute albums, on the indie Vitamin label, the quartet has taken up songs by Radiohead, Tool, Nine Inch Nails, Coldplay, Bjork, Alanis Morrissette, and others.
It’s even released its own string-quartet version of Pink Floyd’s entire Dark Side of the Moon.
The group’s live concerts draw aging baby boomers as well as teenagers, and fans have put in extra effort to get to Section shows. Violinist Daphne Chen remembers a show the quartet played last year at an old theater in Augusta, Georgia. “One kid drove down with his father from South Carolina. His parents took him out of school, and his dad took a day off work so they could come down to the show. This kid sat in with us, playing Iron Maiden, and when it was over he had us sign his violin with a Sharpie.”
Says Gorfain, “That’s a lot different from the Boston Pops experience.”