From the collaborative ability required to play in an orchestra to the technical precision and stage presence needed to be a soloist, different musical ensembles require varying sets of skills. In a string quartet, the four musicians must strike a balance between these two extremes. At Paine Hall on Oct. 16, the Parker Quartet succeeded in this goal as they combined teamwork and technique in their interpretation of Mozart’s String Quartet No. 16, Szymanowski’s String Quartet No.1, and Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 1.
The Grammy Award-winning Parker Quartet, composed of violinists Daniel Chong and Ying Xue, violist Jessica Bodner, and cellist Kee-Hyun Kim, are renowned for their skill and musicality. As artists-in-residence at Harvard, they are committed not only to performance but also to spreading appreciation and knowledge of music by holding lectures at the university. Last Friday, they accomplished that mission by performing at Paine Hall as part of the Blodgett Chamber Music Series.
The Mozart string quartet pleasantly introduced the night, demonstrating the musicians’ obvious skill as they fearlessly approached the fast tempos and virtuosic scales that characterize Mozart’s compositions. With an evidently careful treatment of the piece, the ensemble ensured that each note in every scale was pronounced and that each instrument came together to sound perfectly euphonious—and by adding no unneeded nuance or frivolity, the Parker Quartet ensured that theirs was a highly exact interpretation of Mozart’s String Quartet.
However, as the Parker Quartet delved into Szymanowski and Tchaikovsky, the musicians were able to show that they possessed not only technical skills but also a true knowledge of the purpose and themes of the music they played as they tore through the demanding pieces. While maintaining their precision, the musicians remained emotionally invested in their pieces, expertly translating the notes into melancholy yet exciting music. This combination of skill and connection to the music itself was reflected in the quartet’s impressive harmonization during the Tchaikovsky; in a piece that could have easily been cacophonous due to the number of technical and contrasting chords, the musicians’ individual parts never once clashed. As they played the Szymanowski and Tchaikovsky with great force (as well as with their characteristic accuracy), the Parker Quartet transformed the performance into a thought-provoking experience, moving in and out of mournful and cheerful movements with perfect grace.
In addition to the quartet’s cohesiveness as a group, the musicians’ individual skill was a key reason the concert proved so satisfying. Chong’s and Xue’s respective first and second violin parts rose into eerie yet beautiful high notes that struck the ear with the way they continued to blend with rest of the quartet in spite of their pitch. Likewise, cellist Kim and violist Bodner proved integral as the pieces transitioned into slower, quieter movements, adding soft tones to balance out the high notes of the violins. In the end, it was only through this particular combination of well-trained and well-balanced musicians that the pieces were rendered in such an authentic way.
This performance was a graceful and exact interpretation of three demanding and different works, as the Parker Quartet’s ability to relay the optimism in Mozart’s piece and changing landscapes of Szymanowski and Tchaikovsky’s pieces showcased their musical skill and provided a pleasing night of music. The ensemble’s novelty is not in its new interpretations of music but rather in its ability to make the classic string quartet appeal to a modern audience.
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