Four new teachers of the practice

The Parker Quartet’s next season episode features the Blodgett Composition Prize performance by one of Harvard University’s graduate students, Jonah Haven’s Laugh Radish at Paine Hall on November 6e at 3:00, with Bartok’s Fifth Quartet and Korngold’s String Sextet (with cellist Raman Ramakrishnan and violist Marcus Thompson). The band’s violinist, Daniel Chong, “…fell completely in love with it. It’s so expressive, charming and lively. It’s romance to a degree that only Korngold can truly do. The Parker Quartet, the first Blodgett Quartet in full-time residence at Harvard University since the residence was established in 1985, recently added a distinction: status as the first to join the University’s main faculty as practice teachers. This means that in addition to presenting a series of four concerts each season, teaching chamber music performance, working with the composition faculty and students, and collaborating with other faculties at the university , the quartet will have the security to undertake longer-term projects that interest them.

It won’t be a tenure-track position, but it’s expected to be for a good period. This is the closest thing to a tenure-track position as if there were no tenure-track positions for string quartets. I understand there is no other quartet position in a university or conservatory like this.

But Harvard wants you to keep shooting and keep having a career and being in the spotlight. Is performing the equivalent of publishing for a more academic teacher?

DC: Absolutely. What makes our position so unique is that there is so much flexibility and the department is extremely supportive of our touring activities. We are expected to continue to be at the forefront of our field.

This year we celebrate our 20th anniversary with a Beethoven project, which of course includes playing the entire cycle at Buffalo and the University of South Carolina, but beyond that we have several branches of the project to focus on. . One of them commissions six composers to write works in an encore style inspired by Beethoven. Each of the six concerts will include one of these premieres. Some of the composers chose to make specific references to specific Beethoven quartets, others write more broadly through the prism of Beethoven’s language or incorporating certain elements of his compositional style. This part of the project is called “Beethoven: Inspired”.

“Beethoven: In the Community” finds us streaming the performance of the cycle here in Boston, but not in concert halls. We will go deep into the community and perform these quartets for people in places such as hospitals, shelters, youth programs… places where one would not normally expect to hear a Beethoven quartet . Our hope is that we can connect and deepen our relationship with more people in our community by sharing this great music. One of the ways we approach this is to visit multiple places multiple times versus many places once. Our hope is that a series of visits to each location will build stronger bonds with listeners and also give them the chance to truly engage with Beethoven’s music.

The third part of our project will revolve around a series of videos that we are creating. It’s called “Beethoven: Illuminated”. These videos will highlight each of Beethoven’s 16 quartets individually. We will take a closer look, discover the inner workings and demonstrate extraordinary passages from this repertoire. Undoubtedly, historical and theoretical contexts, challenges and what makes each quartet unique will surface. We will post them on our YouTube channel and hope that it can serve as a reference library of some sort. Let’s say there’s a young quartet playing Op. 131 for the first time and they’re interested in knowing what it’s all about before diving in, or music lovers who’ve always been fascinated by Beethoven’s quartets just want to know learn more about what makes them special. These videos are for people like that.

Each year, a Blodgett Composition Prize is awarded to a Harvard student. As part of this award, we perform their piece in our Blodgett chamber music series. The most recent winner, Jonah Haven, wrote Laugh Radish. It will open our concert at Paine Hall in November and will be followed by Bartok’s Fifth Quartet and Korngold’s String Sextet (featuring cellist Raman Ramakrishnan and violist Marcus Thompson). The sextet is not played much, but I fell completely in love with it. I think it’s a gem of a piece.

Until 1985-2014, the Blodgett Residence was a visiting residence. The incumbent quartet came one or two weeks per semester to teach, perform, and work with the composition department.

Chong continues, “Fast forward to 2012—Harvard’s music department chose to embrace students’ growing passion for performance and decided to make residency a full-time position. They then invited several quartets to interview and audition for the position. We were eventually offered the job and began the first-ever chapter of the quartet’s full-time residency in the fall of 2014. This meant we were tasked with leading a semester-long course in chamber music performance, playing a concert of four series, working closely with composers and developing interdisciplinary projects with other teachers among many other smaller activities.

At that time, our titles were guest speakers. Three years later, we became preceptors. I think the department’s hope has always been to find a way to establish a more secure, long-term relationship with the quartet. From the beginning of these discussions, we always felt that we had the full support of the faculty. Then, last summer, we discovered that with the support of the FAS and higher administration, we had been approved for promotion to the rank of professors of practice. This senior faculty position now allows us to engage even more deeply in the music department and allows us to be here long term. We are extremely grateful for the support Harvard has given us and feel fortunate to be part of one of the most exciting and progressive music departments in the world.

It is our home base. So when we’re not on tour, we’re usually in the department doing something. Our rehearsal studio is in the music building, so we rehearse there almost every day. We also have our chamber music course, Music 189r. 40 to 50 students are accepted into this course each semester, which usually means between 10 and 15 ensembles are trained. We co-teach all students through weekly coaching, performance lessons, writing assignments such as program notes and reflections on the learning process, and final performances. In the past, we have also given presentations on sheet music study and rehearsal techniques. During the first COVID outbreak, we helped students learn multitracking and audio editing skills so they could make their own recordings.

The types of ensembles involved in our course run the gamut from piano trios, piano quartets and string quartets to brass/wind ensembles and mixed vocal ensembles. It really depends on who is interested in the course and if we can create a group that makes sense for everyone. It is an absolute joy to work with these students and to foster their love for music and the process of creating music.

Harvard University Department of Music Presents
Parker String Quartet
John Knowles Paine Concert Hall

November 6e at 3:00

BARTOK String Quartet No. 5, Sz. 102
KORNGOLD String Sextet in D major, Op. ten
with Marcus Thompson, viola Raman Ramakrishnan, cello

Free but reservation required.