Ying Quartet, l-r: cellist David Ying, violinist Janet Ying , violinist Robin Scott, and violist Phillip Ying. (credit: J. Adam Fenster / University of Rochester, 2015)

Musical sunshine: Ying Quartet and Xavier Foley brighten Sunday afternoon with Spivey Hall concert

CONCERT REVIEW:
Ying Quartet with Xaviar Foley
April 21, 2024
Spivey Hall
Morrow, GA – USA
Ying Quartet (Robin Scott, violin; Janet Ying, violin; Phillip Ying, viola; and David Ying, cello); Xavier Foley, contrabass.
Joseph HAYDN: Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 50, No. 1
Xavier FOLEY: Brown Chapel
Xavier FOLEY: Mayflower
Antonín DVOŘÁK: String Quintet No. 2 in G major

William Ford | 23 APR 2024

Sunday started out as a cool, rainy day and ended up being gloriously sunny and pleasant. The day was made even better when Spivey Hall presented the Ying Quartet and double-bassist Xavier Foley. The Ying Quartet is in-residence at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. They are also the ensemble-in-residence at the Bowdoin International Music Festival. The Quartet has championed many famous contemporary composers, including Lowell Liebermann, Sebastian Currier, and John Novacek. The members of the Quartet are violinists Robin Scott and Janet Ying, violist Phillip Ying, and cellist David Ying.

Their program at Spivey began with Haydn’s Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 50, No. 1. Haydn is often referred to as the “Father of the String” Quartet because he helped establish a structure for such compositions that remains in use even today. He elevated chamber music from a kind of “Muzak for the nobles” to an expressive art form.


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The first movement (“Allegro”) is lively, happy, and not mannered or fussy. It is in sonata-allegro form, with an exposition featuring two themes that are eventually fully developed and explored, to be recapitulated in their original form at the end of the movement. The second movement (“Adagio non lento”) provides contrast to the first but is still full of light and refined energy. The third movement (“Menuetto: Poco allegretto”) is a minuet and trio, with the trio being playful and rhythmic. The final movement is full of humor, often through counterpoint.

This is music that’s hard not to like, with plenty of energy that provides ample forward motion. The Ying Quartet played with style, both musically and technically. Because Spivey Hall is optimized for chamber music, the players never have to “play to the balcony,” so they can be both subtle and forceful when required. They never sounded forced or too muscular. It was a perfect blend.


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Next was a new piece, written and performed by double-bassist Xavier Foley, entitled Brown Chapel. Foley introduced the work with his easy and charming manner. The work is jazz-influenced, but it mostly struck me as a theme and variations; only the theme was at the end, and the variations were at the start. With this structure, the variations could be used to explore the theme without explicitly stating it until the work’s final minutes. It was as if scattered puzzle pieces slowly came together to make a complete picture.

That was followed by another work by Foley titled Mayflower. The work has three movements, “Departure,” “Silent Sea,” and “Settlement,” and was inspired by the eponymous ship that brought the Pilgrims to the New World. The composition is also informed by the works of Dvořák, especially as he incorporated New World idioms into his heavily Czech-influenced style.

Composer and cdouble-bassist Xavier Foley. (courtesy of Spivey Hall)

Composer and cdouble-bassist Xavier Foley. (courtesy of Spivey Hall)

“Departure” is reminiscent of Smetana’s The Moldau, with wave-like figures in the viola and second violin. The first violin and double bass take on a dialogue as if the passengers are sharing their hopes and dreams for their new home. The movement is vividly cinematic.

The second movement has an A-B-A structure, reflecting a calm sea, followed by a stormy interlude, only to return to the calm waters. Jazz-like passages energize the rough sea section. The third movement is about the struggle to create a new life, incorporating agitation and resolve.

While the composer credits Dvořák as his inspiration, it seemed that the third movement relied heavily on Celtic-type themes and rhythms. This is an audience-pleasing piece. It is easily understood and full of memorable passages. It should find a comfortable spot in many chamber music playlists.


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The final work was Dvořák’s String Quintet No. 2 in G major. It is written for a traditional string quartet with the addition of a double-bass part. Dvořák entered this work into a contest in Prague, and as luck would have it, he won, and deservedly so. The Quintet contains all that audiences love about Dvořák: the Czech influence, bright colors, sweet yet sincere melodies, and dance-like rhythmic drive. The third movement is remarkable for its intense, lyrical style. The inclusion of the bass added punch and richness, and Foley fit right in with his colleagues.

Overall, the concert highlighted a first-rate program performed by top-tier musicians, introducing accessible, listenable, and engaging new music. It was an enjoyable way to spend a mid-spring Sunday afternoon.

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About the author:
William Ford is an avid classical music fan and a clinical psychologist based in Atlanta. His reviews and interviews can most frequently be found online at Bachtrack and www.atlantamusiccritic.com

Read more by William Ford.
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