What’s so special about the Parker Quartet?

How is it that a string quartet fresh out of the conservatory could become such a sensation so quickly, snaring the Cleveland Quartet Award - which is something like the Nobel Prize for string quartets - and last year’s Grammy for “Best Chamber Music Performance”? Are these kids really that good?

Well, based upon the group’s performance Wednesday night at Minneapolis’ Ted Mann Concert Hall, the answer is yes. It’s a group with four distinct personalities that makes some marvelous musical conversation, each contributing their own set of ideas and emotions.

And Wednesday’s program had plenty of emotional terrain to explore. Felix Mendelssohn’s sixth and final string quartet is a dark night of the soul that may have been the last work he completed. Mourning the loss of his sister and months from his own death, he created a work in which ghosts roam. As performed by the Parker Quartet, frantic anxiety gave way to despair, then resignation and, finally, a whispered farewell.

Also laden with emotion was the Third String Quartet of American composer Leon Kirchner. Written in 1966, this Pulitzer-winning piece employs a tape of electronic blips, bloops and beeps that often sound like the soundtrack to a vintage video game such as “Pac-Man” or “Space Invaders.” Entrusted with representing humanity in a debate with a machine, the Parker Quartet emphasized sorrow and brought urgency to a work that could have sounded archaic and quaint.

If it sounds like the group was intent upon dwelling in darkness, know that its members concluded the evening with one of the sunniest works in the string quartet repertoire, Antonin Dvorak’s “American” Quartet. Written in 1893 while the composer was vacationing in Spillville, Iowa, it opened up evocative musical vistas that would inspire Aaron Copland and others.

More than anything on the program, this demonstrated how individualistic yet well-blended the Parker Quartet can be, with first violinist Daniel Chong singing lead lines like a lyric soprano, cellist Kee-Hyun Kim exuding strength and depth, and the middle voices assertive and exciting in the hands of second violinist Karen Kim and violist Jessica Bodner.