Formosa Quartet Jasmine Lin, Wayne Lee, Che-Yen Chen, Ru-Pei Yeh Sat, 11 Oct 2014 22:00:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 10/11/14 Post Sat, 11 Oct 2014 22:00:28 +0000 Jasmine Continued]]>  




Summertime: black gloves on

handrail I climb up to Michigan


Avenue. We pass a white-horse carriage,

spoonfuls of frozen live culture


making glass slippers of my teeth.

Back home red beads


on my lamp shine as I floss.

Writing poetry’s difficult. I don’t try


to dazzle; the grain of language knocks

the skull, rebels against sophistication,


wants to resemble the thick-streaked

wood I photographed. So instead of


“rara avis” I write “cat”, “dander”, “longing”.

Germs bloom on public surfaces but


sparkle with the crystal of immaculate pride,

glinting like the cavities in the teeth


of Cinderella’s mice. Asleep, I crawl into

my private pipeline until I reach


a lever that every hand had touched.

Bacteria is a precious gem.




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Lyon & Healy 150th Anniversary Celebration Thu, 12 Jun 2014 01:56:58 +0000 Jasmine Continued]]>  

Taking part in this exuberant celebration of the world’s most glorious harps with its most glorious harp-whisperers (Sivan Magen, Marie-Pierre Langlamet, and Naoko Yoshino), Formosa Quartet tasted splendiferous light and succulent sin.  Back at home, I thought I’d attempt to tame the harp with a Shakespearean sonnet.  But as the clock struck twelve, fair iambs turned to trochees, twitching violently the while.




Violinist’s View



Frame, strings short to long until, again, frame.

Tall-poised like bow of ship, that proud-smug crown—

but between loom strings—crouch—wait for fingers’ aim,

their touch a balmy strum or death blow down

by deepest note, diabolic strings taut-strung

reg-gold-next-each-up-back slowish slither

upward once more to the uppermost dainty rung,

side-wise ladder going directly…  whither?

Harpist’s eyes know.  Flight starts in left hand light;

right hand, by nimble travel to not-end,

ends not (to travel nimble) by hand.  Right

settles gentle its forever cadence, sends,

sends cadence ever for ungentle unsettle.

By the feet lurks pedal after pedal.





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A Tribute to Russian Rupei and Houston Rupei Tue, 27 May 2014 16:48:57 +0000 Wayne Continued]]> While Rupei has been on Posato Duty (see previous post) for the last five months,

Posato, a.k.a. William Christopher

Posato, a.k.a. William Christopher Meyer, with Papa Meyer


we’ve had two wonderful, wonderful cellists fill in for her. The first one was my colleague in the Manhattan Piano Trio for five years, Dmitry Kouzov (Dima). We hired him because he’s a dead ringer for Rupei:

Our distinguished cellist

Russian Rupei


Dima played four concerts with us in January, all in Chicago. Nobody seemed to notice that it wasn’t our usual cellist, though one perceptive cat lady kept staring suspiciously at his beard. A few weeks later, Dima called me just to chat. At the end of the conversation, he said “Tell the quartet that Russian Rupei says hi.”

More recently, Sophie Shao has been playing with us; first, a concert in San Diego for The Art of Élan (where we gave the world premiere of Shih-Hui Chen’s Returning Souls), then, a weeklong trip to Taipei, where we gave a concert with the wonderful harpist Heidi Krutzen. She looks absolutely nothing like Rupei:

Rupei again




Unfortunately, we don’t have a catchy nickname for Sophie yet. Like Rupei, she has a Taiwanese background (though she was born in Texas), so Taiwanese Rupei is no good; Houston Rupei will have to do for now.

In a little over a week, Sophie will play her last concert with us at the Lyon & Healy sesquicentennial in Chicago, and Rupei (the real one) will rejoin the quartet at our June-July residency with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada. Thank you, Dima and Sophie, for taking time out of your busy schedules to play with us, and for putting up with our zany Formosa Quartet shenanigans.

Never mess with Jasmine.


We will miss you both!

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Posato Thu, 27 Feb 2014 23:19:35 +0000 Jasmine Continued]]>  

“Posato” is the indication at the beginning of Paganini’s Caprice #15 for solo violin and, according to Google Translate, means “settled”, “composed”, “steady”.  I’ve always liked the word.  Long ago I told my mother that it would likely be the name of my son, if I ever had one.

