10th Anniversary Concert by Clarke Bustard
From The Richmond Times-Dispatch
Thursday, March 30, 2000
by Clarke Bustard
The Shanghai Quartet marked its 10th anniversary at the
University of Richmond last night by introducing music
thats recalls the darkest years of the recent history
of China, homeland of three of the ensembles.
"Silent Temple," the Fourth String Quartet of the
Chinese-American composer Bright Sheng, evokes the
atmosphere and historical echos of an abandoned
Buddhist monastary that Sheng visited during the
Cultural Revolution, tha Maoist campaign to eradicate
Western influences and traditional Chinese culture.
This compact and extraordinarily intense four-movement
work can be heard as representational music, as monks'
chants and the plucked string slides of Chinese fiddles
are interrupted and ultimately dispersed by the stark
chords in march time, representing the invading Red Guards.
The composer prefers to cast it as a recollection
filtered through the imagination into music - "almost
like in a dream," he said in introductory remarks last
The Shanghai, which received the finished score just
10 days ago, played with deep concentration and
apparent ease in negotiating Shengs complex textures
and juxtapositions of tone and resonant silence.
"Silent Temple," which the ensemble will play again
April 19 at the Freer Gallery in Washington (the Freer
and UR co-commisioned the work), sounds on the first
hearing to be a potent sequel-in-miniature to Sheng's
best known work, "H'un (Lacerations): In Memorium,
1966-1976," a symphonic sound portrait of the Cultural
Revolution written in 1989.
The Shanghai - Violinists Weigang Li and Yiwen Jiang,
violist Hongang Li and cellist James Wilson - bracketed
last nights premiere with two staples of their
repertory: Beethoven's Quartet in C minor Op. 18, No.
4, and Mozart's Quartet in D Major, K. 499.
Their performance of the Beethoven was an object lesson
in the generation of tension not with volume or speed
but through the judicious use of rhythmic accents and
dynamism and expressive exploitation of harmonic changes.
The ensemble played the Mozart, a warmer, lighter
artifact of this composer as master craftsman rather
than inspired melodist, to the Nth degree of elegance.
The interplay of tunes and figures sounded like the
musical equivalent of four perfectly formed, perfectly
graceful felines at play.
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