Introduced by a friend to chamber music, Daniel Chong’s musical vision changed and by the time he entered the New England Conservatory of Music, he knew what he wanted to do.
“I started to fall in love with the way of making music with equals, but of having a responsibility, accountability with your individual voice in an ensemble,” Chong said. “The tradition of string quartets, in particular, is one of the most special things about classical music in addition to the symphonic repertoire and piano solo. String quartet is one of the most treasured things in the genre. It has to do with a lot of great composers, Mozart, Shubert, Beethoven and up to now, writing the boldest, most amazing works for string quartet.”
Chong, his wife, viola player Jessica Bodner, cellist Kee-Hyun Kim and violinist Ken Hamao, collectively known as the Parker Quartet, will play some of that “bold, amazing” music Sunday, kicking off the Friends of Chamber Music 2018-19 season Sunday at Faye Spanos Concert Hall beginning at 2:30 p.m.
They’ll perform Mozart’s Quartet No. 16 in E-Flat Major, K. 428, Janacek Quartent No. 1, “Kreutzer sonata” and Beethoven’s Quartet in E-Flat Major, Opus 74, Harp.
“I like this program a lot,” Chong said of the pieces they’ll perform throughout their season. “What I find most interesting is the bookends, the Mozart 428 and the Beethoven 74. Both share the same key, E-flat major. … I find a lot of times contemporary listeners listen to something like Mozart and Beethoven and might not see them as so different. If you listen to them closely, the fact that the dominant key is E-flat major in the pieces but are treated so different, it gives the listeners a reference point to how different the composers can be.”
The middle piece, by Janacek, is based on Leo Tolstoy’s novella about a man who murders his wife, a gifted pianist he suspects of having an affair with a violinist.
“That piece is really special in repertoire,” Chong said. “The polemic intonations of Tolstoy and both the intensity and the tour de force quality of the piece combined with this incredibly progressive composer. His language is very, very unique. We’re always enjoying the drive of his music. This provides a nice inward piece.”
The Parker Quartet — named for the historic Parker House in Boston, where literary greats Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson and others used to meet and where the quartet has performed — has played music together since 2002 when all but Hamao (who joined the group earlier this year) were sophomores together at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.
“We started playing together, because we knew each other from different summer musical festivals and formed early friendships, different combinations of friends,” Chong said. “We all ended up there and thought, maybe we should play together in a quartet. Everyone was agreeable and we took it very seriously. We enjoyed it immensely, enjoyed spending time together, enjoyed making music together. It’s not something we started and said, ‘let’s make a professional career out of this.’ ”
That came about because as they made their way through school, their teachers, their mentors, encouraged them to stay together. They were popular and good together and when they graduated, they talked about whether to maintain a quartet or go their separate ways.
“Unanimously we said, let’s give this a shot. That was in 2005,” Chong said.
They dedicated themselves to quartet music, won prestigious competitions, starting with the Concert Artists Guild Competition and the Grand Prix and Mozart Prize at the Bordeaux International String Quartet Competition in France. They followed that by winning Chamber Music America’s Cleveland Quartet Award.
Those awards led to international tours, which occupy about half of each month, Chong said.
When not on tour — and they were scheduled to perform in Honolulu before coming to Stockton, if the tropical storms allow them to travel — the four are Blodgett Artists-in-Residence at Harvard University, where they teach chamber music.
They help form new quartets of students, hoping they experience the joy that they have found.
“In orchestra you’re there to serve the artistic vision of the conductor,” Chong said. “In string quartet you’re there to make the artistic vision together, something larger than the sum of four people. That sort of way of making music or sharing music or interacting with other musicians on content or a source was so powerful. That combination was very potent vs. being a solo player. It’s very easy to focus on the instrument, or technique or how to channel a certain sense of charisma by yourself. That music is designed to show off the soloist. That’s not the type of music I was drawn to. I was drawn to music that spoke to something deeper, spoke to humanity and tragedy.”
Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @lorigrecord0.