Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, November 30, 2001

The Ying Quartet, who are siblings, bring a youthful edge
to classical music. They perform tomorrow at Orvis Auditorium.

The yin and yang of the Yings

By Scott Vogel

The first thing you see when you log on to the Ying Quartet Web site, at, is a colorized version of an Al Hirschfeld drawing of the chamber ensemble, instant proof that the four siblings are rising stars in the New York cultural firmament. And just a few more clicks produce a great deal more information about this classical Fab Four.

Among the highlights: David (cellist, also the eldest) recently got married during a "beautiful and intimate ceremony overlooking Canandaigua Lake" in upstate New York; Janet (violinist, also the youngest) painted a teapot for a Rochester celebrity teapot auction; the Yings' favorite dim sum restaurant in Chicago is Hong Min, although it's "not the cleanest place, and those beads leading to the cramped restrooms have been there forever"; Timothy (violinist, second oldest) got engaged over Labor Day to a Toronto dentist; and Phil (violist, second youngest) is still reeling from this summer's trip to the Great Wall of China, which he describes as "an edifice of impossible dreams and the richest of ancient histories."

What: The Ying Quartet
When: 8 p.m. tomorrow
Where: Orvis Auditorium, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Cost: $24; $15 students
Call: 956-8246

What a refreshing change from the typical musicians' Web site! Chock-full of interesting tidbits (where else can you learn the location of New York's best hamachi sushi?), the Yings' Internet address offers a big clue to what makes this string quartet, now celebrating its 10th year of performing, so engaging.

"I think classical music and string quartets especially have this image of being stuffy, old-fashioned and esoteric," said David, during a brief idle period in the midst of concert appearances and outreach activities here in the isles. "That's not what string quartets are like at all. They're for people with and without doctorates."

Though it was just 11 a.m., the Yings had already visited the Voyager Charter School in Kakaako; their stay had also included master classes at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa and sessions with local high school students. Tonight they're performing at the State Capitol and tomorrow they'll be at UH's Orvis Auditorium, the latter one of the sponsors of the Yings' six-day, whirlwind residency. (Needless to say, when this group comes to town, "it's not a Saturday-night-at-8 p.m.-type experience," as David memorably put it.)

In going over the mountain of press that the quartet has generated, it becomes immediately apparent that journalists, if not the public at large, are obsessed with the question of how four siblings can coexist so harmoniously.

"I think it's because they can't ever imagine doing it with their own siblings," laughed David. "I rather enjoy it because in most families you sort of lose track of your siblings after your senior year in high school." And how would he describe their various personalities? "Tim for me is one of the smartest guys I know. Phil gets along with everyone and he speaks well in public. Janet is the one whom everyone trusts. She's also the quietest; not coincidentally, she is the one who does our books. And I'm the garbage man -- I do whatever's left over."

It's been quite a ride for these Winnetka, Ill., natives, whose professional careers began after the quartet received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts aiming to stimulate chamber music performance in rural communities. After winning the prestigious Naumburg Award for Chamber Music, the Yings were launched in earnest. An international tour soon followed. And as their fame has grown, so has the ability to indulge in pet projects like "LifeMusic," which encourages young and established composers to pen new string quartets. Now faculty members at the Eastman School of Music, the Yings are based in Rochester, N.Y. -- whenever they're not traveling, of course.

As for the future, the question of how they'll continue performing "is always open for debate, because we would never want anyone playing just for the sake of the quartet," said David. "But we've visited schools, hospitals, prison inmates and Carnegie Hall, and I can't think of any activity in life that would allow us to do so many things."

Or to sample some of the world's best Chinese cuisine, food being a family passion second only to the love of music. "We don't speak the language, but we've definitely learned the language of Chinese food and we speak it as often as we can," concluded David, sounding eager for lunch. "So we love it here. The Asian food is just wonderful."

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