In fact, the Ying Quartet’s constant quest to explore the creative possibilities of the string quartet has led it to an unusually diverse array of musical projects and interests. The Ying Quartet’s recordings reflect many of the siblings’ wide-ranging musical interests and have generated consistent, enthusiastic acclaim. Their 2007 Telarc release of the three Tchaikovsky Quartets and the Souvenir de Florence (with James Dunham and Paul Katz) was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Chamber Music Performance category. In addition, their much heralded collaboration with the Turtle Island Quartet, “Four + 4,” explored the common ground between the classic string quartet tradition and jazz and other American vernacular styles, and won a Grammy Award in 2005. “Dim Sum” (Telarc) is the Yings’ most recent recording, featuring music by Chinese-American composers which merges the Western string quartet with the aural world of traditional Chinese music.
The Yings have also documented their noteworthy LifeMusic commissioning project in their recorded work. Released by Quartz, “The Ying Quartet play LifeMusic” was named Editor’s Choice by Gramophone magazine and is the first in a continuing series. In addition to appearing in conventional concert situations, the Ying Quartet is also known for its diverse and unusual performance projects. For several years the Quartet presented a series called “No Boundaries” at Symphony Space in New York City which sought to re-imagine the concert experience. Collaborations with actors, dancers, electronics, a host of non-classical musicians, a magician and even a Chinese noodle chef gave new and thoughtful context to a wide variety of both traditional and contemporary string quartet music.
They have also worked with composer Tod Machover and the MIT Media lab in the use of Hyperscore, an innovative musical composition software. Other musical partners range from pianists Menahem Pressler and Gilbert Kalish and cellist Paul Katz to folk musician Mike Seeger, jazz pianist Billy Childs, and the Turtle Island Quartet. The Ying Quartet’s ongoing LifeMusic commissioning project, created in response to their commitment to expanding the rich string quartet repertoire, has already achieved an impressive history. Supported by the Institute for American Music, the Yings commission both established and emerging composers to create music which reflects contemporary American life. Michael Torke, Kevin Puts, Paquito D’Rivera, Paul Moravec, Lowell Liebermann, Bernard Rands, Pierre Jalbert, Sebastian Currier, and Carter Pann are only some of the renowned composers and musicians who have written for LifeMusic.
Their most recent recording of commissions is titled “The United States” and was released in 2007. It features works by Ned Rorem, Jennifer Higdon, Chen Yi, and Augusta Read Thomas. The Ying Quartet first came to professional prominence in the early 1990s during their years as resident quartet of Jesup, Iowa, a farm town of 2000 people. Playing before audiences of six to six hundred in homes, schools, churches and banks, the Quartet had its first opportunities to enable music and creative endeavor to become an integral part of community life. The Quartet considers its time in Jesup the foundation of its present musical life and goals.
The residency, supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, was widely chronicled in the national media. Toward the end of the residency, the quartet and several of the townspeople were invited to Capitol Hill to testify before Congress on behalf of the NEA. During the summers, the Ying Quartet’s activity is primarily centered at music festivals. They are presently ensemble-in-residence at the Aspen Music Festival and also have performed and taught for several summers at the Bowdoin International Music Festival. Other festival appearances have been at Tanglewood, Ravinia, Caramoor, San Miguel de Allende, Kneisel Hall, Norfolk, Skaneateles, Amelia Island, Interlochen, and many others. As quartet-in-residence at the Eastman School of Music, the Ying Quartet teaches in the string department and leads a rigorous, sequentially designed chamber music program.
One cornerstone of chamber music activity at Eastman is the noted Music for All program, in which all students have the opportunity to perform in community settings beyond the concert hall. From 2001-2008, the Ying Quartet has also been the Blodgett Artists-in-Residence at Harvard University. The Quartet had its training with members of the Cleveland, Tokyo, Emerson and Juilliard String Quartets, as well as with violist Eugene Lehner. The four siblings of the Ying Quartet make their home in Rochester, NY.
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