Shanghai Quartet to open Music Series at Akin 2019 season

Shanghai Quartet to open Music Series at Akin 2019 season

One of the world's foremost chamber ensembles will open the ninth season of the Music Series at Akin at Midwestern State University. The Shanghai Quartet, known for its impressive technique and multicultural innovations, will perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8, at MSU's Akin Auditorium.

Formed at the Shanghai Conservatory in 1983, the quartet has a long history of championing new music and juxtaposing traditions of Eastern and Western music. Violinists Weigang Li and Yi-Wen Jiang, violist Honggang Li, and cellist Nicholas Tzavaras make up the quartet. They will perform selected movements of Joseph Haydn's String Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4, and String Quartet No. 1 in E minor by Bedrich Smetana.

They also will perform a revision of Feng Ya Song by Academy Award- and Grammy-winning composer Tan Dun. One of the Chinese composer's first major works, Feng Ya Song was written while he was studying at Beijing's Central Conservatory of Music in 1982. He received second prize at Dresden's Weber Awards in 1983 for the piece, making him the first Chinese composer to win an international prize since 1949.

While the work was viewed by the Chinese government as a protest because of its blending of Western and Eastern melodies, its success enabled Dun to leave China. He has since composed many acclaimed opera and film scores, and chamber and orchestral works. He received the Oscar and Grammy for his work on 1996's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

In 2018, quartet members approached Dun to revisit Feng Ya Song, as it had not been published internationally. The Shanghai Quartet premiered the revised version of Feng Ya Song earlier this year.

The quartet has performed more than 2,000 concerts in 30 countries and recorded 34 CDs. For the 2019-20 season alone, performances include Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the Festival Pablo Casals in France, and Beethoven cycles for the Brevard Music Center, the Beethoven Festival in Poland, and throughout China. For the past five years, filmmakers have traveled around the world with the Shanghai Quartet to produce a full-length documentary film, Behind the Strings, which is in the post-production stage.

Violinist Weigang Li began studying violin at age 5 and was featured in the 1979 Academy Award-winning documentary From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China. He is violin professor at Montclair State University and Bard College Conservatory of Music. He also is guest concertmaster of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra.

Violinist Yi-Wen Jiang also began playing the violin at an early age, and won the top prize at the first China Youth Violin Competition in 1981. He has arranged more than 50 string quartet compositions, many with both Eastern and Western influences. He teaches at Montclair and Bard College.

Honggang Li, viola, is the brother of violinist Weigang Li. He and his brother co-founded the quartet while he trained at the Shanghai Conservatory. In 1987, Honggang won a 1757 DeCable violin at the First Paolo Borciani International Competition in Italy. He is artist-in-residence at Montclair and has been guest principle violist of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra since 2009.

Cellist Nicholas Tzavaras's family was the subject of the film Music of the Heart that starred Meryl Streep. He is a native of New York City, and has toured the globe as a chamber musician, soloist, and educator for 20 years. He joined the quartet in 2000. He is guest principle cellist for the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and coordinator of the string department and artist-in-residence at Montclair.

The quartet members perform on rare instruments from the 1700s by Stradivari, Guarneri, Goffriller, and Guadagnini, loaned through Beare's International Violin Society to honor the quartet's 35th anniversary.

The Music Series at Akin is sponsored by Joe and Dale Prothro, the Perkins-Prothro Foundation with the Lamar D. Fain College of Fine Arts at MSU. It debuted in spring 2012 with pianist Yefim Bronfman. Cellist Alisa Weilerstein; pianists Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung; and ensembles such as the Faure Quartett, Emerson String Quartet, Miro Quartet, Montrose Trio, and Escher Quartet, among other notable musicians, have been guests of the series.

Tickets may be purchased by contacting the MSU Department of Music in the Fain Fine Arts Center at 940-397-4267 or visiting the Fine Arts tickets web page. General admission tickets are $25 for each performance. Tickets for senior citizens and military are $22.50.

Photo courtesy of California Artists Management