Sunday, April 28, 2013, 4pm
Saint Anthony Park United Church of Christ
Pre-concert Discussion • 3pm
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“The whole performance was superb.” - The New York Times
Weigang Li, violin
Yi-Wen Jiang, violin
Honggang Li, viola
Nicholas Tzavaras, cello
Renowned for its passionate musicality, impressive technique and multicultural innovations, the Shanghai Quartet has become one of the world's foremost chamber ensembles. Its elegant style melds the delicacy of Eastern music with the emotional breadth of Western repertoire, allowing it to traverse musical genres including traditional Chinese folk music, masterpieces of Western music and cutting-edge contemporary works.
Formed at the Shanghai Conservatory in 1983, the Quartet has worked with the world's most distinguished artists and regularly tours the major music centers of Europe, North America and Asia. Recent festival performances range from the International Music Festivals of Seoul and Beijing to the Festival Pablo Casals in France, Beethoven Festival in Poland, Yerevan Festival in Armenia and Cartagena International Music Festival in Colombia, as well as numerous concerts in all regions of North America. The Quartet has appeared at Carnegie Hall in chamber performances and with orchestra; in 2006 they gave the premiere of Takuma Itoh's Concerto for Quartet and Orchestra in Carnegie Hall's Isaac Stern Auditorium. Among innumerable collaborations with noted artists, they have performed with the Tokyo, Juilliard and Guarneri Quartets, cellists Yo-Yo Ma and Lynn Harrell, pianists Menahem Pressler, Peter Serkin and Jean-Yves Thibaudet, pipa virtuosa Wu Man and the male vocal ensemble Chanticleer. The Shanghai Quartet have been regular performers at many of North America's leading chamber music festivals, including the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and Chamberfest Ottawa
The Quartet has a long history of championing new music and juxtaposing traditions of Eastern and Western music. Their 25th anniversary season featured premieres from the three continents that comprise its artistic and cultural worlds: Penderecki's String Quartet No. 3: Leaves From an Unwritten Diary, Chen Yi's From the Path of Beauty, String Quartet No. 2 by Vivian Fung and jazz pianist Dick Hyman's String Quartet. The Penderecki was performed on the composer's 75th birthday in Poland. U.S. premieres were at Peak Performances, Montclair State University and the Modlin Center, University of Richmond followed by numerous performances worldwide. String Quartet No. 3 will be featured in Poland for the composer's 80th birthday celebration in November 2013. Chen Yi's From the Path of Beauty, commissioned with Chanticleer, was premiered in San Francisco, followed by performances at Tanglewood and Ravinia, Beijing and Shanghai. Other important commissions and premieres include works by Lowell Lieberman, Sebastian Currier, Marc Neikrug, Lei Liang, Zhou Long and Bright Sheng. Sheng's Dance Capriccio premiered in spring 2012 with pianist Peter Serkin. Later that year, Sweet Suite, a piano quintet by Stephen Prutsman had its premiere with the composer at the piano. Dan Welcher's Museon Polemos for double quartet premieres in September 2012 with the Miro Quartet at the University of Texas at Austin. For the Quartet's 30th Anniversary season in 2013, the La Jolla SummerFest has commissioned a sextet for piano, string quartet and bass from David Del Tredici, and Korean composer, Jeajoon Ryu has composed a concerto for string quartet and symphony orchestra.
The Shanghai Quartet has an extensive discography of more than 30 recordings, ranging from the Schumann and Dvorak piano quintets with Rudolf Buchbinder to Zhou Long's Poems from Tang for string quartet and orchestra with the Singapore Symphony (BIS). Delos released the Quartet's most popular disc, Chinasong, in 2003: a collection of Chinese folk songs arranged by Yi-Wen Jiang reflecting on his childhood memories of the Cultural Revolution in China. In 2009 Camerata released the Quartet's recording of the complete Beethoven String Quartets, a seven-disc project.
