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Kronos Quartet adds USC graduate as cellist

Sunny Jungin Yang, 28, will become the fifth cellist in the quartet's 40-year history when she replaces Jeffrey Zeigler.

February 28, 2013|By Deborah Vankin, Los Angeles Times
  • The Kronos Quartet will be getting a new member.
The Kronos Quartet will be getting a new member. (Michael Wilson )

San Francisco's Kronos Quartet will play musical chairs this spring.

A new cellist, USC graduate Sunny Jungin Yang will replace Jeffrey Zeigler, who is leaving Kronos to pursue solo projects and will join the faculty of Mannes College the New School for Music in New York.

Yang, 28, was born in Incheon, South Korea and grew up in Pretoria, South Africa. She studied at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Distinguished cellist Ralph Kirshbaum served as a mentor at Manchester, England's Royal Northern Conservatory of Music and USC, where Yang earned a master's degree in music.

She has performed a number of concerts around Los Angeles with USC's Thornton School but joining Kronos — which she says has been a key musical inspiration to her — is a momentous career leap.

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"I'm thrilled, just so honored," says Yang. "Contemporary music has been my passion for so many years and I really admire what they do, which is bringing something new to the audience."

Yang, who studied piano before falling in love with the cello, first heard Kronos perform live when she was a 16-year-old student at Michigan's Interlochen Arts Academy.

"I was speechless after the concert. I went out and bought all their CDs," Yang says. "Their energy, the pieces they performed — it wasn't Brahms or Beethoven or Bach. It was so different than anything I'd ever heard before. They had so much to say, it was so powerful."

Kronos was founded in 1973 by violinist David Harrington, who still plays with the quartet and serves as artistic director. It's had just four cellists in 40 years — Walter Gray, Joan Jeanrenaud (who had a 20-year run), Jennifer Culp and Zeigler. Yang will be its fifth.

"If everything Kronos stands for, or aspires to, could come together in one person, it would be Sunny Jungin Yang," Harrington says. "She's relentlessly curious and innovative by nature. She balances craft and precision with a level of passion that makes her unafraid to take risks. And her cultural breadth is staggering — she's lived on four continents: Asia, Africa, Europe and North America."

Chemistry is integral to an ensemble like Kronos, which changes members infrequently. Yang says her tryouts with Kronos were seamless. "There was good chemistry right from the beginning, the sound came together right away," she says.

Yang's debut with Kronos coincides with the quartet's 40th anniversary season. Kronos has commissioned more than 800 new works and arrangements.

For the upcoming 2013-14 season, it has commissioned new works from Kronos favorites Philip Glass, Aleksandra Vrebalov, Terry Riley and rock group the National's Bryce Dessner, as well as music from Swedish composer Karin Rehnqvist, Greek composer Magda Giannikou and electronica artist/DJ Amon Tobin, among others. It will also commission work from a still-unannounced emerging composer selected from its "Kronos Under 30" program.

Kronos tours for five months each season, though specific dates for the new season are not yet available. Zeigler will depart in May, and Yang will officially take his place in June.

Before Zeigler departs, Kronsos will do a 10th Anniversary tour of "Sun Rings," with a stop in Long Beach at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center on March 23.

deborah.vankin@latimes.com

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