Four musicians formed a neat diamond, echoing the black-and-white harlequin floors of the Leverett House dining hall. Wordlessly, they took their places behind stands and were poised to play. Around them, students and professors, aglow from a festive dinner and lively conversation, set down their forks—the crumbs of spiced pumpkin tarts and dregs of wine could wait—and prepared to listen.
The evening of music and merriment, which took place on Nov. 21, featured an annual collaboration between the Blodgett Artist-in-Residence Program and Leverett House. The Parker Quartet, the string ensemble in residence since fall 2013, played three selections: the first movement of Joseph Haydn’s 1796-97 “Quartet in D,” Tan Dun’s 1986 “Eight Colors for String Quartet,” and several movements from Ludwig van Beethoven’s 1825 “String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat Major.” Throughout the evening, these pieces featured breezy and thought-provoking conversations among the violins, Daniel Chong and Ying Xue; the viola, Jessica Bodner; and the cello, Kee-Hyun Kim.
“Eight Colors for String Quartet” resounded in bursts of noise and moments of silence that left listeners abuzz at their tables. The piece played with a variety of themes and sounds, including melodies from Peking Opera, traditional Chinese instruments, and naturalistic clicks and clinks of sticks and rocks. During one section, notes fizzled from the strings like the skinny, squiggly fireworks that propel themselves, upward and upward until they dissipate into dust. During another, quite different, section, the quartet sounded like an indie bluegrass group, plucking the strings without using bows and punctuating the music with modern, folksy slaps on their instruments.
Ria P. Shah, a junior at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, described the piece as dark and eerie.
“It was unpredictable,” Shah added. “I couldn’t tell where the piece was going.”
Echoing Shah, Leverett resident Brad I. Riew ’18 said “Eight Colors for String Quartet” showcased the Parker Quartet’s versatility. “The second piece was awesome, really tactile,” Riew said.
The Parker Quartet’s rendition of Haydn’s piece built from a soft and slow introduction to mounting, sweeping classical tones. The sound thrummed around the dining hall, sometimes darting quickly like a hummingbird and at times careening gently like a paper airplane, fluctuating between tempos before landing with a resonant unity. Introducing the piece, Bodner, the violist, said the selection was full of wit and beauty. Violinist Xue agreed. “It’s always so nice to play in this hall, especially for Haydn,” Xue said to the audience after the number concluded.
The final piece of the evening, the Beethoven quartet, showcased the group’s ability to work with simultaneous, overlaid melodies and to create an intimate atmosphere that welcomed their listeners. The quartet’s rendition channeled the waltzy, very quaint pastoral sound of German dance music and delivered the intricacies of an upbeat piece whose grand-and-swooshing finish cloak more sorrowful undertones.
Manjinder S. Kandola, a resident tutor in Leverett, noted how conflicts do not seem to resolve in Beethoven’s pieces, while the Haydn selection ended on a happy note. “I was interested in the order of the pieces,” Kandola said.
“If we can create a good, balanced program, it gives people a lot to think about, hopefully,” Bodner said.
Kim, the cellist, said he appreciated the opportunity to act as music ambassadors, bringing music into the Houses for seasoned performers and non-musical peers alike. “Especially coming to your dining space, we can make it less formal and break down those barriers, and make you want to listen to more,” Kim said, adding that the Parker Quartet endeavors to cultivate that listening spirit. “We don’t try to play out,” he added. “It’s such an intimate genre. We challenge ourselves to play as soft as possible.”
The Blodgett Artist-in-Residence program, endowed by John W. Blodgett, Jr. ’23 and his second wife, Edith Irwin Ferris, has been part of the Music department at Harvard since 1985. The Artists-in-Residence typically give a concert in Leverett House during the spring semester.
Prior to the concert, the evening’s festivities started in the Leverett House Faculty Deans’ residence. Students and professors mingled over plates of warm crab dip and skewered mini-meatballs, chattering about the end of the semester and the performance to come. In their hands, glasses of wine—and sparkling cider for the under-21 set—reflected the pinkish glow of tapered candles and the glint of a crystal chandelier.
Wearing his Leverett House “tuxedo” t-shirt, Faculty Dean and Physics professor Howard M. Georgi ’67 chatted with the guests and snapped photos of the reception. “This is one of our very favorite days,” Georgi said.—Staff writer Melissa C. Rodman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @melissa_rodman