By LILY TINOCO | Reporter
Palisadian musicians Billy Tobenkin and Lydia Yun have taken on a new venture this year, moving from their Riviera lawn to Pacific Palisades backyards to serenade their neighbors.
Tobenkin—a lifelong Palisadian—started playing cello at the age of 25. He earned his bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing from Cornell University, where his fondness for modernist literature sparked an interest in classical music.
With no musical training or prior musical experience, Tobenkin decided to explore the genre through the cello. After lessons, he pursued a subsequent Bachelor of Music in cello performance from California State University, Northridge.
Yun began playing violin when she was three years old. She studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music and went on to earn her law degree at UCLA before ultimately returning to music and making it her profession.
Tobenkin and Yun hosted impromptu concerts in their front lawn last year as a way to uplift and connect with their neighbors during the COVID-19 pandemic. But as COVID-19 cases increased during the winter months, they said they had to put the music on pause.
“At one point 50, 60 people showed up,” Yun said to the Palisadian-Post.
“It was thrilling because it was … [an] appreciative, sweet crowd but on the other hand, it was a big crowd,” Tobenkin added. “People were really safe and respectful, but we didn’t want there to be any chance that something could happen.”
Since then, the couple has reworked their plans to offer intimate concerts at community members’ homes instead.
“We’re doing salon concerts in the style that they were done originally, like in the early 1800s … What we’ll do is we will go there and perform a set of music that we’ve chosen, and they can invite whoever they want, but it is not open to the public,” Tobenkin explained. “We play a mix-up of classical and contemporary songs. Recently what we’ve done is we’ll do one of the ‘Four Seasons’ by Vivaldi and after that, you might hear ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ by Guns n’ Roses.”
“There is just something about music being played in a more intimate setting, which is what I think people loved about the front yard concerts,” Yun said. “You weren’t in a big concert hall. It was a more intimate setting.”
Tobenkin and Yun said they are both vaccinated. Their string quartet, Cattus Quartet, which they perform with for corporate events and weddings, is also vaccinated. “Cattus” means “cat” in Latin, and this group of animal lovers donates a portion of all their proceeds to animal organizations.
“This seems like a safe way to continue doing [the concerts],” Tobenkin said.
The couple said they have performed a few times as a duo so far—from birthdays to graduations—and have received great feedback and interest from the community.
“It just goes to show that people really missed live music, and we’re really excited to continue bringing that to the Palisades,” Yun said to the Post.
“It means a tremendous amount, in a selfish way too, for us to share music,” Tobenkin said. “We felt incomplete as we weren’t really performing anymore. The other great thing is we met so many neighbors, so many people and formed connections … it’s a wonderful thing and I’m thrilled to be in contact with so many more people in the community.”
Tobenkin said what has made the experience even better is the opportunity to play alongside his wife, Yun.
“That was one of the biggest things that attracted me to music, that you can make music with friends, with loved ones,” he shared. “It’s a different type of experience and communication with the people you care about. It’s some of the times I’ve felt closest to my wife, when we’re playing music together. It’s really an incredible thing.”
For more information or to contact Tobenkin and Yun, visit popupstrings.com.
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