The Grammy Award-winning, world-renowned Ying Quartet concluded its five-day residency at Bowdoin with a sold out performance in Studzinski Recital Hall last Monday evening.
The quartet performed four pieces before an auditorium packed with students and Brunswick residents, beginning with Robert Schumann’s “Quartet in A Major, Opus 41, No. 3.”
“It is a very beautiful piece, inspired, we think, directly by his happiness at being newly married,” said Phillip Ying, violist and spokesman for the group.
Kenji Bunch’s “Concussion Theory” followed in four movements. This piece was composed only a few months ago and was inspired by the devastation of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
“They are fabulous,” said Susan Weens, a resident of Brunswick and avid chamber music enthusiast. “It connected very well, and I thought their interpretation of the parts was compelling.”
The quartet then returned to Schumann’s work with his string quartet, “Death and the Maiden,” in D Minor.
“It is a very popular piece not only because it is a great piece, but because of the title,” said Ying. “I think it adds to the mystique of the piece. It sounds dramatic and evocative.”
And lastly, after a standing ovation, the quartet returned for a final encore with Randall Thompson’s “Alleluia,” a melody they transcribed from its original choral arrangement.
The encore was followed by another standing ovation.
During their five-day residency on campus, the quartet also visited classes, worked with students, and held multiple concerts, including an impromptu performance in the Bowdoin Museum of Art on Sunday afternoon.
Ying said that this kind of multi-day residency allows “a deeper kind of engagement with a community.”
Since they got their start in the 1990s in the town of Jesup, Iowa, the Ying Quartet has performed at many different venues, from Carnegie Hall and the White House to juvenile detention centers and office buildings.
“Going out into the community, we’ve learned, can be equally rewarding and equally moving for us and audiences,” said Ying. “We’ve really loved doing that our whole career. So the opportunity to come here and do it in a college setting and in Brunswick is fabulous.”
The Ying Quartet first came to Brunswick nearly a decade ago to participate in the Bowdoin International Music Festival. Since then they have continued to return almost every summer.
“Bowdoin’s summer festival has a great atmosphere as so much is centered on the music,” said Ying. “There is a very nice dynamic between performers, people who are very passionate about teaching, and then all of the students.”
After spending so many summers in Brunswick, the group has developed a great familiarity with the town.
Phillip Ying makes sure to visit Gelato Fiasco every summer. He says his favorite flavor is “all of them.”
Janet Ying, the group’s second violin, spends her free time at CrossFit 321 on Turner Street.
Ayano Ninomiya is the newest member of the group. She plays first violin and likes to shop at Morning Glory Natural Foods on Maine Street. She says she appreciates the fact that drivers stop for pedestrians, unlike at home in New York.
David Ying plays the cello for the quartet. He says his favorite aspect of Brunswick is all of the beautiful trees on Bowdoin’s campus, even when they are covered with snow.
After everything the Ying Quartet has accomplished—performing in the Sydney Opera House, receiving multiple Grammy nominations and winning a Grammy in 2005, producing their own music, and fostering the LifeMusic commissioning project for American composers—the group remains driven by one shared goal.
“Something that we aspire to is that we’ve added to the tradition of performing this great music,” said Ying, “not only in the quality and the level of our performance, but in helping to bring it forward, creating new pieces, being willing to experiment and brave how the style is changing.
“We want to be kind of fearless in our pursuit of allowing the style of music to change, and to continue using the string quartet as a vehicle for very deep expressions of our humanity,” he said.