Grand Valley State University’s Fall Arts Celebration 2016 opened on Monday night with the world-class Ying Quartet playing at the Cook-Dewitt Center. The Ying Quartet performed Beethoven’s, “String Quartet Opus 18, No.6 in B flat major” and then performed Beethoven’s “Septet in E-flat Major, Opus 20” accompanied by Grand Valley Department of Music and Dance faculty members.
Dr. Frederick Antczak, the founding dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, started off the night’s event with a speech about the state of the fine arts in America. While he talked about “the university’s deep commitment to the arts…across every facet of the arts,” the sound of the Quartet warming up poured from backstage; a fitting background to Antczak’s speech. He also discussed America’s falling cultural literacy, but ended on a happier note, that Grand Valley would fight back against “…a less literate, less joyous population.”
The Ying Quartet, with Robin Scott on violin, Janet Ying on violin, Phillip Ying on viola, and David Ying on cello, took the stage to a round of applause. Phillip humbly introduced himself and the rest of the Quartet to the audience. When they began playing you would believe it was a full orchestra as opposed to just four musicians. They played with power, fluidity, and ecstasy, switching effortlessly between musical styles. True to Phillip’s word, the first piece sounded like a conversation between Robin Scott’s violin and David Ying’s cello, with Janet and Phillip “talking” in the background. Less talented musicians would have made this sound like a jumbled mess, but the Ying Quartet executed it flawlessly. The first piece ended with a cascade of notes, and was topped off with a standing ovation.
After a short intermission, the Ying Quartet returned to the stage accompanied by four Grand Valley faculty musicians. Arthur Campbell on clarinet, Danny Phipps on bassoon, and Richard Britsch on French horn provided the winds section while Michael Hovnanian on double bass added to the strings. As the two groups played together it felt more like a high-class, high-energy jam session than a rivalry. The musicians played without a hiccup or obvious sour note, and even if they made a mistake this listener didn’t catch it. As the performance continued their energy never flagged, they were too caught up in the moment to be fatigued. At one point near the end of the second piece, Phillip Ying nearly rose out of his chair, pushed to his feet by the energy of the music, and Robin Scott’s body moved with the rhythm of the notes. The performance ended with a full standing ovation that lasted at least five minutes.
The performance was followed by coffee, dessert, and a chance to briefly chat the musicians. I was able to talk to Phillip Ying for a quick second. He explained that the Grand Valley faculty had invited the Ying Quartet to collaborate on a performance at Grand Valley State Univeristy, adding that it was his first visit, and saying with a smile and a laugh, “It’s a beautiful, huge school.” When asked how he got into music he said, “I started playing when I was seven years old, and it turned into a lifelong passion.”
I was also able to talk to Grand Valley’s Richard Britsch. He has worked at Grand Valley for seven years as an affiliate faculty director teaching French horn students. He explained that the Ying Quartet performance had been put together back in 2015, “as a gift to the university community.” When asked how he felt playing with the Ying Quartet he said, “It was unbelievable, just a wonderful experience.”
The Fall Arts Celebration continues next Thursday, September 22, with an art exhibition and the Celebration will go until its conclusion at Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on December 5 with a holiday celebration.