by Luke Taylor
The Parker Quartet didn't know everything they were in for when they were first invited to Minnesota Public Radio for an interview and recording session with Brian Newhouse. But Newhouse had a little surprise up his sleeve.
"They came in and they were so wonderful and generous with their performances and their can-do spirit about working together," Newhouse says. "As soon as the door closed behind them, I thought, 'Yes—bingo'."
Newhouse and the rest of the team at Classical MPR and American Public Media had been looking for a resident artist to collaborate with on a number of levels. So when the Parker Quartet visited Newhouse, it was actually a blind audition to be Classical MPR's artists-in-residence. And the Parker Quartet nailed it.
The Parker Quartet are Daniel Chong (violin), Karen Kim (violin), Jessica Bodner (viola) and Kee-Hyun Kim (cello). All four members hold graduate degrees in performance and chamber music from the New England Conservatory, and they were part of the NEC's prestigious Professional String Quartet Training Program. The Quartet began playing together in 2002 and take their name from the Parker Hotel, a Boston landmark. Their debut CD, released in 2007, features Bartok's String Quartets Nos. 2 and 5; their December 2009 release contains Ligeti's String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2. In 2008, the group moved to St. Paul to work with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. The SPCO's Sarah Lutman gave a tip to Newhouse about the quartet, and the idea for a partnership was born.
"It is a completely new and fresh concept," says Parker Quartet violinist Karen Kim. "Through the residency, we'll be able to connect with audiences in both traditional and unexpected ways."
On the more traditional side, the Parker Quartet will be featured three or four times on Performance Today. They'll also give four concerts throughout the MPR listening region, playing at Bemidji State University on Jan. 21 and at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Jan. 23. Future concerts are scheduled at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth (Feb. 2) and at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa (March 4). Because the members of the quartet are as passionate about teaching music as performing it, they'll conduct a master class in each city on the day after each concert.
The nontraditional approach involves an element of surprise-and this time, the Parker Quartet will be in on it. "We believe good music is good music," Kim says, "and the venue in which it's played doesn't matter."
That's why the Parker Quartet, with the help of Classical MPR, will put on a classical concert on in a nontraditional venue-the Varsity Theater in the Dinkytown neighborhood of Minneapolis-on April 15. An audience accustomed to rock 'n' roll or folk artists will hear the works of Haydn, Mendelssohn and Bartok. "Our past experiences in bars and clubs have taught us that when people hear passionate, high-quality performances of classical music, there is no denying its power and appeal," Kim explains. "We want to help give the music the exposure it deserves by bringing it to audiences that may not experience it on a regular basis."
Kim and Newhouse are both effusive about the prospects for creativity and collaboration this residency presents. And audiences up and down Minnesota as well as across the country stand to be the beneficiaries of the arrangement.
"To me, the most exciting thing about this residency is the feeling of possibility," Kim says. "There is a great desire to support the arts in this community, and we can't wait to see how far we can take this."
This article also appeared in the January 2010 "Plugged In" section of Minnesota Monthly.