YURA LEE, violin
KEN HAMAO, violin
MELISSA REARDON, viola
RICHARD BELCHER, cello
One of its generations most compelling string ensembles, the Grammy-nominated Ensō String Quartet has risen to the front rank of chamber music performers. Founded at Yale University in 1999, the quartet has been described by Strad magazine as “thrilling,” and praised by the Washington Post for its “glorious sonorities.” The quartet quickly went on to win numerous awards, including top prizes at the Concert Artists Guild competition and the Banff International String Quartet Competition. In the words of Classical Voice, it is “one of the eminent string quartets of our era.”
Apart from a busy touring and teaching schedule, the New York-based quartet has made a number of critically acclaimed recordings for the Naxos label. In appraising the Enso’s album of works by Alberto Ginastera, MusicWeb International declared, “The performances here by the Ensō Quartet from America are quite staggeringly brilliant. I don’t think I have been so thrilled by the sound of a string quartet in a long time…. If I could give this disc a standing ovation of one…I would!” Of the group’s recording of Strauss, Puccini and Verdi, the American Record Guide wrote that “The Ensō Quartet plays…with a beautifully blended sound and…heartrending sensitivity.” Gramophone described their album of the two Piano Quintets by Dohnanyi as “performances that are astutely musical and very well executed…about as good as it gets…all-round musical excellence.”
The Ensō’s members are all drawn to the string quartet repertoire because of its richness and diversity, and the ensemble is committed to exploring the four corners of that repertoire. The Ensō regularly performs the classics of the string quartet literature, but also champions lesser-known works that deserve to be heard, along with much contemporary music, including works the Ensō has commissioned. The ensemble also performs its own transcriptions, including arrangements of 16th-Century Renaissance music. “The quartet’s ability to present music of three completely different idioms so persuasively puts it in the running for the mantle of Quartet of the Future”(Palm Beach ArtsPaper). World premieres this season include commissioned works by New Zealander Alex Taylor and Australian Brenton Broadstock, and in recent seasons they have premiered quartets written for them by Dame Gillian Whitehead, Kurt Stallmann and Paul Moravec. The Ensō also gave the world premiere of Joan Tower’s Dumbarton Quintet, with the composer at the keyboard.
Based in New York City since 2007, the Ensō String Quartet has held residency positions at Rice University in Houston, Texas, with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in Minnesota, and at Northern Illinois University, in DeKalb, Illinois.
The ensemble’s name is derived from the Japanese Zen painting of the circle, which represents many things: perfection and imperfection, the moment of chaos that is creation, the emptiness of the void, the endless circle of life, and the fullness of the spirit.
YURA LEE, violin
Violinist/violist Yura Lee is one of the most versatile and compelling artists of today. She is one of the very few in the world that has mastery of both violin and viola, and she actively performs both instruments equally. Her career spans through various musical mediums: both as a soloist and as a chamber musician, captivating audiences with music from baroque to modern, and enjoying a career that spans more than two decades that takes her all over the world.
Yura Lee was the only first prize winner awarded across four categories at the 2013 ARD Competition in Germany. She has won top prizes for both violin and viola in numerous other competitions, including first prize and audience prize at the 2006 Leopold Mozart Competition (Germany), first prize at the 2010 UNISA International Competition (South Africa), first prize at the 2013 Yuri Bashmet International Competition (Russia), and top prizes in Indianapolis (USA), Hannover (Germany), Kreisler (Austria), and Paganini (Italy) Competitions.
At age 12, Yura Lee became the youngest artist ever to receive the Debut Artist of the Year prize at the “Performance Today” awards given by National Public Radio. She is also the recipient of the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant given by Lincoln Center in New York City. Yura Lee’s CD with Reinhard Goebel and the Bayerische Kammerphilharmonie, titled ‘Mozart in Paris’ (Oehms Classics) received the prestigious Diapason d’Or Award in France.
Yura Lee was nominated and represented by Carnegie Hall for its ECHO (European Concert Hall Organization) series. For this series, she gave recitals at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall and at nine celebrated concert halls in Europe: Wigmore Hall in London, Symphony Hall in Birmingham, Musikverein in Vienna, the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Stockholm Konserthus, Athens Concert Hall, and Cologne Philharmonie.
As a soloist, Yura Lee has appeared with many major orchestras, including New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Monte Carlo Philharmonic, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Tokyo Philharmonic, to name a few. She has performed with conductors Christophe Eschenbach, Lorin Maazel, Leonard Slatkin, Myung-Whun Chung, Mikhail Pletnev, among many others.
As a chamber musician, Yura Lee regularly takes part in the Marlboro Festival, Salzburg Festival, Verbier Festival, La Jolla SummerFest, Seattle Festival, Caramoor Festival, Ravinia Festival, Kronberg Festival, Aspen Music Festival, among many others. She has collaborated with many artists including Gidon Kremer, Andras Schiff, Leonidas Kavakos, Mitsuko Uchida, Miklós Perényi, Yuri Bashmet, Menahem Pressler, and Frans Helmerson. Yura Lee is currently a member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York City, as both violinist and violist. She is also a member of the Boston Chamber Music Society, and the first violinist of the Ensō String Quartet.
