Inspiring performances, luminous sound, and exceptional musicianship are the hallmarks of the Grammy Award-winning Parker Quartet. Renowned for its dynamic interpretations and polished, expansive colors, the group has rapidly distinguished itself as one of the preeminent ensembles of its generation, dedicated purely to the sound and depth of their music. The Quartet has appeared at the world’s most important venues since its founding in 2002.
Following a 2019 summer season that had the ensemble crossing North America for appearances at music festivals from Banff to Bard, the Parker Quartet began its sixth year as faculty members of Harvard University’s Department of Music in the group’s role as Blodgett Artists-in-Residence. Recent seasons included performances and residencies around the United States and Europe, including at the University of Iowa, the University of Chicago, the Wigmore Hall, the University of South Carolina, the Schubert Club, Skidmore College, and Kansas City’s Friends of Chamber Music.
The Quartet has been influential in projects ranging from the premiere of a new octet by Zosha di Castri alongside the JACK Quartet at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity; to the premiere of Augusta Read Thomas’s Helix Spirals, a piece inspired by the Meselson-Stahl DNA replication discovery; to the “Schubert Effect,” in collaboration with pianist Shai Wosner at the 92nd Street Y. Other recent highlights include appearances at Carnegie Hall, the Library of Congress, the Slee Series in Buffalo, and New York’s Lincoln Center Great Performers series. The Quartet also continues to be a strong supporter of their friend and frequent collaborator Kim Kashkashian’s project Music for Food by participating in concerts throughout the United States for the benefit of various food banks and shelters.
The Quartet has been particularly focused on recording projects this past year. For ECM Records, they recorded Dvořák's Viola Quintet, joined by Kim Kashkashian, as well as Kurtag's Six Moments Musicaux and Officium breve in memoriam. Under the auspices of the Monte Carlo Festival Printemps des Arts, they recorded a disc of three Beethoven quartets, due to be released this fall. The Quartet’s recording featuring Mendelssohn’s Quartets Op. 44, Nos. 1 and 3, was widely lauded by the international press, and their debut commercial recording of Bartók’s String Quartets Nos. 2 and 5 for Zig-Zag Territoires won praise from Gramophone: “The Parkers’ Bartók spins the illusion of spontaneous improvisation… they have absorbed the language; they have the confidence to play freely with the music and the instinct to bring it off.” Their Naxos recording of György Ligeti’s complete works for string quartet won the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance (the last string quartet to win this category).
Recent collaborations include those with acclaimed artists like violist Kim Kashkashian, featured on their recent Dvořák recording; violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg; pianists Anne-Marie McDermott, Orion Weiss, Vijay Iyer, and Shai Wosner; members of the Silk Road Ensemble; Kikuei Ikeda of the Tokyo String Quartet; clarinetist and composer Jörg Widmann; and clarinetists Anthony McGill and Charles Neidich.
Founded and currently based in Boston, the Parker Quartet’s numerous honors include winning the Concert Artists Guild Competition, the Grand Prix and Mozart Prize at France’s Bordeaux International String Quartet Competition, and Chamber Music America’s prestigious Cleveland Quartet Award. Now Blodgett Artists-in-Residence at Harvard University’s Department of Music, and also in-residence at the UofSC School of Music, the Quartet’s numerous residencies have included serving as Artists-in-Residence at the University of St. Thomas (2012–2014), Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Minnesota (2011– 2012), Quartet-in-Residence with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (2008-2010), and as the first-ever Artists-in-Residence with Minnesota Public Radio (2009-2010).
The Parker Quartet’s members hold graduate degrees in performance and chamber music from the New England Conservatory of Music and the Juilliard School, and the Quartet was part of the New England Conservatory’s prestigious Professional String Quartet Training Program from 2006–2008. Some of their most influential mentors include the original members of the Cleveland Quartet as well as Kim Kashkashian, György Kurtág, and Rainer Schmidt.
September 2019 - Please do not edit without permission
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After spending an intensive month performing and teaching side-by-side at Banff’s “Evolution of the String Quartet” program this summer, the Parker Quartet and JACK Quartet were eager to perform together again. While at Banff, the two groups premiered a string octet by the up-and-coming composer Zosha Di Castri which they’ll be touring together in 19-20. Both groups are known for the high quality of their performances of modern music, with the Parker receiving a Grammy Award for their Ligeti recording and the JACK being named the Ensemble of the Year by Musical America, as well as receiving the CMA/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming. Renowned for its dynamic interpretations and polished, expansive colors, the Parker has rapidly distinguished itself as one of the preeminent ensembles of its generation. In 2017-18 the Parker Quartet began its fourth year in-residence at Harvard University with the new prestigious title of Preceptor. Dedicated to the performance, commissioning, and spread of new string quartet music and works, the JACK is “a musical vehicle of choice to the next great composers who walk among us." (Toronto Star)
Having recently recorded an album together for ECM, the Parker Quartet is available on very select dates together with the sensational violist Kim Kashkashian. Repertoire possibilities include Mozart, Dvořák, and Brahms.
2019-2020 Program Choices
Mozart: Quartet in D major, K. 499, “Hoffmeister”
Schoenberg: Quartet No. 1 in D minor, Op. 7
One would assume that only differences would be found in a juxtaposition of the First and Second Viennese schools, but the thrill of discovering that they share the same roots is what makes this program unique. This is particularly true in this instance because of Schoenberg’s first masterpiece, his Quartet No. 1 in D minor, which was written well before he dived into atonality. It is through and through a romantic work that pushes romanticism to its edge. It combines the drama and scale of a Wagner opera with Mahler’s brilliant orchestration. Mozart’s “Hoffmeister” quartet, with its effervescent, creative spirit, is a wonderful counterpart to the Schoenberg and reminds us of how infectious Mozart’s music can be.
