The Ensō String Quartet is a US-based string quartet. They have won a number of competitions including the 2003 Concert Artists Guild, 2004 Banff International String Quartet Competition and Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. Formed in 1999, they have released three CDs on the Naxos Records label, one of which was nominated for a "Best Chamber Music Performance" Grammy award.
Maureen Nelson, violin I
Ken Hamao, violin II
Melissa Reardon, viola
Richard Belcher, cello
Shortly after the group’s inception at Yale University in 1999, Ensō had success at the Banff International String Quartet Competition and won the Concert Artists Guild International Competition, and has consistently received high praise for performances ever since. The quartet’s debut recording was described by Strad Magazine as “an auspicious start to their recording career,” and was followed by the recent Grammy-nominated release of the quartets of Ginastera. MusicWeb International summed up this album as “playing of jaw-dropping prowess revealing masterpieces of the 20th century quartet literature … seek out this group – they are clearly bound for greatness.” The disc was selected as one of MusicWeb’s Recordings of the Year for 2009.
In the 09/10 season the Ensō Quartet was announced as a winner of the Chamber Music America Commissioning Grant which will see the quartet work with composer Kurt Stallmann on a new piece for string quartet and electronics. Since the quartet’s inception in 1999, new music has featured prominently – from winning the Piece-de-Concert prize at the Banff Competition for the best performance of the commissioned piece, to premiering Joan Tower’s Piano Quintet last season, to making premiere recordings released on Albany Records this season of works by composers Anthony Brandt and Karim al Zand.
The 09/10 season has also seen release of the Enso Quartet’s CD of the three quartets by Alberto Ginastera on the Naxos label. The Ginastera CD, which was nominated for "Best Chamber Music Performance" Grammy award , follows the quartet’s 2005 debut on Naxos Records, a 2-CD set of Ignaz Pleyel’s six string quartets, Op. 2, which garnered rave reviews, with Strad Magazine calling the disc “an auspicious start to the Enso Quartet’s recording career.” Gramophone Magazine hailed their playing as “lively and intelligent”, and Fanfare Magazine praised the ensemble for its "extraordinary talent...exceptional sense of vitality and elegance.”
The Ensō Quartet’s members also teach and coach chamber music. Institutions with which they have held substantial teaching or performing residencies include the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (08/09 season), Boston University Tanglewood Institute (06-08), Interlochen Adult Amateur Chamber Music Camp (07-present), and Rice University (04-06) where the members of the quartet served as Guest Lecturers in String Quartet. The quartet has been awarded the Guarneri Quartet Award for their continuing collaboration with Connecticut’s Music for Youth program with whom they have developed a successful program for string students in public schools in Bridgeport and Weston, CT.
The Ensō Quartet's members hold degrees from The Juilliard School, Curtis Institute of Music, New England Conservatory, Guildhall School of Music (UK) and the University of Canterbury (New Zealand). The ensemble formed in 1999 and while students at Yale University and completed graduate residencies at Northern Illinois University with the Vermeer Quartet and at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. The quartet has been featured in the American Ensembles column of Chamber Music magazine and their live performances have been broadcast on PBS, Chicago’s WFMT, Wisconsin Public Radio, Minnesota Public Radio’s Saint Paul Sunday program, Houston’s KUHF, Australia’s ABC Classic FM, Radio New Zealand and Canada’s CBC radio.
The ensemble’s name, enso, 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.
The Ensō Quartet has won top prizes in many competitions including the 2003 Concert Artists Guild, 2004 Banff International String Quartet Competition, Chamber Music Yellow Springs, and Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition.
The ensemble was chosen as the graduate quartet-in-residence at Northern Illinois University where they were mentored by the Vermeer String Quartet. They also completed a graduate residency at Rice University.
The Ensō Quartet's recording of the complete Ginastera String Quartets was nominated for "Best Chamber Music Performance" Grammy award and selected by MusicWeb International as "Recordings of the Year 2009".
The ensemble has also been the recipient of a Commissioning grant and Residency partnership grants from Chamber Music America.