Shanghai Quartet

Weigang Li, violin
Yi-Wen Jiang, violin
Honggang Li, viola
Nicholas Tzavaras, cello

Sunday, July 7, 2013, 4 pm

"The Shanghai's Return”


String Quartet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 18, No. 2, “Compliments” (1799)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)

Adagio cantabile — Allegro — Tempo I
Scherzo: Allegro
Allegro molto, quasi presto

String Quartet No. 6 in G Major, Op. 101 (1956)
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975)

Moderato con moto
Lento — Allegretto


String Quartet No. 14 in A Flat, Op. 105 (1895)
Antonin Dvořák (1841–1904)

Adagio ma non troppo — Allegro appassionato
Molto vivace
Lento e molto cantabile
Allegro non tanto


next week

Saturday, July 13, 6:30 pm:
Actors & Writers | Emoteworthy Shorts:
The Theatre Plays
Continuing Maverick’s theatrical tradition and heritage, members of this prestigious group are onstage again, this time with multiple original short plays with a theatrical flavor. Admission is by contribution only and Maverick tickets are not valid.

Sunday, July 14, 4 pm:
Voxare String Quartet
Music of Britten, Ned Rorem, and Tchaikovsky



Program Notes © 2013 by Miriam Villchur Berg*


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 from traditional Chinese folk music and masterpieces of Western music to cutting-edge contemporary works.

Formed at the Shanghai Conservatory in 1983, the Shanghai Quartet has worked with the world’s most distinguished artists and regularly tours the major music centers of Europe, North America, and Asia. Recent performances have ranged 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 throughout North America. The Quartet has appeared at Carnegie Hall in chamber performances and with orchestra. Among innumerable collaborations with noted artists, they have performed with the Tokyo, Juilliard, and Guarneri Quartets, Yo-Yo Ma, Lynn Harrell, Menahem Pressler, Peter Serkin, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Wu Man, and Chanticleer. They have been regular performers at many of the leading chamber music festivals in North America.

The Quartet has a long history of championing new music and juxtaposing Eastern and Western sounds. Important commissions and premieres include works by Lowell Lieberman, Sebastian Currier, Lei Liang, Marc Neikrug, Bright Sheng, Stephen Prutsman, Dan Welcher, and Zhou Long. A concerto for string quartet and symphony orchestra by Korean composer by Jeajoon Ryu will premiere in 2013 as part of the quartet’s 30th Anniversary season.

The Shanghai Quartet’s twenty-fifth anniversary season in 2008–2009 featured world premieres from the three continents that comprise its artistic and cultural worlds: Krzysztof Penderecki’s String Quartet No. 3, Chen Yi’s From the Path of Beauty, jazz pianist Dick Hyman’s String Quartet, and the String Quartet No. 2 by Vivian Fung. They will perform the Penderecki again in Poland for the composer’s eightieth birthday celebration in 2013.

The Shanghai Quartet has an extensive discography of more than thirty recordings. Releases range from the Schumann and Dvořák piano quintets to Zhou Long’s Poems from Tang for string quartet and orchestra with the Singapore Symphony. The Quartet’s most popular disc, Chinasong, is a collection of Chinese folk songs arranged by Yi-Wen Jiang, reflecting on his childhood memories of the Cultural Revolution in China. The Shanghai Quartet recorded the complete Beethoven String Quartets, a seven-disc project that was completed in 2009.

The Quartet has participated in a diverse and interesting array of media projects, from a cameo appearance playing Bartok’s String Quartet No. 4 in Woody Allen’s film Melinda and Melinda to PBS television’s Great Performances series. Violinist Weigang Li appeared 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.





When Beethoven arrived in Vienna at the age of twenty-two, he began composition studies with Josef Haydn, the established master of all forms of chamber and orchestral music. Relations between the emotional, angst-ridden Ludwig and his good-natured, easygoing teacher were never good, and lasted only a brief time. Nonetheless, when Beethoven began to compose string quartets, the influence of his former tutor could not help but come through. This is nowhere clearer than in the String Quartet in G Major, Op. 18, No. 2, his second effort in the genre. Musicians at the time gave it the nickname “Compliments,” meaning a polite greeting, because of its reserved and pleasant style.

The first movement (Allegro) is very Haydnesque with its uncomplicated, graceful, even playful themes. We can, however, hear the seeds of what Beethoven was to become. Even in this early quartet, he develops single motifs, each with its own rhythmic and melodic distinctiveness, to unify the movement.

The slow second movement (Adagio cantabile) begins with a lovely, but still formal, violin melody. In the middle of this calm, Beethoven inserts a totally unexpected fast section (Allegro). When the Adagio returns, the cello takes the lead. After all the strings have entered, the violin adds highly ornamented runs. The movement—far briefer than those of the composer’s later quartets—ends simply.

