Houston-Born Violist Jessica Bodner Comes Home for Performance with The Parker Quartet

Houston-Born Violist Jessica Bodner Comes Home for Performance with The Parker Quartet

The Parker Quartet (photo by Beowulf Sheehan)

FANS OF GREAT classical music are in for a treat this Friday, when DACAMERA presents the Grammy Award-winning Parker Quartet Jan. 13 at Hobby Center for the Performing Arts’ Zilkha Hall.

The quartet are pinch-hitting for the Juilliard String Quartet, whose first violinist is welcoming the birth of her second child, and on relatively short notice have pulled together a solid and diverse program that includes some gorgeous selections by Antonín Dvořák, Béla Bartók’s wild and gnarly Quartet No. 5, and Mozart Effects, a humorous tribute to Mozart by the quartet’s friend and professional colleague, composer Vijay Iyer. The Harvard University-based quartet includes violinists Daniel Chong and Ken Hamao, cellist Kee-Hyun Kim, and Houston-born violist Jessica Bodner, who is delighted to be playing with the quartet in her hometown for the first time.

Bodner grew up in Southwest Houston. At age two, Bodner saw virtuoso violinist Itzhak Perlman perform on Sesame Street and asked her mother if she could do that. “I don’t remember that exact moment,” says Bodner, “but I can imagine it was just the quality of the sound and the living feeling and communicative aspect of his sound that drew me in.”

As the daughter of a music educator, playing music was a given in the household — until middle school, when Bodner encountered challenging, virtuoso violin music, and grew less enamored of the instrument’s sound. She did however enjoy practicing “the low, juicy melodies” of the violin, and a perceptive music teacher asked Bodner to consider playing the viola, an instrument with a darker, distinctive tone, and a lower range that lies between the cello and violin. She made the switch and soon thereafter, Bodner fully dedicated herself to a life of music.

The 2022-2023 season marks the 20th anniversary of the Parker Quartet. To commemorate this milestone, the quartet is revisiting pieces that have meant a lot to them during their time together, including the Bartok, which appears on their very first recording. “That piece is one of the most tightly composed pieces I can think of,” says Bodner of the Bartok. “It goes deep in our bones.” Friday’s program opens with selections from Antonín Dvořák’s Cypresses, which are string quartet arrangements of a dozen love songs he composed early in his career. For Bodner, performing the Cypresses at the top of the program “feels like we’re welcoming everybody into the space and finding the sound and the generosity of spirit together.”

As it did for many people, the pandemic raised questions for the members of the quartet about the how to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Bodner and Chong are married and have a seven-and-a-half-year-old son, and, when they’re not rehearsing with the quartet in a basement studio of the Harvard music-department building, consciously try to figure out the most concise and family-friendly ways to tour.

But this is a quartet that loves to play, and with performances of the full cycle of Beethoven string quartets coming up in March, they show no signs of slowing down. “I really love working,” says Bodner. “At this point, we’re all in it for the long run.”

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