When Ru Pei became pregnant, and Wayne, Cheyen and I started throwing name suggestions at her, Wayne and Cheyen lobbied (rather egotistically, I thought) for their own names — and since Ru Pei’s having a son was the closest thing I’d experienced to having a son myself, she being like a sister to me, I of course lobbied egotistically for “Posato”.  I’m certain that she didn’t for a moment consider the name seriously, but in the months afterward, the name stuck to the unborn baby like Ru Pei to hand sanitizer.  Wayne made “posato” a quartet password for a site we had to access.  As we got ready to walk out on stage to perform at USC Thornton, Cheyen said, “Posato goes first.”

The baby has been referred to as “Posato” by the Formosa Quartet for over 7 months.  Two days ago, Ru Pei gave birth to a beautiful boy and sent us this photo in an email titled “Posato”.  It’s no wonder that he is the embodiment of calm e minor.

Congratulations, Ru Pei and Robert!!!!


We still don’t know his real name…




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Fall adventures, Part 1 Sun, 10 Nov 2013 01:20:44 +0000 Wayne Continued]]> Sorry for the long lull in blogging! SO much has happened since our last post. Where to begin?

In September, we spent ten days at Avaloch Farm, a new musicians’ retreat in Boscawen, New Hampshire. Deb Sherr and Fred Tauber have created something as close to heaven as we can imagine. With no strings attached: we were given our own private rehearsal studio where we rehearsed to our hearts’ content.


FQ rehearsing at Avaloch Farm!

FQ rehearsing at Avaloch Farm!

Three times a day, we battled it out with mountains of heaven food made by virtuoso chef Deborah Lepow. The food usually won, but we always fought the good fight.

Heaven food.

Heaven food.

Chef Deborah - this woman has some serious knife skills.

Chef Deborah – a woman with some serious knife skills.


We went canoeing and kayaking at the pond nearly every afternoon.

No words.

No words.

And then there were the wonderful new friends we made and the epic games of Mafia that lasted well into the night…

Are you mafia?

Are you mafia?

Avaloch, we miss you, and we can’t wait to be back!

It would have been difficult to leave under any circumstances, but amazingly enough, our two weeks together ended with a 24-hour jaunt over to Blue Hill, Maine, where we gave the last concert of Kneisel Hall’s summer season. I know we all had a good time, but Kneisel Hall is especially dear to me, having spent four unforgettable summers there as a student.



Writing about the deep impressions that these two wonderful summer retreats made on us reminds me of how important our work in Taiwan is with FCMF, and how many lives we can affect — in the same way that we’ve been affected with our summer festival experiences — if we manage to keep our festival going year after year.

Stay tuned for an update about our October trip to LA and San Diego!

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Formosa Chamber Music Festival 2013 Tue, 27 Aug 2013 06:22:06 +0000 Jasmine Continued]]>  


21 students, 12 days, an immeasurably rich experience.  There were firsts for everyone involved — the first time playing chamber music (for some students), the first time playing any chamber piece by Brahms (for the student Brahms trio group), the first time in Asia (for Wayne), the first time seeing magnifying glasses provided at a restaurant table (for Jasmine), the first time seeing white buns with black sesame seeds in a McDonald’s sandwich (Wayne), the first time we rehearsed with 40 eyes staring at us from 3 feet away (for us faculty).


open faculty rehearsal for FCMF students

open quintet rehearsal for students — Formosa Quartet & violist Robert Meyer


The students were amazing — receptive, ardent, earnest.  In a Mozart “Dissonant” coaching, Wayne explained that one particular sforzando should be warmer, not harsh.  Not having an over-abundance of Mandarin words in his vocabulary, he illustrated by lying on the floor, pretending to hit the floor with his head, saying “ouch! — no”, and then pretending to lay his head on a soft pillow, “ahh”.  Soon thereafter he discovered in 1st violinist Simba’s score, over the said sforzando, the words “like pillow not hard to bed”.


