When people ask “How was your week?”, I always think “…where to I start?”. It’s a simple question but always a loaded answer.
I recently returned from an intensely packed but rewarding week in San Diego and Los Angeles with my Formosa Quartet mates. We started our tour in sunny San Diego with an album release party organized by our dear friend and executive director extraordinaire of Art of Élan, Kate Hatmaker, to celebrate our new recording From Hungary to Taiwan [insert shameless plug here — go pick up your copy today!]. It was such a heartwarming reunion with some of the quartet’s longtime supporters and friends, and what party doesn’t have music? We showcased bits and pieces from the new album including the Rukai Love Song from Lei Liang’s Song Recollections, which was commissioned for us by Art of Élan, and Dark Sky, a tune from Wei-Chieh Lin’s Five Taiwanese Folk Songs, alongside other musical accoutrements by Haydn, Dana Wilson, and another sparkling Grappelli arrangement by Jasmine.
We zipped off to Los Angeles that evening where we were woken up [early] the next morning by a pair of the most cheerful giggles from the Formosa Quartet “Littles” [a.k.a. our violist Brian’s two precious sons]. After consuming copious amounts of coffee, an essential beverage to keep pace, there was breakfast, dancing with Uncle Wayne 🕺, and several repetitions of 🌟Twinkle Twinkle🌟 and 🕷 Itsy Bitsy Spider 🕷 complete with hand gestures with Aunties Debbie and Jasmine, followed by conversations with Zephyr, FQ’s Siberian Husky mascot. Did I mention this all took place before 8 am?
Our week in Los Angeles brought us back to UCLA for Part II of the Mari and Ed Edelman String Quartet Residency, a continuation of our first weeklong visit in January 2019 and another opportunity to work with students and faculty. I had the pleasure of giving a cello masterclass, which was presented by the Herb Alpert School of Music’s 2018-2019 Dobrow Series and previewed with a cover story in the Daily Bruin’s Arts & Entertainment by writer Noor Ghatala about my career as a performer and mentor. Throughout the entire week, we rehearsed Enescu’s String Octet with Prof. of Cello, Antonio Lysy, and three of UCLA’s students for our concert at Schoenberg Hall, which we paired alongside Haydn’s humorous String Quartet Op. 76 No. 6 in E-flat major.
First of all, if you haven’t heard this piece, you MUST. If you can’t hear it live, you should clear your evening this weekend, grab a glass of wine [or bottle, I’m not judging], sit in front of a pair of amazing speakers, and be prepared to be transported. It is a 40-minute through-composed work of epic proportions and every minute of it is worth living through. This work is a hidden gem of the 20th-Century. Before our concert on April 18, I had never played this piece before. The first time I heard it was at the Marlboro Festival when I was a participant there many summers ago but to perform it, it completely uncovered the many layers of beauty, magic, and other-worldliness. You hear strains of Schoenberg’s Vërklarte Nacht, moments that are earth shatteringly dramatic and others that are profoundly tender and moving, and to my ears, musical lines that could have come from a Wagner opera throughout the music. Simply put, it is glorious and what’s even more mind-blowing is he was nineteen when he wrote it.
Alas, it’s the end of our week and Friday is planned to be a leisurely day of practicing the concerto I’m premiering in Boston in two weeks. Said no one ever. The biggest surprise came early that morning from violinist and Prof. of Violin at UCLA, Movses Pogossian, asking if I would step in to emergency produce a recording he and several of my favorite musicians are making with my longtime mentor and violist, Kim Kashkashian, of Tigran Mansurian’s string sextet titled Con Anima.
Me [in my head]: You sure you don’t have the wrong number?
I have been fixated the last few years with the idea of firsts, the idea that as we get older [and hopefully, wiser], we become more experienced and naturally, we encounter things for the first time less frequently. I suppose that’s how it works but when the opportunity of doing something for the first time arises, it fills me with excitement and fear all at once because in my mind, there’s a precedence for excellence. But perhaps the latter of those two sentiments is not a reason to say ‘no’. My fixation has gravitated towards savoring these rarer ‘firsts’ as vividly as I can because it will, by default, never be the ‘first’ again. After the quartet recorded From Hungary to Taiwan and seeing the monumental work Clancy Newman did for us as our producer, I vowed I would never do it because of the incredible responsibility and heightened level of detail required. But, Friday’s experience not only gave me a whole new appreciation for those individuals whose ears we trust but how much I enjoyed this new role behind the booth.