A diverse and interesting array of media projects include a cameo appearance playing Bartok's String Quartet No. 4 in Woody Allen's film "Melinda and Melinda" and PBS television's Great Performances series. Violinist Weigang Li was in the documentary "From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China," and the family of cellist Nicholas Tzavaras was the subject of the 1999 film "Music of the Heart," starring Meryl Streep.
The Shanghai Quartet currently serves as Quartet-in-Residence at Montclair State University in New Jersey, Ensemble-in-Residence with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, and visiting guest professors of the Shanghai Conservatory and the Central Conservatory in Beijing.
Audience favorites, the Shanghai Quartet returns to Music in the Park Series with an exciting program. Renowned for its passionate musicality, impressive technique and multicultural innovations, the Shanghai Quartet is one of the world’s foremost chamber ensembles. Its elegant style melds the delicacy of Eastern music with the emotional breadth of Western repertoire, allowing it to traverse musical genres from traditional Chinese folk music and masterpieces of Western music to cutting-edge contemporary works. For this concert, Weigang Li, violin, Yi-Wen Jiang, violin, Honggang Li, viola, and Nicholas Tzavaras, cello, perform quartets by Schubert, Neikrug, Bartok and Beethoven.
|Quartettsatz in C minor, D. 703||Schubert
|"Song of the Ch'in" (1982)||Zhou Long
|String Quartet No. 4, Sz. 91
|String Quartet in A minor, Opus 132||Beethoven
Quartettsatz, D. 703
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
"Quartet Movement" is the translation of the German, and it's a description, not an actual title. It may be best to think of the 1820 Quartettsatz as the first movement of a four-movement unfinished quartet, for there is a 40-bar sketch of an Andante. Schubert scholar Brian Newbould considers the C-minor Quartet a tragedy comparable to the abandonment of the Unfinished Symphony. "It is one of the great mysteries of these years of fast maturing that even when [Schubert] produced music of such miraculous certainty. . . his recognition of its supreme quality did not compel him through to its final completion." Even so, the fragment marks his coming of age as a composer of instrumental music. There are many striking features in this knotty ten-minute piece. The opening is a maelstrom, a furious energy that never completely abates, sustained through a variety of restive inner-voice figures. A second idea in A-flat soon appears, possibly a parody of a quartet from an opera by Grétry. But the third theme is utterly magical: marked ppp and further enhanced when played up an octave over plucked cello. Some six minutes later, the passage returns as if aged in oak. Schubert experiments with spacing, moving the first violin to the bass and placing the cello on top. And because the maelstrom theme has never really gone away, there is no need to recap it.
String Quartet No. 4, Sz. 91
Béla Bartók (1881-1945)
Bartók's six string quartets span 30 years, and are now regarded as the most significant works in the genre since Beethoven. The Fourth Quartet is the most concentrated, perhaps the most original, and certainly the most challenging for the listener. The composer visited Saint Paul on his first American tour in 1928, the year he wrote the Fourth Quartet, Bartók's music was tending toward abstraction at that time, influenced by composers as diverse as Alban Berg and Frescobaldi. But the irregular meters, modes and phrasing of folk song were still a potent source of inspiration. "The work is in five movements," Bartók tells us. "The slow movement is the kernel of the work; the other movements are, as it were, arranged in layers around it. Movement IV is a free variation of II, and I and V have the same thematic material." No one would describe the tonality of the Fourth Quartet as C major, but its tonal focus, from the first note, is C. The musical syntax is built from motives rather than themes. The principal motive has the rhythm: "Gridlock in Washington!" Bartók invents a striking development in the coda: as the loud, hammered motive grows shorter, a soft-stroked chordal phrase grows longer. If the outer movements are crunchy, the second and fourth tend toward the soft side of the dynamic spectrum, calling for mutes and plucked strings respectively. Bartók discovers a sonority so distinctive it has become known as the "Bartók pizz": the string is pulled away from the fingerboard, then released with a thwack! Although the Prestissimo begins and ends clearly on E, glissando and bowing near-the-bridge threaten to nullify the sense of tonality. But the music is not without humor. In the second theme, one can hear the buzz of bees on a hot summer day. As Bartók lays out the cool background of the third movement, he carefully indicates where the players should or should not vibrate. Solo cello enters and plays in the spaces between and around these notes. The central section—the "kernel"—is one of Bartók's great nocturnal landscapes. Strident bowed chords, clashing seconds, clanging open strings: the rondo-like fifth movement recalls the brutal rhythms of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. The quartet concludes with the same music that ended the first movement.