Wayne Lee coaches Simba Tu

Wayne Lee coaches violinist Simba Tu


Everyone wore festival T-shirts on our free day.  For dinner that night, Taiwanese aborigines came and roasted a pig for 4 hours.  We ate pork, played for the president of Dong Hua University and his wife, and celebrated three students’ August birthdays with a cake consisting of 1) remarkably smooth chocolate and 2) satisfyingly contrasting crispy chocolate wafer.  Earlier that day, the students were given a tour of the Hualien lakes.


our students all wearing festival T-shirts, on their free-day outing in Hualien

students all wearing festival T-shirts on their free-day outing in Hualien


There were toads on the stone pathway from the music building to the eating area, Jonathan’s Living Room, every time it rained.  We caught them with our hands.  The coachings were intense, sometimes starting with unforeseen instrument problems compounded by the absence of a repair shop in Hualien.  Student Chieh An’s bow hair exploded on the first day, and Dwo Chia’s violin had a mysterious buzz which Teacher Robert fixed by placing paper under the A string.  The students played very well in the concerts, making us proud.  It was an adventuresome, unforgettable time.


group photo after final student concert

group photo after final student concert




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The Ballad of Rupei Yeh Fri, 14 Jun 2013 13:25:16 +0000 Wayne Continued]]> My first post! Looking forward to many more. Is it possible that Jasmine unwittingly started a new Formosa Quartet tradition last week?

Happy birthday to our fabulous cellist!



Long, long ago, in a faroff land,
in the city of Taipei,
Was born a maiden that we know
By the name of Rupei Yeh.
This maiden was a clever one
(A whiz kid, you might say):
Her talent at the cello grew
More evident by the day
Until her parents had no choice
But to send her far away
To study with the masters
In the good ol’ USA.

Grow and grow she did indeed,
Our heroine Rupei Yeh,
At NEC and Juilliard, too -
She practiced every day!
She got so good, the cello was
To her mere child’s play.
That’s why she’s now a member of
The Phil with Carter Brey
Livin’ out the American dream
In the good ol’ USA.

Meanwhile, in her private life,
She found some male… prey -
I’ll skip the lurid details
But he became her fiancé!
They’re married now, and Robert (that’s his name)
Is day-by-day
Becoming more just like his wife
Much to his dismay:
From goofy grins and bobbling heads
To humor (quite risqué)…
I jest! No, really, they’re quite sweet,
Both Robert and Rupei,
And happily a couple
In their NYC chalet.

We’re not done yet! There’s one more part
In this account of Yeh:
She has a group, a fine quartet
With whom she likes to play.
Her colleagues’ names are Wayne and Cheyen -
Brian, as some say -
And Jasmine, and they love her dearly
Each and every day.
But on this day, especially,
They all want to convey
A most heartfelt and fond salute:
Happy birthday, Rupei!


Practice, practice, practice!

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June 4, 2013 Tue, 04 Jun 2013 15:16:26 +0000 Jasmine Continued]]>  


An old poem of mine:








Some more.



Something new.

Some words.  A few words.



Is there someone?



I see him sometimes.










And a new one, birthday present to Wayne on this momentous day, 6/4/13!








Some 2 months and a year ago today

3/4 Formosa Quartet sat on a bench on Central Park West.

Dogs went past.  ”That’s a good dog,” Wayne would say.


We saw a Lab and a Pug.  Both, “Good”.  We saw a gray

Blue Lacy who was “Really good”.  Not so, the sprightly dressed

Pomeranian.  That was some 2 months and a year ago today–


the sun was bright; we were on lunch break.  Ru Pei

sat to my right.  We weren’t sure why some dogs failed the test,

but “That’s a good dog”, “That’s not a good dog”, Wayne continued to say.


We three split chive dumplings, scallion pancakes; Cheyen had to stay

and teach.  I was taking a sip of blood orange Italian soda when “Best

dog ever” was proclaimed — 2 months and a year ago today.


Hugely adorable Golden Retriever.  I had to agree.  But hey,

I kept protesting, it’s not their fault, the unattractive ones!  Wayne confessed

the pronouncements did reflect the owners more.  ”A good dog”, he’d say,


“is a happy one.”  We went back to rehearse the Dvorak we had to play

next night.  There are the literal dogs in this story.  And the rest?

Of Wayne, born 0 months and 30 years ago today,

“That’s a good dog”, a giant human eyeing him would say.



Blue Lacy

Blue Lacy



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Unwordiness Tue, 30 Apr 2013 11:45:40 +0000 Jasmine Continued]]>  


Jasmine shares her newly revised bio.




Muses Galore



What is at the music’s core?

Rehearsing with Trio Voce, I tell

them “wait” as I look at the score


while my Formosa Quartet, made up of four

(me plus three who mock my lack of a cell

phone), also loves digging our way to the music’s core.


As Assistant Concertmaster of Cincinnati Symphony I wore,

in concerts, a red clip in my hair.  They could — and did — yell

at me.  But I scuttled home to look at a Gurrelieder score.


In my Chicago Chamber Musicians & Grammy nomination (ignore

the fancy words; we love Mozart Clarinet Quintet and play it well)

we examined another genius’ musical core –


it’s a marvelous life, even if practicing makes my neck sore.

I’m thankful for my 1662 violin and its bell-like lake of Bel

Canto liquidness.  We make careers of studying scores;


yet I’ve suddenly achieved a lot more

in writing this bio as a maddening villanelle.

What’s the makeup of the music’s core?

I’ll close the poem and open a score.




Gurrelieder score

Gurrelieder score




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Interview with Shmuel Ashkenasi Sat, 23 Mar 2013 14:35:55 +0000 Jasmine Continued]]>  

Jasmine: You’re on tape right now.

Shmuel: Oh I see, OK. (chuckles) (pause) In that case, I’m nervous.

Ru Pei: Some of the questions might be stupid. So I hope you don’t mind?

Shmuel: Some of the answers may be stupid too.

Ru Pei: OK, so… What do you do when you’re not motivated to practice?

Shmuel: You practice unmotivated-ly.

Ru Pei: OK, so, you’re sitting in front of the TV, and you just turn it off and get yourself–

Shmuel: You know, you know, my feeling is that if you’re a member of a quartet, the most that you can do for the quartet is to study the score and practice your part. There is no shortcut for that. And that has obvious reasons… but the un-obvious reason is that when you know the score, and when you practice your part, you accept criticism better. If you are not prepared musically, knowing the score, or technically, practicing your part, then if somebody tells you, and you know already that you are not prepared, you get defensive. And that wastes a lot of energy and… time.


So when you sit in front of the television, and you’re not motivated, just think of your colleagues — that it’s a very selfish act not to practice. Practice artificially — and if you love the piece that you’re playing, that should motivate you to look at the score and get to know it better. And if you don’t love the piece, don’t play it, or don’t play music. Either don’t play the piece or don’t play music.

No one has had more difficulty practicing than I. No one. Really. No one. But because I know I have this problem… when I was a member of the quartet, when we planned the repertoire for the following season, I started practicing already a year in advance. Because I knew that I cannot practice a lot. So I would practice already a year in advance. All my life I’ve done that. I practice in small increments, but very very early. You can rationalize, “Well there is still a year, or there is still 2 months, so I have a lot of time”– but knowing that I’m also not motivated… It’s not actually that you’re not motivated — very often there is a psychological resistance to practicing. It may be because your parents pushed you to practice and you resisted, and now you’re free, and nobody will tell you what to do, and so on… But it’s a very selfish act, not to practice for the quartet.

Ru Pei: What was the most memorable trip you took with the quartet?

Shmuel: Gosh, I’m not prepared for the question… Um… There were so many memorable trips — I — I would say — what comes to my mind is, the very first time we played the Beethoven cycle. I think it was in Geneva… and I was very very excited, very very nervous, very scared, because we existed for 39 years as a quartet, but we didn’t do the cycle until we were 30 years old. So for 30 years (pause)… we played the Beethoven quartets a lot, but never as a cycle. A lot of it had to do with the fact that we had changes in the quartet and so… you know when you have changes you don’t have any repertoire. That was a big part of it, but also, you know — it’s very — it’s very demanding on the other repertoire, because you cannot do only Beethoven. Many many clients don’t want only Beethoven. So you still have to have 3 programs plus the 3 programs of Beethoven. When we did it, we did use a lot of Beethoven in our regular programs, so we didn’t have to do more than necessary. But I think that was the most memorable trip, because I looked with a lot of anticipation and excitement to play the Beethoven cycle.

Ru Pei: What do you find most challenging about quartet playing?

Shmuel: (pause) Um, this may sound — this may sound– a little bit crazy, but I found always to have mutual respect the most difficult thing in the quartet.

Obviously, if you don’t have respect you shouldn’t play with anyone. But even if you have respect, every once in a while, one colleague may say something that is totally stupid, and another colleague may say something that is extremely profound, very prepared, very much related to what you think about the score. And you have to treat both of them equally. And that is artificial and very difficult. That has been very difficult for me over the years. But it’s something that you really need to do. You cannot say to your colleague, “This is just stupid.” So you treat each with as much respect — which is artificial because you don’t respect the idea — here and there, you know — it’s not everything, because if it’s everything, then you shouldn’t play with this member. But that has been the most difficult for me, is to pretend to respect something that you don’t respect. But it’s necessary to do in the quartet; otherwise you will not have… you will not have peace.

(pause) If I gave you 500 guesses, what is the most difficult, you would not have thought of that one, I’m sure!

Cheyen: What is your proudest achievement outside of music?

Shmuel: That’s easy. My proudest achievement is my job as a father. There is no doubt about that. I feel very proud as a father, and with the job that I did with my kids.

Cheyen: If the world is going to end on Dec. 21st, 2012, what is one thing that you would like to experience before its too late?

Shmuel: (pause) Uh, none of your business. (chuckles) (loud laughter from everyone) Gosh… I can’t answer that because I… you know, it’s hypothetical. You know. Hypothetical… so I don’t know. (pause)

Actually, I know what I would like to do, but it’s very personal, it’s kind of metaphysical, or religious, or something that (pause) — is not easy to share. So if you don’t mind, I will pass.

I’d to hear a little bit about the teachers that you studied with.

Shmuel: I studied with Ilona Feher, the teacher of Zukerman and Shlomo Mintz and many Israeli violinists. She was my second teacher; my first teacher was my uncle. And according to her wish that I never study with him because she had to destroy everything that he taught me and start from new. Then I came to the United States and I studied with Zimbalist, and Eto who was his assistant, and… that’s the only official teachers that I had, but… when I was at Curtis, there was a very big Heifetz craze. Everybody was listening to Heifetz. But I listened to — the two artists that I listened to a lot — were Maria Callas and Fischer-Dieskau. They influenced me more than any teacher or anybody. I listened a lot to them, and when they performed in New York I went to their concerts. Now, looking back, I find that both of them were not as great as I thought at the time. But they were great enough. They– they really influenced me a lot.

Wayne: Can you tell me a little bit more about Zimbalist?

Shmuel: He was quite old, and quite deaf. Not entirely deaf, and not entirely old, but quite. And he was… he had, I think, 3 extraordinary qualities. (pause) One quality that was very unique, was that it was important for him to preserve the student’s individuality. So, by coincidence, three of us, John Dalley, myself, and Hidetaro Suzuki– I don’t know if you know, he was a Japanese student who concertmaster of Indianapolis for a long time — we happened to play, one afternoon, Glazunov concerto, one after the other. It just happened. The pianist was Billy Sokoloff who was Mrs. Sokoloff’s husband (he played for our classes). He told me how amazing it was how different we played, and he [Zimbalist] did not change that. I mean he changed things, but he didn’t change the style, or the approach, or the tempo, or whatever. So that was one of his greatest qualities — because many many teachers — their students sound similar, if not the same. But with Zimbalist it was unique that we — obviously we have something in common, but… so that was a great quality.

Another quality that he had was that he did not listen to the same piece very long. He would listen 2 weeks, 3 weeks, and then would ask you to bring it again in 6 months or in a year. And that had a very very positive effect, because (pause)… you know, if you bring a piece to, let’s say, 75% of your capability, to make it 76, takes so much effort. But if you wait 6 months or a year, not only is the piece more fresh because you haven’t just practiced it for 3 weeks, but you’ve developed, presumably, so — then — to improve on the level that you were, is much easier. So that was very very good.

(pause) The worst thing about Mr. Zimbalist was that he was too nice. You know… I studied with him for almost 6 years, and the meanest thing he ever told me was, “I’d like to hear it again”. When he said “I’d like to hear it again”, it means that it really sucked. That– was very gentle. He could be cynical, and he sometimes hurt my feelings because he made fun of pieces that I loved… or an artist that Ioved — he could be very cynical. But he was very very gentle, and very gentleman-ly. (pause) But he didn’t teach all that much, because most of us played quite well, and he was… fairly deaf when I came to him. So I don’t know how he was, earlier.

Jasmine: Jan 11 is your birthday. What birthday present would you like to receive?

Shmuel: I would like… I would like, uh, that there should be peace in the Middle East. (laughter from all) That’s what I would like. There is an old viola joke about a very bad violist. I don’t know if you know it, so I’ll tell it. It’s apropos. (tells joke)



Shmuel Ashkenasi

Shmuel Ashkenasi



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