Quartets fill monthlong chamber-music festival

The Parker Quartet, image by Luke Ratray

CAPE COD TIMES – A new venue, another season of great string quartets, a continuation of the influential residency program, and an usual pairing of narrator and music all highlight the 39th annual Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival.

The festival opens Wednesday with the esteemed Emerson Quartet in Wellfleet, the first of a dozen performances that will blanket the Cape during the month. Emerson won’t be starting festival fans off with anything easy either: The program, which repeats the next evening at the Simon Center for the Arts at Falmouth Academy, includes two late, challenging works by Beethoven: the opus 130 and 131 quartets.

Adam Gopnik

“This season has so many wonderful highlights,” says co-artistic directors Jon Nakamatsu and Jon Manasse in a joint email. “We are thrilled to open our newest venue in Falmouth, with the legendary Emerson Quartet.”

The most unusual program of the four-week season will be on Aug. 10 in Wellfleet, when festival regulars the Borromeo Quartet (and others) perform the Schubert Octet, interspersed with readings by New Yorker essayist and journalist Adam Gopnik, from his “Schubert in a Life.”

Emerson and Borromeo are joined this summer by the Harlem Quartet and by the Parker Quartet, continuing the festival’s tradition of presenting great foursomes in concert. In addition to the Gopnik/Schubert collaboration, Borromeo presents first violinist’s Nicholas Kitchen’s adaptation of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” Aug. 13 in Orleans. Harlem performs on Aug. 8 in Chatham.

The Parkers are in residence during the final week of the festival, giving concerts in Cotuit, Dennis and Wellfleet. They are joined by the festival’s co-artistic directors for the final two programs.

These presentations will be a chance to see the Parker’s newest member, violinist Ken Hamao, who joined the Grammy Award–winning ensemble in January.

“This will be my first time on the Cape,” Hamao says on the phone from Canada’s Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity in Canada, where Parker is also in a residency this summer. “We spend hours and hours in the practice room, and it’s great to explore other parts of the world.”

Jon Manasse and Jon Nakamatsu

Parker makes its home base in the Boston area, where they have yet another residency — this one at Harvard University, coaching chamber music, and, as Hamao puts it, “serving as musical ambassadors, as well as putting on a concert series.”

Joining a well-established quartet, which has had much success, might seem daunting to some musicians. “It all comes down to respect,” Hamao says. “That might seem like a canned answer, but it’s always pertinent. You have to trust something you’re hearing, and the ideas you’re exposed to. Even a willingness to accept things you’re not accustomed to, to shed your assumptions.

“This is my second quartet,” he says of the Parkers. “It’s really kind of miraculous. It’s a wonderful thing to join a group – to feel really at home with three other musicians.”

The Parker residency explores a vast range of music during its three performances. Some are standard favorites: Janacek’s “Kreutzer” quartet; the second Razumovsky by Beethoven; Ravel’s electric F major quartet. Hamao gets to join co-artistic directors Nakamatsu and Manasse for the Khachaturian trio, and the entire quartet sits in with Nakamatsu for Dohnanyi’s C minor quintet.

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By Keith Powers