Esa-Pekka Salonen: Homunculus for String Quartet
Szymanowski: Quartet No. 2, Op. 56, M64
Beethoven: Quartet in A minor, Op. 132
This program centers around the mystery and hope of birth (Salonen), and the revelatory thanksgiving for life (Beethoven).
Haydn: Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 33, No. 2, “The Joke”
Lutoslawski : Quartet OR Shostakovich: Quartet No. 11 in F minor, Op. 122
Dvořák: Quartet No. 13 in G major, Op. 106
Fun, wit, and deception threads its way through a series of works that highlight the unexpected. Haydn is full of humor, Lutoslawski is a master of creating suspense, and Dvořák constantly surprises us with harmonic twists and turns.
Bartók: Quartet No. 1
Shostakovich: Quartet No. 9 in E-flat major, Op. 117
Beethoven: Quartet in B-Flat major, Op. 18, No. 6 OR Strauss: Sextet from Capriccio, Op. 85
Janácek: Quartet No. 1, “Kreutzer Sonata”
Brahms: String Sextet No. 2 in G major, Op. 36
Richard O’Neill, viola
Edward Arron, cello
Brahms’ G major Sextet is one of the Quartet’s favorite works in the chamber music repertoire. The Parker Quartet is thrilled to collaborate on this sextet, a work of exploration and sublimity, with Richard O’Neill and Edward Arron - two of the most significant artists of their generation.
2020-2021 Program Choices
Program I: Venetian Voices
Thomas Adès: Arcadiana
Fauré (arr. Ken Hamao): Cinq mélodies “de Venise,” Op. 58
Monteverdi (arr. Hamao): Selections from Madrigals Book VI
Britten: Quartet No. 3 in G major, Op. 94
Works by two British composers—taking their inspiration from the city of Venice and its rich vocal tradition—bookend a pair of song transcriptions for quartet. The program opens with Adès’ depiction of the Venetian nighttime, a gondola rollicking in the famous canals. Over seven movements, the imagery of water touches upon Schubert (the third movement’s eponymous lied, “To Sing on the Water”) and the island birthplace of Venus (Jean-Antoine Watteau’s “Embarkation for Cythera”) before transforming into Lethe, one of the five rivers of the Greek underworld.
Staying at the Palazzo Wolkoff by the Grand Canal, Fauré was similarly captivated by the maritime city when he began composing his Five Songs of Venice. Two of the songs are based on the poetry of Paul Verlaine, to whom Britten would set music in his Four French Songs almost forty years later.
Unlike the other three composers, Claudio Monteverdi was a resident of Venice when he wrote his sixth book of madrigals. A seminal figure, particularly within the rich Italian vocal tradition, Monteverdi single-handedly bridged the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque, which can be heard in these madrigal selections.
Similar to Monteverdi, Benjamin Britten was a significant contributor to the vocal repertoire, and he references his opera, Death in Venice, in his final instrumental work, the Third String Quartet. The work appropriately concludes with a passacaglia—a favorite form of Britten’s, titled "La Serenissima," the nickname for Venice—whose theme is derived directly from church bells Britten heard from his hotel room in the city.
Haydn: String Quartet in B minor, Op. 33, No. 1
Thomas Adès: Arcadiana
Beethoven: Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131
Thomas Adès’ Arcadiana evokes idylls or utopias both vanished and vanishing. It explores the idea of “elsewhere,” or, as the composer explains, “a here that is gone or is going.” Whether inspired by the water on a Venetian night, the world of make-believe in Mozart’s Magic Flute, approaching the bucolic lands of England, or the river of forgetfulness in Hades’ underworld — Arcadiana stretches the notion of possibility and imagination and challenges what we think we know.
This spirit of discovery emanates from the other two works on this program as well. Using the unusual key of B minor, Haydn’s Op. 33, No. 1, quartet opens mysteriously in a hauntingly beautiful way. The slow movement draws one in with its patience and intimate narrative while the last movement is a blistering Presto in B minor.
Often considered to be one of the most extraordinary and profound pieces in the repertoire, Beethoven’s Op. 131 represents Beethoven at the height of his art form. He himself considered it to be the greatest string quartet he ever wrote. Like the Adès in its structure, Beethoven uses seven movements to lead us on a journey that opens like a Greek tragedy and ends with the brutal defiance of fate. No other work captures the vastness of the human spirit in quite the same way.
Bartók: Quartet No. 3
Hans Abrahamsen: String Quartet No. 4
Brahms: Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 51, No. 1
Dance, light, play, and darkness are woven through this program of Bartók, Abrahamsen, and Brahms. Bartók’s third quartet is his most compact quartet and contains at its center a thrilling folk dance. The sound world of Abrahamsen’s fourth quartet taps into our immediate surroundings: high, clear harmonics in the sky, pizzicato raindrops that transform into an earthy groove, and the combination of other sonic elements to paint nature in its most transparent, colorful, and delicate form.
The key of C minor has always seemed to represent something unique for composers such as Mozart (Great Mass in C minor) and Beethoven (Symphony No. 5). Brahms clearly connected strongly with the characteristics of this key as well, as some of his most powerful works utilize the same tonal center (Symphony No. 1 and Piano Quartet No. 3). Here we find it in string quartet form although it is more symphonic in scope. Strong, rich, and expressive, there is a searing intensity and drama to this music.