The Ying Quartet at U-Md.
Walt Whitman's "I Hear America Singing" could have been the theme of the Ying Quartet's engaging string concert at the University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Center on Thursday. Along with guest folk singer Mike Seeger, the Yings (an all-sibling ensemble) titled their offbeat program "No Boundaries," opening a window into America's disparate legacy as seen through the eyes of both modern classical and Appalachian folk music.
As part of its current commissioning of new string quartets that speak of America, the ensemble played Jennifer Higdon's "Southern Harmony," three movements transporting listeners to the composer's native Appalachian South. Paquito D'Rivera's "The Village Street Quartet" perfectly depicted sidewalk musicians in New York's Greenwich Village. D'Rivera re-created this scene in a multicultural mix of rarefied musical images including a mesmerizing samba. Stomping and slightly out-of-tune playing gave a folkish cast to William Bolcom's pulsing "Three Rags for String Quartet." The Yings also gave a captivating version of Barber's String Quartet, Op. 11, with its Adagio more meltingly lyrical than ever.
In the folk music tradition established by his parents, Pete and Ruth Crawford Seeger, son Mike chatted his way through musical Americana with songs and diverse instruments -- fiddle, banjo, harmonica and more -- revealing America's blend of heritages. Nowhere was this more moving than in the way Seeger performed "Amazing Grace" (the Yings followed with a Higdon arrangement of it), singing and fiddling only a fragment of the tune at a time, and yodeling, yelping, gulping his way through gyrating melodic variations in ways known long before Beethoven.
-- Cecelia Porter
Amy Lin at Strathmore
The intimacy of Strathmore Hall's Shapiro Music Room offers performers an opportunity to speak about their repertoire. At her Thursday evening recital there, pianist Amy Lin gave insightful introductions to her program, part of the Music in the Mansion series.
The Peabody Conservatory graduate champions modern Chinese compositions. Her recital included three such works, performed with scores.
Demonstrating themes in Qigang Chen's "Instants d'un opera de Pekin," Lin, a piano professor in France, explained how the work depicts Beijing opera. Chen Yi's "Duo Ye," according to Lin, derives from a bonfire dance and song originating in a Chinese province. Its rhythmic, Eastern tonalities sometimes sounded more agitated than mirthful under her fingers. Chou Wen-Chung's broody "The Willows Are New," based upon a Chinese poem, inspired her most heartfelt performance.
Like a kaleidoscope, Lin's musical ideas shifted all too constantly in Debussy's "Suite Bergamasque," as she acquainted herself with the Steinway. But with effective applications of soft pedal, she sustained a pianissimo throughout "Clair de Lune." Its delicate moonbeams were pretty yet emotionally void. In "Passepied," she played with textured warmth at the piano's release point.
Schubert's Sonata in C Minor, D. 958, required no introduction. But what it needed from Lin was a singing tone. She spun sprightly technical passages, but on lyrical ones simply went through the motions. Lin refocused on musicality in the lilting finale and finally produced a playful lyricism.
-- Grace Jean