The string quartet repertoire, when skillfully managed, employs some of the most charismatic, sophisticated and refined classical music.
“The literature is just phenomenal,” Robert Jesselson, a University of South Carolina School of Music cello professor said. “It pulls the listener into what’s going on. The literature, it’s just like fine wine. It’s some of the most fabulous and most fantastic literature that’s out there.”
On Monday, the Parker Quartet, a string ensemble of the finest vintage, begins the first of its two weeklong residences at USC. The second residency is in November. This week the quartet will perform two concerts and conduct a public master class at USC. They will also do outreach at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts, the Fine Arts Center of Greenville and Columbia-area schools.
“This is the first time USC has had a quartet in residence like this,” Jesselson, who beamed with excitement, said.
The Grammy-winning ensemble is atypical of most touring quartets in that the members are a working unit that doesn’t just come together for performances. Parker Quartet is like any number of touring bands.
“It requires a lot of a musician,” Kee-Hyun Kim, Parker Quartet’s cellist said. “Besides traveling, you’re working with three other people who have strong opinions and ideas. You have to give one unified interpretation of a piece.
“It’s really hard for any group of people to work intensely. Creating music makes it that much more personal.”
The quartet began touring in 2002. Along with Kim, members included violinists Daniel Chong and Karen Kim and violist Jessica Bodner. Karen Kim’s departure was announced in a post on the group’s website last month. A handful of violinists, including David McCarroll, have sat in Karen Kim’s chair.
Kee-Hyun Kim said new players can shift the quartet’s dynamic.
“Each member really influences the group,” he said. “We’ve been working with a few different violinists this year who were generous enough to give us their time. They bring in a view and perspective that we haven’t thought of before.”
When asked what makes quartet music so alluring, Kim said the great composers such as Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert regarded the format as a test of their mettle.
“You create this whole different instrument, one with 16 strings if you will,” he said.
Residencies, unlike traditional multi-date tours, allow groups to spend time in a community.
“It is definitely enough time for us to become part of the community and to really play concerts, to do outreach and to really engage with everybody in a personal, intimate setting,” Kim said. “I find that very enjoyable. You remember people’s names.”
When asked why a string quartet had not visited USC in such a manner, Jesselson’s answer was to the point.
“Most important, of course, is money,” said Jesselson, who earlier this year was named professor of the year by the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education and the governor’s office. “This community hasn’t had a long tradition of classical music. We’ve been growing to a point of sophistication that the community is really wanting this.”
The Parker Quartet residencies have been been made possible by a Provost office grant.
“We’re at the cusp of starting something really special at USC,” Jesselson, who last year celebrated the 30th anniversary of Jesselson/Fugo, a piano-cello duo with Charles Fugo, said.
“It’s really spreading the word that Columbia and USC has something. We couldn’t have better advertising.”
Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.