SUSIE PARK, 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 Ensō’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.
SUSIE PARK, violin
Hailed as “prodigiously talented” (Washington Post) and praised for her “freedom, mastery and fantasy” (La Libre, Belgium), Sydney native Susie Park first picked up a violin at age three, made her solo debut at five, and, by 15, had performed with every major orchestra in her country. Susie has grown into a musician distinguished by unusual passion and versatility, and today performs internationally as an orchestral, chamber, and solo artist.
Susie’s international career was launched at age 16, when she took first place in the Yehudi Menuhin International Competition in France. This led to performances and re-engagements throughout the US, Europe, and her native Australia, where highlights included performances for crowds of over 135,000. Susie went on to receive additional top honors at the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis and the Wieniawski Competition in Poland.
Susie has since concertized around the world, soloing and touring with European orchestras including the Vienna Symphony, Orchestre National de Lille, and the Royal Philharmonic; American orchestras including the Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Indianapolis Symphonies; Korea’s KBS Orchestra; Orchestra Wellington in New Zealand; and all major symphony orchestras in Australia. Working with conductors including Simon Rattle, Hans Vonk, Alan Gilbert, Fabio Luisi and Yehudi Menuhin, Susie has been heard in venues ranging from New York’s Carnegie and Alice Tully Halls, Boston’s Symphony Hall, Chicago’s Millennium Park, Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center, Washington’s Smithsonian Institute, Vienna’s Musikverein, Cologne’s Philharmonie, Düsseldorf’s Tonhalle, and Sydney’s Opera House.
Susie was formerly the violinist of the Eroica Trio from 2006 to 2012, with which she recorded the ensemble’s eighth CD, an all-American disc nominated for a Grammy, and toured internationally. She was also a member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Two, collaborating with Wu Han, Gary Hoffman and Ida Kavafian. For three consecutive summers she was in residence at the Marlboro Music Festival, and she has been seen on numerous tours with Musicians from Marlboro. Susie has performed chamber music with members of the Guarneri, Juilliard, Emerson, and Cleveland Quartets, as well as Kim Kashkashian, Pamela Frank, Jason Vieaux, Cho-Liang Lin, and Jaime Laredo. Among her festival engagements have been performances at Music from Angel Fire, the Caramoor, Skaneateles, Aspen, Ravinia, Bowdoin and Salt Bay festivals in the US; Open Chamber Music at Prussia Cove in England; Bermuda Festival; the Mozarteum Sommerakademie in Austria; and Keshet Eilon in Israel.
Susie was recently appointed first associate concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra, and can be seen this season both leading and soloing with the ensemble. Susie is also a founding member of ECCO, the East Coast Chamber Orchestra, a conductorless chamber orchestra based upon democratic principles, whose focus is to be purely on music-making and comprising some of the most talented young chamber musicians, soloists and principal string players in major American orchestras. Translating this diversity of experience and virtuosity into a unified ensemble approach, ECCO combines the strength and power of an orchestral ensemble with the personal, intimate nature of chamber music. In 2012, ECCO released a recording of fresh takes on some of the most popular and compelling music from three different centuries. The virtuosity and spirit of the music-making soar on this self-titled debut album of beloved works by Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Geminiani, released on the eOne label.
Other recent highlights include judging the Michael Hill international violin competition in New Zealand; serving on the faculty of the Bowdoin International Music Festival; touring her home country as guest first violinist of the Australian String Quartet, which prompted the The Australian to publish a review headlined “Australian String Quartet proof Susie Park’s one we let get away;” and touring India with the Australian World Orchestra under the baton of Zubin Mehta.
Susie’s diverse musical interests have also led to collaborations with artists such as trumpeter Chris Botti, which whom she performed 41 consecutive shows at the Blue Note jazz club in New York.
Susie holds degrees from the Curtis Institute and the New England Conservatory; her principal teachers include Jaime Laredo, Ida Kavafian, Donald Weilerstein, Miriam Fried, Shi-Xiang (Peter) Zhang, and Christopher Kimber.
She performs on a J.B. Guadagnini violin made in 1740, once featured in a documentary of which Susie herself was a subject.
Susie enjoys knitting, garment design and other creative arts.
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
Excerpt of Joan Tower’s 5th quartet, “White Water” (2011) – written for the Daedalus String Quartet and Chamber Music Monterey Bay.