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ARTSMONDAY: Ying Quartet Delights With Variety of Styles

A surprising diversity of musical style was showcased in Paine Hall Friday night during the Ying Quartet’s latest performance in the Blodgett Chamber Music Series. Comprised of siblings Timothy (violin), Janet (violin), David (cello), and Phillip (viola), the Department of Music’s Blodgett Artists-in-Residence successfully displayed their virtuoso abilities in the performance through a selection of pieces by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Paul Moravec ’79, and Ernst von Dohnányi.

Timothy and Janet first demonstrated their impressive skills in their ability to mimic a brass-like sound with their violins in the first piece, Mozart’s “Quartet in B-flat Major, K. 458,” producing an incredibly rich and full harmony. This show of mastery over their instruments, however, was only a glimpse of the full range of their capabilities.

The tempo of the piece ranged from allegro to adagio over a series of four short movements, but the performers met the challenge brilliantly. The contrast between the pieces, as well as alternating cello, viola, and violin phrases, created an exhilarating confluence of emotions.

The first and last “Allegro” movements created a lively, playful mood, while the second, “Menuetto: Moderato,” was much more sedate, and the third—“Adagio”—more melodious. Though by no fault of the musicians, the ends of both the “Menuetto” and the “Adagio” felt inconclusive. However, this was more than compensated for by the final “Allegro assai,” which brought the Quartet full circle by tying the piece back to the opening movement, “Allegro vivace assai.”

The next segment of the concert, “Anniversary Dances,” was prefaced by the appearance of an unexpected guest: the composer himself. In an introduction to his piece, Moravec stated that one of his closest friends, a fellow composer, once said that the meaning of music was love. In this theme, the suite was commissioned in part by Astrid and John Baumgardner for their 30th wedding anniversary. It was against this more personalized atmosphere that the quartet launched into a piece that differed greatly from the first, more formal piece.

The Yings attacked “Anniversary Dances” with the same simultaneous intensity and delicacy as they did the Mozart piece, but their style was much more modern. The suite made use of a wider range of sounds, including a strong pizzicato, and at times, the instruments seemed totally independent of each other. The sometimes discordant phrases of the music were a stark contrast to the harmony of the first suite, and prevented the concert from becoming a two-hour performance of predictability.

Although the high quality of the music was undeniable, it was difficult to distinguish between the six “dances” that comprise the work and to pick up on the element of love that “Anniversary Dances” is supposed to represent. Yet despite this shortcoming, which is more attributable to Moravec than the Yings, the latter demonstrated remarkable versatility in their ability to master the extremely dissimilar music of two composers (Mozart and Moravec) who lived 200 years apart.

Following a brief intermission, the program traveled back 100 years to Ernst von Dohnányi’s “Piano Quintet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 1.” Joined by pianist Joel G. Fan ’91, the Ying Quartet displayed their multifaceted musicality once again.

Their performance grew in richness as the tones of the strings and the piano melded together seamlessly. Structured somewhat like Mozart’s “Quartet,” the broad, impressive quality that marked the first movement, “Allegro,” became more melodic throughout the piece before returning to the opening themes. The “Finale: Allegro animato” crescendoed to the final bars, rendering the “Quintet” a fitting and memorable end to the whole concert.

Overall, one of the most striking qualities of the performance was the Yings’ ability to express themselves through their music alone. They relied almost exclusively on a deceptively delicate touch in playing their instruments to relay the full effect of the pieces, and minimized the vigorous head-shaking and body-swaying that too often overshadows the actual music in other performances. Each member of the quartet, as well as Fan, displayed an acute awareness of each other, and struck a balance between cohesion and self-expression.
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