Parker Quartet captivates audience at SRJC

Isabel Johnson, News Editor

When the music began, the audience was entranced. A quick inhalation. Perfect unison in a crescendo of sound drew listeners into the Parker Quartet’s realm and refused to let them free.

Opening with Joseph Haydn’s Quartet in C Major, Op. 20, No. 2, the quartet’s incredible rapport and complete absorption into the music impressed the audience. The Parker Quartet has been touring for over seven years, and all members hold graduate degrees in performance and chamber music from the New England Conservatory of Music. The group is comprised of Daniel Chong on violin, Jessica Bodner on viola, Karen Kim on violin and Kee-Hyun Kim on cello. The quartet took its name from the Omni Parker House in Boston, which is the oldest running hotel in Boston as well as the home of Boston cream pie and Parker House rolls.

Before playing, Chong announced they would be performing the Haydn from memory, as they will be recording an album of Haydn’s music in the near future. Despite the difficulty of performing a wonderfully complex piece without sheet music, the quartet never faltered. “This was the first time we were doing this quartet memorized, so it was kind of like a challenge because you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Bodner said.

As they played, the musicians eased the audience into their world without ever seeming to notice anything beyond their instruments and each other. They almost danced with their instruments, moving with the music as though they were only conduits directed by the sound, instead of being in control of it. As the first song drew to an end, they rejoined the world and released their audience for a time.

“When we choose repertoire, we try to pick something that will be, obviously, engaging and interesting to listen to,” Kee-Hyun Kim said. “There’s just so much to choose from and we always try to just mix it up, some Haydn, something from the classical, something from the romantic or modern or contempory or you know, whatever.”

It began with a barely present tremble of strings, the almost dissonant echoes sending shivers down listeners’ spines. Growing to a haunting chorus, the music built to dizzying heights and then plunged into near silence again, keeping listeners spellbound by the music’s journey. György Sándor Ligeti’s Quartet No. 1, “Metamorphoses Nocturnes” was nothing like what the audience was expecting.

A shock to their senses after the delightful but expected melodies of Haydn, Ligeti’s music swept the room into a musical revelation, breaking their preconceptions of chamber music and confronting them with sounds they never expected to hear from a stringed instrument.

Every movement, from turning the page to sweeping hair out of their eyes, was perfectly in tempo with the music. It was easy to see that the quartet was completely comfortable submerging themselves in the tempestuous piece, and it was an amazing experience to hear Ligeti for the first time from such an exceptional group.

“We feel like we know his music pretty well, and we have a definite passion for it,” Chong said. “[We] think he’s one of the most brilliant composers of the twentieth century, and I wish he wrote more for the string quartet.” The group has performed all the works Ligeti wrote for string quartet.

After the small talk and drifting of intermission, the quartet lulled the audience back to the expected with a slow starting Quartet in C Sharp Minor from Op. 131 by Ludwig van Beethoven. The long piece allowed recovery time for both musicians and audience before reaching the full heights of its spiraling complexities. The piece brought the room into dizzying crescendos before dropping it back into deceptively peaceful lulls, again and again.

“We thought the Ligeti and the Beethoven were a really great choice to put together because they’re both very similar in their form,” Karen Kim said. “Very complex and great works.”

Enthusiastic applause lead to a standing ovation at the conclusion of the third piece, and the quartet played “Cypress” by Antonín Leopold DvoÅ™ák as their encore, earning more applause from the audience.

With few, barely noticeable moments of imperfection, the Parker Quartet was beyond impressive, especially considering their relative youth.