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Pleasing Parkers at Paine

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The Grammy-award winning Parker Quartet (Daniel Chong, violin; Ken Hamao, violin; Jessica Bodner, viola; Kee-Hyun Kim, cello) played the fourth of its Blodgett series concerts to a capacity crowd at Harvard’s Paine Hall on Sunday. Founded in 2002, the Parker is busy not only with performances but also with coaching, mentoring and collaborating, as well as promoting new music. This last concert of their fourth year in residence at Harvard reflected all of these facets in a program in which Haydn and Brahms bracketed the work of the winner of this year’s Blodgett Composition Contest, Zeynep Toraman.  Over time, the Parkers have sounded smooth, nuanced, loud, polished—or not. On Sunday they executed with gracious, graceful ease.  

Mozart’s wrote his “Haydn” quartets between 1782 and 1785. K428 in E-flat Major (reclassified as 421b, and the third of six) gleams with sunlight. After some opening bars of a deceptively banal unison, Mozart morphs into beauty after those few octaves and a diminished 5th. The Parker provided infectious entertainment beyond their playing due to their apparent enjoyment of each other and the music.  Chong’s nods and Cellist Kim’s expression and body movements seemed to draw the entire quartet into expressive collaboration. In the andante they combined the Mozartian reverie with its certain restless chromatic syncopation. The large Menuetto contrasts boisterous chords and lyrical phrases, having a middle trio with exploratory harmonies alternating from minor to major.  The Allegro vivace seemed fittingly happy.

Harvard composition graduate student Zeynep Toraman wrote Things Are Made to Fill Voids in 2017 for IRCAM ManiFeste in Paris, at which Quatour Diotima performed the premiere.  An innovative and sparsely layered work, it intrigues and self-explores.  The use of many harmonics and col legno bowing sound haunting; the piece fills one’s mind and, frankly, would be better heard more than once.  It appeared here as the winner of the annual Blodgett Composition Competition, with the composer on hand.

The two winners of this year’s Parker Quartet Guest Artist Award joined the group for Brahms’s Sextet in G Major Op. 36 No. 2 for two violins, two violas and two cellos.  The guest cellist, Sophie Applbaum, a dual degree student at Harvard and NEC, studies with Paul Katz and Natasha Brofsky and has performed nationally and internationally; she already has the markings of a delightfully-engaged and effective chamber musician.  Guest violist, Samuel Zacharia, who currently studies with Kim Kashkashian at NEC, won the 2016 American Viola Society Soloist Competition and is also in the dual degree Harvard-NEC program. Both guest artists acquitted themselves more than well. The first movement Allegro non troppo of Opus 36 seduced us with austere loveliness and its everlasting nod to the young soprano, Agathe von Siebold, with whom Brahms is said to have been engaged. The group wove the hint of insouciance of the Scherzo into its intricate counterpoint. The ensemble’s version of the Adagio with its highly inventive variations within a 12-measure structure balanced well, and in the Poco allegro combined virtuosity with happy collaboration.

The busy Parkers, with their latest member, second violinist, Ken Hamao, have hit their stride.

Pianist and congenital music lover Julie Ingelfinger enjoys day jobs as professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, pediatric nephrologist at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and deputy editor at the New England Journal of Medicine.

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