Yura Lee studied at the Juilliard School (New York City), New England Conservatory (Boston), Salzburg Mozarteum (Austria), and Kronberg Academy (Germany). Her main teachers were Namyun Kim, Dorothy DeLay, Hyo Kang, Miriam Fried, Paul Biss, Thomas Riebl, Ana Chumachenko, and Nobuko Imai. She teaches both violin and viola at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University.
KEN HAMAO, violin
Described by the New York Times as having “especially eloquent playing,” Ken Hamao is a dynamic musician renowned for his sensitive interpretation. In addition to the violin, he performs on the viola and mandolin, and is an avid proponent of contemporary music.
Ken is a member of the Grammy-nominated Ensō String Quartet, whose 2015-16 season featured worldwide tours of Australia, Brazil, Colombia, and New Zealand, along with performances at the Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center. With the quartet, he helped found the Ensō Chamber Music Workshop in Connecticut, and has taught at the Astoria Music Festival, Interlochen Center for the Arts, SoCal Chamber Music Workshop, and the Port Townsend Chamber Music Festival. As a much sought-after chamber musician, he has collaborated with members of the Borromeo, Cavani, Daedalus, Guarneri, and Momenta quartets, as well as former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
In addition to his activities with the Ensō String Quartet, Ken is a core member of Argento Chamber Ensemble, Ensemble Échappé, and New York Classical Players, and has appeared frequently with the East Coast Chamber Orchestra and Talea Ensemble. An active presence in contemporary music, he has worked in close collaboration with eminent composers of our time, including John Adams, Brian Ferneyhough, Georg Friedrich Haas, Giya Kancheli, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Paul Moravec, Andrew Norman, and John Zorn.
Ken attended both Columbia University and the Juilliard School as part of the Columbia-Juilliard Exchange Program. His mentors include Masao Kawasaki, Ronald Copes, Mark Steinberg, Robert Lipsett, and Zakhar Bron.
MELISSA REARDON, viola
Melissa Reardon is the violist in the Grammy-nominated Ensō String Quartet. Lauded by Classical Voice for her “elegant” and “virtuosic” performances, the Massachusetts-born musician won first prize at the Washington International Competition, and is the only violist to win top prizes in consecutive HAMS International viola competitions, as well the Tourjee Award in 2002. Solo engagements have included performances at the Stevens Center, Kennedy Center, Symphony Hall, and Jordan Hall. She has performed as a soloist with Camerata Notturna and the Boston Symphony. In 2006, she was chosen as one of four violists internationally to participate in “Chamber Music Connects the World,” in Kronberg, Germany, alongside Gidon Kremer and Yuri Bashmet.
Melissa is also a founding member of the East Coast Chamber Orchestra (ECCO), and is a sought-after collaborative musician. She has performed with the Miami, Miro, Daedalus, and Borromeo Quartets, and with members of the Guarneri, Mendelssohn, Brentano, St. Lawrence, and Shanghai Quartets, and the Beaux Arts Trio. Melissa has appeared in numerous festivals across the United States, Europe, India, and Korea. She has toured with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, and with Musicians from Marlboro.
Melissa holds degrees from the Curtis Institute of Music and the New England Conservatory. Her principal teachers include Kim Kashkashian, Michael Tree, Joseph dePasquale, Karen Tuttle, Samuel Rhodes, and Hsin-Yun Huang, in addition to early chamber music studies with Eugene Lehner. Melissa held the position of Assistant Professor of Viola at East Carolina University From 2006-2013. She is married to the cellist Raman Ramakrishnan.
RICHARD BELCHER, cello
New Zealand cellist Richard Belcher has performed as a chamber musician and soloist across the United States, and internationally. Based in New York City, he is a founding member of the Grammy-nominated Ensō String Quartet, with regular tours and performances in many of the major concert halls, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and the Library of Congress. Richard is also principal cellist of the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra (ROCO), and has appeared at many festivals, including St Bart’s, Festival d’Aix en Provence, Prussia Cove, Madeline Island, Campos do Jordao International Winter Festival, SummerFest La Jolla, and the San Miguel de Allende International Chamber Music Festival.
Active in both period music and contemporary repertoire, Richard has taken part in many live and prerecorded radio and internet broadcasts, in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Richard enjoys teaching, and has served as Adjunct Faculty at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music and Boston University’s Tanglewood Institute, and is currently on the faculty of the Adult Chamber Music Camp at the Interlochen Arts Academy.
Richard moved to the United States in 1998 to study with Aldo Parisot at Yale University, and it was there in 1999 that he co-founded the Ensō String Quartet, with violinist and fellow student Maureen Nelson. His other principal teachers include Norman Fischer, Marc Johnson, and Alexander Ivashkin.
Richard plays an N.F Vuillaume cello made in 1856, and is married to the violinist Cece Belcher.
Notes © Ensō String Quartet