David Ying was an infant, yet to take his first step or speak his first word when Lewis Kaplan began a music festival on the campus of Bowdoin College in Brunswick. Phillip Ying wasn’t even born.
This summer, the brothers Ying will walk in the tall shadow of Kaplan, observing his movements, listening to his words and soaking in every possible ounce of his aura and good karma. The Yings – David, 50; and Phillip, 45 – will succeed Kaplan as co-artistic directors of the Bowdoin International Music Festival, taking over for the beloved co-founder at the conclusion of this summer’s 50th-anniversary gala.
Are they daunted?
Of course they are, Phillip said.
“Absolutely. It’s a big responsibility,” the viola player said this week, as the brothers spent a few days in Brunswick before ducking the snow and heading back to their teaching jobs at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. “Lewis and the festival have a huge, enormous legacy. But even Lewis would say he doesn’t want to celebrate by looking back. In fact, he is very shy about people lauding his achievements. He wants to celebrate by moving forward.”
The festival’s board of directors, with Kaplan’s enthusiastic endorsement, named David, a cellist, and Phillip co-artistic directors in waiting in December, citing their history with Bowdoin, their reputation in the chamber music world and their accomplishments as both teachers and performers.
The Ying Quartet, which includes sister Janet Ying on violin and Ayano Ninomiya as first violin, has won one Grammy Award and been nominated for many, and performs regularly in the finest concert halls in North America and elsewhere. As a quartet, it has been performing 22 years.
As it has for the past decade, the Ying Quartet will perform and teach at Bowdoin this summer, and the brothers officially begin their duties in the fall.
They feel daunted because they do not want to mess up something that Kaplan and others have spent a near-lifetime building. The festival attracts 250 high-achieving music students from across the world each summer. The students, who range from their early teens to young adulthood, come to the Bowdoin College campus to study with a faculty of 60 instructors, many of whom are leaders in music education and performance.
Kaplan co-founded the festival in 1964. He teaches violin at the Juilliard School in New York, and recruits students to the Bowdoin festival during his travels around the country and to Europe and Asia.
EMANUEL AX WAS HERE
Among the festival’s alumni is pianist Emanuel Ax, whose career has been celebrated in concert halls worldwide. He attended Bowdoin as a student in the late 1960s, and has remained loyal to the festival and Kaplan.
On Monday, Ax will host a benefit concert and dinner in honor of Kaplan at the Lotos Club in New York. The event already has raised more than $75,000 for student scholarships.
It is that environment into which the brothers Ying step, with both enthusiasm and equal measures of awe and wonder.
David Ying described Bowdoin as an “incredibly supportive and nurturing environment,” where the quartet has thrived because of its ability to focus.
The opportunity to teach, perform and enjoy chamber music in a collegial environment is unparalleled, he said.
“We came, we enjoyed it. It was great to find such a large festival so oriented around chamber music, which is near and dear to our hearts,” David said. “One thing that is special about the festival is that it is both a festival in which the public can enjoy wonderful concerts, and also a place where students from all over the world can come and enjoy this retreat-like atmosphere. For the students, we want to provide the best possible atmosphere for them to flourish, to concentrate on the music and for their talents to flourish and grow. There are not many, if any, festivals that offer that combination.”
The festival began as a summer offering of Bowdoin College, and became an independent, non-profit entity in 1997. It is still housed on the Bowdoin campus, using college dorms and classrooms and many of its performance spaces, including the Studzinski Recital Hall.
The festival hosts about 100 concerts each summer, featuring students, faculty and guests. The larger concerts are at Crooker Theater at Brunswick High School.
In a phone interview from his home in New York, Kaplan said he endorsed hiring the Ying brothers for the same reasons he brought the Ying Quartet to Bowdoin to teach a decade ago.
“They are dedicated artists, which is perhaps the highest acclaim that I could give anyone,” he said. “They are highly intelligent, I think they are imaginative and have wonderful, personable characteristics – and they are going to need all of those things in the job ahead.”
OF GLOBAL PROPORTIONS
The festival includes the word “international” in its name for a reason. Not only does it attract students and teachers from across the world, but it has begun presenting and hosting programs in Europe and China. The festival’s reach is global, Kaplan said, and becoming more so.
“The world is changing so fast, and the music world, like the rest of the world, is also changing. (The Yings’) biggest challenge will be how to keep both the concert and the educational aspects in order,” he said. “What is good for the next 10 and 20 years, and what needs to be changed? That will be their challenge.”
Peter Simmons, the festival’s executive director, said the festival has developed a relationship with the Chinese Musicians Association through its president, Zhao Jiping, who is also the head of the Xi’an Conservatory, China’s largest music conservatory.
The Chinese Musicians Association is responsible for almost all music in China, and is affiliated with the state. Delegations of its members, including Deputy Secretary-General Wang Jianguo, have visited Bowdoin each of the past two summers. They have sent younger faculty from the Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi’an conservatories to Bowdoin as students for two years, joining a large number of what Simmons described as “regular” students attending from China, which has become Bowdoin’s largest sending country.
Last summer, the Chinese delegation suggested setting up a satellite festival in China. Presuming things go as planned, Bowdoin will pilot a two-week festival in Xi’an in October, with a small contingent of faculty traveling from the United States to teach and perform.
“Where this goes from there, we can only speculate,” Simmons said in an email. “But it’s important for us to engage with China. The students coming out of China have great talent, but the teaching there is not at the same level as in Europe and the United States, and they know it. We are proud to be seen as a paradigm.”
As for the European connection, Juilliard, where Kaplan teaches, has had a joint exchange program with the Cologne Conservatory in Germany for several years. Cologne runs a year-round school in the Italian town Montepulciano. Through Juilliard, American students go to Montepulciano for joint chamber coaching and performances with German students. The following year, German students come to the United States.
When Juilliard opted not to continue, Kaplan “jumped into the breach,” Simmons said, waving the Bowdoin banner. In May, the Bowdoin festival will send four of its top students, using funding that Kaplan raised from new sources.
The benefit to Bowdoin is international exposure, Simmons said. “It gets our brand out there.”
That is the expectation the Yings face: A deep commitment to students, new initiatives and a focus on excellence.
They say they are ready. They are well-connected in the international music community, they are relatively young and share Kaplan’s enthusiasm for music.
They see Kaplan as a mentor. They have learned from him during their decade at Bowdoin, and almost feel as if they have been groomed for this job simply by being around him so much. This summer, they will follow his every move.
Perhaps the only thing they lack is Kaplan’s energy, which is the subject of lore on the Bowdoin campus. He never rests.
“He must have more than 24 hours in his day,” Phillip Ying said.
With a laugh, Kaplan concurred.
“I don’t know if they have my energy,” he said. “But there are two of them.”
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: