Paying Homage to the Instruments

The Borealis String Quartet.
Story Rachel Reid

The Chi Mei Corporation, a Taiwanese company, established the Chi Mei Culture Foundation in 1977 using the corporation chairman’s private collection of artifacts. The foundation collects rare antiquities, among them a prominent and rare string instrument collection. Graced with the honour of playing these ancient instruments, the Borealis String Quartet is able to practise classical music using beautifully crafted works of art. This is a fine example of the Chi Mei Culture Foundation’s commitment to musical education, promotion, and patronage.

The Borealis String Quartet, quartet-in-residence at the University of British Columbia, has had the good fortune of acquiring four rare and historical instruments from the foundation. They have been lent two treble violins; a dark, rich-sounding viola; and a deep, warm-sounding cello. In addition to the instruments, the quartet was allowed to borrow four bows crafted by French bow-makers.

Yuel Yawney, a violinist in the quartet, explained that playing the rare artifacts inspires them to “seek out different colours and sounds” in their performance. Yawney and the other quartet members, cellist Shih-Lin Chen, violist Nikita Pogrebnoy, and second violinist Patricia Shih, felt “like kids in a candy store” while looking at and trying out the instruments of the collection in Taiwan. Being allowed access to such a collection, with 300-year-old instruments and master-crafted bows, is without a doubt a classical musician’s dream come true. “Most of the bows were crafted before Mozart’s day,” Yawney revealed.

The musicians were unfamiliar with each instrument’s individual history, but stated that most had been locked away in a vault for safekeeping. It was therefore an even rarer occurrence to be loaned these instruments, especially for yearlong use.

Although the quartet’s performance on March 3, 2007, was cancelled, three members came to the UBC Recital Hall to give lectures and quick instrumental demonstrations. One could not help being in awe while watching and listening to these musicians and their sample performances. Their zeal for music and passion for playing the instruments shone through, as did their gratitude to the Chi Mei Culture Foundation.