Wednesday | December 07, 2016
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Young quartet relies on trust

Amazing young string quartets seem to appear at a steady pace these days.

On Thursday, aficionados of classical music in East Hawaii will get their first taste of one of the latest examples.

The Afiara String Quartet, four Canadians who got together while students at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, will perform works by Shostakovich, Beethoven and Sibelius. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Hawaii at Hilo Performing Arts Center.

Founded in 2006, and the subsequent award winners at a multitude of competitions, the young ensemble has thrived on a combination of hard work and good luck.

“From the start, we were all committed to doing the quartet thing,” said first violinist Valerie Li in a recent interview. “We wanted to give it everything.”

Cellist Adrian Fung chimed in: “I think that was the hardest thing to do, especially when you’re in college, to find three people who are as crazy or as willing to commit.”

“After that,” continued Li, “it was just hard work.” And a lot of time. “We were able to rehearse as much as we wanted, remarked Fung. Back then it was four or five hours a day. We didn’t take weekends off.”

Personal commitment is especially important for the members of the ensemble, whose relationships go further than those of many chamber music partners. Second violinist Yuri Cho and violist David Samuel are husband and wife, and Fung’s sister is married to Li’s brother, making this ensemble truly a family affair.

Fung said the ensemble’s christening was the result of a typo.

“I was writing an e-mail to somebody saying something like, ‘This is going to be a grand event, a big affair,’ and it came out as ‘afiara,’” he said. “We were looking for a name at the time so I looked it up on Google … and it said ‘a fiara’ in Spanish could mean ‘trusted.’ The root word, fiar, to trust, we thought was really special to us, because you have to trust each other both in rehearsal and on stage and in every single business transaction.”

The Hilo concert will begin with Shostakovich’s “Two Pieces for String Quartet.” Written in 1931 but only discovered a half century later, they predate the Russian’s most famous works, but are a microcosm of his musical style. The final work on the program, Jean Sibelius’ “Intimate Voices” quartet, is consistently recognized as the Finnish composer’s chamber masterwork.

In between will be Beethoven’s “Op 135,” the composer’s final string quartet as well as his last complete opus in any genre. It and the other compositions of Beethoven’s last few years are a departure, not only from the musical norms of the age but also from his previous compositional style, and unfailingly leave a deep impression on listener and performer alike.

“As a string quartet musician, Beethoven is the most important composer for me,” says violist Samuel. “His music is at the same time both human and divine. Unlike almost any other composer, Beethoven explores the darkest corners of human existence and somehow manages to lead us to a better place.”

Tickets for the performance by the Afiara String Quartet are $20 general, $16 for seniors, $10 for students and are available at the Most Irresistible Shop, Book Gallery, Music Exchange, the UHH Box Office, and the East Hawaii Cultural Center. Remaining tickets will be available at the door.


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