Zhou Long: "Song of the Ch'in" (1982)
Zhou Long is internationally recognized for creating a unique body of music that brings together the aesthetic concepts and musical elements of East and West. Born into an artistic family, Zhou Long was sent to a rural state farm during the Cultural Revolution, where the bleak landscape with roaring winds and ferocious wild fires made a profound and lasting impression. He resumed his musical training in 1973, and in 1977 enrolled in the first composition class at the reopened Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. Zhou Long attended Columbia University, where he studied with Chou Wen-Chung, Mario Davidovsky and George Edwards, receiving the DMA in 1993. Zhou Long was awarded the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his first opera,Madame White Snake. He is married to the composer-violinist Chen Yi.
The ‘ch’in' is a traditional Chinese seven-stringed zither, long associated with sages and scholars. The technique of ‘ch’in' playing includes various timbres, ornaments and ways of plucking the strings. In this composition for string quartet, Zhou captures the essence of these special musical gestures frequently found in ‘ch’in' music.
Quartet in A minor, Opus 132
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
A Russian prince and amateur cellist, Nikolas Galitzin of St. Petersburg, asked Beethoven in November 1822 to compose "one, two or three new quartets" for him. "Since you are cultivating the violoncello," Beethoven replied, "I will take care to give you satisfaction in this regard." Only after the May 1824 premiere of the Ninth Symphony was Beethoven free to work on the quartets in earnest, completing Opus 132 in July of 1825. In the meantime, though, he suffered serious intestinal trouble, and moved on doctor's orders to the fresh air of Baden bei Wien. On May 29 he noted in his conversation book a "Hymn of Thanksgiving to God." As Maynard Solomon observes, "We do not need a close analysis to tell us that the subject matter of this quartet is pain and its transcendence." For Joseph Kerman, the quartet represents a "single realized journey." That journey unfolds in five movements, a novel structure imitated by many, Bartók among them. A sustained opening recalls the "Cross-motive" of the baroque: four mournful notes enclosing a wide skip. Violin tears across the texture, then cello joins to introduce a stepwise melody in dotted rhythms. The Cross-motive and the dotted idea are partners, sounding together in many forms. For Kerman, it is "the most evocative double-counterpoint in all music." Yet despite many attempts to rise—including a lovely second subject—the patient remains bedridden. Ideas from the first movement are released like a wind-up toy in the obsessive Allegro ma non tanto. "There is no other movement in Beethoven. . . which uses so little material so thoroughly," notes Kerman. A surreal trio introduces the drone of a hurdy-gurdy, then moves the downbeat one beat to the left. The listener is sure to be tripped up. The turning point is a "Hymn of gratitude by a convalescent to the Divinity." The hymn itself is a modified version of the "Old Hundredth" ("Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow"), but each phrase is preceded by a whispered contrapuntal caress. In his last years, Beethoven became interested in the old church modes. He chooses here the Lydian mode—the white piano keys from F to F—distinctive because its music seems to belong less to a key then to another world. Twice the convalescent feels "new strength," expressed by trills and a strong descending bass in D major. In the second verse of the hymn, the whispered music begins to interact with the hymn-tune. On the third round, it mingles with just the first phrase of the tune. The climactic C-major chord, widely spaced, affirms spiritual, if not actual strength. To relieve the great tension of the Hymn, Beethoven strikes up an utterly regular march, which breaks like a human voice into recitative. Beethoven's concluding rondo theme curiously resembles that of the bagatelle Für Elise. At the climax, violin and cello sing the theme together at a hysterical pitch, but it is the cello that decisively turns to the major mode. Prince Galitzin's commission was fulfilled, but Beethoven died before cashing the last check.
Program notes © 2013 by David Evan Thomas