Artist Interview: Ying Quartet

By jwoods on October 17, 2011

For our first artist interview of the season, Philip Ying of the Ying Quartet was nice enough to sit down and answer a few questions about the group and their upcoming program with Menahem Pressler at the Kimmel Center. Here are his answers. We hope to see you at the Ying's performance on October 28th at the Kimmel Center!

Juliet Woods:  How did this program come together? Why did you choose these particular pieces?

Ying Quartet

The Ying Quartet

Philip Ying:  The first half of the concert features a Russian theme. We open the program with the Second String Quartet of Anton Arensky. This year happens to be the 150th anniversary of Arensky's birth, and we are celebrating by releasing a CD this month of his two string quartets plus his piano quintet. Many chamber music fans know his piano trio, and I've noticed that his Second String Quartet gets some play at festivals because of the unusual instrumentation: violin, viola, and 2 celli.  In this case, we recorded and are featuring the version of his Second String Quartet that he made for the expected string quartet instrumentation. It's absorbing music to listen to -- full of feeling, richness, and inventiveness -- and deserves its place among the Russian greats of the late 19th century.  Second on the program is music of one of the absolute Russian giants of the 20th century, Shostakovich, with his 12th string quartet. This is music of phenomenal depth and power. It is always amazing to us what intensity of emotion a composer like Shostakovich can generate from a string quartet.

The second half of the concert goes in a different direction, and we have the extraordinary privilege of collaborating with Menahem Pressler, with whom we've chosen to feature the much performed and beloved Dvorák Piano Quintet.

JW:  Playing with four musicians can be really challenging, especially when you all have to agree on one interpretation of a piece. Three of your members are siblings, which must have a profound effect on the manner in which you work with one another. What is it like performing with your siblings, and what added dimension has Ayano brought to the group as first violinist?

PY:  Playing professionally with siblings for so many years has been a very special experience. Any successful chamber music ensemble must be built on respect and trust, and it has been so rewarding to grow with my siblings year after year into a place where we trust each other deeply. This is not to say that all rehearsals are smooth or argument free! On the contrary, we've also come to respect each other's strong opinions and vision for each passage of music, and we (like all the other quartets I know) simply rehearse as long as it takes to forge a unified approach out of these strong views. I feel privileged to know my siblings in such a life long, musical, emotional and collaborative relationship.

Having Ayano join our group a year ago has been a refreshing and exciting new musical chapter in our career. From the first time we played together, we were drawn to her commanding musical presence combined with unparalleled chamber music instincts! With her, we've had to reconsider every phrase, every bowing, every tone color, every pacing of each piece, even ones that we've played many times over the years, and we feel that this has only made us go deeper into the music.  Plus, now I'll be able to test my theory that all string quartets over time come to know each other (and behave?) like siblings!

JW: You have worked with pianist Menahem Pressler before. Tell me a little more about performing the Dvorák Quintet with him. How does adding another musician effect the dynamic of the group?

PY:  Every opportunity to make chamber music with a master like Menahem Pressler has been a highlight for us. He draws the most beautiful singing sound from the keyboard that can be as liquid as the greatest string player, and we've always been impressed how he can speak the language of music with utter fluidity and assuredness. When we hear him nuance a gesture or turn a phrase, there is this sense that it is so natural it could be no other way! I must admit that it is a bit intimidating as well, as he also listens and hears every detail of every part, but the thrill of musically interacting with Menahem in a piece as wonderful as the Dvorak is quite a treat.

The Ying Quartet and Menahem Pressler appear on Friday, October 28th at the Kimmel Center. For tickets and information call 215-569-8080 or order online at