“I think it’s a celebration of summer,” violinist Ken Hamao says. “The Tchaikovsky’s got a kind of warm exuberance, right from the opening—it’s almost like a chorale. And everyone knows the Borodin from the beautiful melodies.”
Hamao is talking about the Parker Quartet’s upcoming program—Tchaikovsky’s first quartet, and Borodin’s second—in Boylston’s Summer Star Wildlife Sanctuary. If you want to celebrate summer, it would be hard to find a nicer place to do it.
It’s a place that almost never existed.
Thanks to the dream of Shalin Liu, and dozens of supporters, the 45-acre site, which was destined to be subdivided into dozen of house lots, was transformed into a nature preserve. Abutting hundreds of acres of previously preserved land, Summer Star includes a main building—the Trailhead House—home to art exhibitions, and to concerts, like the one Parker will perform on Aug. 5.
The goal, Liu has said, “was to keep the wild, wild.” While the sanctuary hosts nature walks, environmental presentations and educational events, the woods are still the centerpiece.
But music takes over from time to time. Summer Star has hosted other ensembles in the past—the Argus and Julius quartets have previously made appearances. Bringing the estimable Parkers to the sanctuary is a real coup.
The Grammy-winning quartet, which has just renewed its Blodgett Residency at Harvard for another four years, comes to Summer Star with a new member and a fresh outlook. Hamao joined the group in January, and has spent this year getting up to speed with his new colleagues: first chair violinist Daniel Chong, violist Jessica Bodner, and cellist Kee-Hyun Kim.
“They threw me right into things, with a five-concert tour in California,” Hamao says. “It was quite a bit to get accustomed to.”
Hamao has been through this before, and knows what it takes to blend into a new group of musical partners.
“This is my second quartet,” he said on the phone from the Banff Center for Arts and Culture in Canada, where Parker was spending a few weeks on a teaching residency. Hamao was a member of the Ensō String Quartet from 2014 until earlier this year. “You have to work at things together. And you have to have a willingness to get on the same page.
“Even if you vigorously disagree, you put a happy face on it and proceed. Part of being a professional is going with new ideas, even if you don’t agree.”
Joining the ensemble sounds like it was hardly a matter of disagreement. “There was an audition meeting,” Hamao says. “And then a few readings and rehearsals. We had a whole week of that planned, but then in the middle of the week they said, ‘Do you want to go to a bar?’ It was the middle of the afternoon, so I knew something was happening.”
Hamao joins a quartet that, while still young, stands near the top of its profession. Parker was formed at the New England Conservatory, where the group was part of the school’s prestigious professional training program.
They have multiple recordings—including the 2011 Grammy-winning disk of the complete Ligeti quartets, on Naxos. The ensemble has collaborated with numerous artists, and the Blodgett Residency at Harvard has them coaching chamber music, presenting a concert series each year, and serving as musical ambassadors for the university.
But now, the focus is on Borodin and Tchaikovsky, set for the beautiful Summer Star grounds.
“It’s a gorgeous, unique space, nestled in nature,” Hamao says. Parker has recently used the sanctuary for a photo shoot as well—Hamao is a new member after all, and artwork needed to be updated.
“We were all struck by the idea of shooting there,” he says, “and Shalin opened up the place for us. We had the run of the sanctuary for a whole day. We were all touched by her generosity.”
The Parker Quartet offers a free program of Tchaikovsky and Borodin on Sunday, Aug. 5, at 2 p.m. in the Summer Star Wildlife Sanctuary in Boylston. Reservations are strongly suggested. Call 508-869-3434 or visit summerstarwildlife.wordpress.com.