With the Scherzo (Allegro), we return to the courtly style, with a dotted staccato theme that is reminiscent of a minuet, the dance movement that was the precursor of the scherzo. The central Trio moves in sedate longer notes, like a promenade. As expected, the opening material returns to complete the ABA structure.

The cello opens the finale (Allegro molto, quasi presto) with a statement that is answered by the other strings. This dialogue pattern evolves into various forms of lively contrapuntal interplay between the four instruments. The music changes keys, stops momentarily to introduce new ideas, and changes to minor before returning to the opening dialogue and finishing with a flourish.

Dmitri Shostakovich was the victim of several critical attacks by the Stalinist government. In his memoirs he describes how most public figures kept a packed suitcase by the door, in case they were arrested in the middle of the night. Some doubt the authenticity of those smuggled memoirs, but whoever wrote them, they give a fascinating picture of life in that oppressive regime. Shostakovich’s fifteen symphonies and fifteen string quartets are considered some of the greatest music composed in the twentieth century, rich in emotional expressiveness and inner meaning.

In the String Quartet No. 6, Op. 101, he presents a sunny outlook in a combination of standard and modern scales and harmonies. In the first movement (Allegretto), listen for the first subject, based on a rising three-note motive that returns not only in the development and recapitulation, but in other movements as well. The second theme has a rising-then-falling contour. The standard G major harmonic accompaniment is occasionally interrupted by dissonant clashes. The Allegretto ends with a harmonious cadence that is repeated verbatim at the end of each

Shostakovich said that his teacher, Alexander Glazunov, told him, “Everything must be attractive in the scherzo, and, most important, unexpected.” Here the scherzo (Moderato con moto) has a carefree, dance-like feeling. It is full of unusual textures such as solos, duets, and pizzicato (plucked) accompaniments.

The Lento is a passacaglia—a form of theme and variations in which the melody is always in the bass part. A mournful Russian folk ballad joins the bass, and when the third part enters, the music begins to take on fugue-like qualities. Later variations are more chromatic and dissonant. When the final cadence—the same one used in each previous movement—arrives, it shocks us back into tonal reality.

That cadence is used as a springboard into the last movement, which starts without a pause. The Allegretto uses the rising three-note motive of the first movement as the seed from which both themes grow. We feel centered in the expected major key, and then the music veers off into uncharted regions, only to return from time to time to reestablish itself in G major, until we finally land on the familiar ground of that sweet cadence, already familiar from the first three movements.

Antonin Dvořák gave the world twenty-four completed chamber works. The String Quartet in A flat, Op. 105, was the last one he completed, and it represents the full flowering of his mature style. After this piece, he concentrated exclusively on operas and symphonic poems.

The slow introduction (Adagio ma non troppo) presents the main motif—a graceful turn, like a slowed-down trill, and a rising interval. In the main body of the first movement (Allegro appassionato) that figure is speeded up and transformed into a lilting theme. The second theme has a galloping rhythm, and the two are artfully intertwined. One technique for which Dvořák was known was the liberal use of double stops, which require that a string player bow two notes at the same time. In this way, he seems to make four melodic instruments sound like an entire orchestra.

Dvořák sets the Scherzo (Molto vivace) in the meter of a Bohemian dance known as the furiant. The melody has an Eastern European flavor with its minor mode and short, repeated motifs. For the central Trio, the mode changes to major and the meter to a graceful waltz. The wilder rhythm returns with the repeat of the molto vivace.

In the slow movement (Lento e molto cantabile), we can hear the influence of Brahms (Dvořák’s great benefactor) in the lush harmonies, but the melody is in Dvořák's own straightforward and individual style. The central section takes the song into darker, more dramatic territory. The recapitulation of the themes lightens the mood considerably with a staccato countermelody in the second violin and pizzicato (plucked) accompaniment.

The Finale (Allegro non tanto) is the longest movement. The cello opens a dialogue with some apprehensiveness, but the other instruments respond with confidence and reassurance. Dvořák began work on this quartet during his stay in the United States in the 1890s, and finished it after he had returned to his beloved homeland; this movement may therefore express both his longing for his birthplace and his gratitude at being home. Although there are many sections, the feeling of contentment runs throughout the movement. That contentment finally breaks into joyful excitement as the piece accelerates to the finish.

All program notes are copyright Miriam Villchur Berg. It is permissible to quote short excerpts for reviews. For permission to quote more extensive portions, or to copy,  publish, or make other use of these program notes, please contact her at Program Notes © 2013 by Miriam Villchur Berg