Shanghai Quartet brings Tulsa crowd to its feet by James D. Watts Jr.
From Tulsa World
The Shanghai String Quartet has its own name for the music from
most popular CD, “Chinasong.”
“We call it ‘The Eraser,’ ” said Weigang Li, the group’s first
violinist, during a conversation prior to the quartet’s Tulsa debut
performance Sunday at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.
“We have to be careful about where we place it in a program, because
audiences respond so strongly to this music,” he said. “It makes them
forget everything we might play during the concert.”
Three selections from “Chinasong” — second violinist Yi-Wen Jiang’s
arrangements for string quartet of works derived from Chinese folk
songs — were at the center of the ensemble’s program Sunday.
And the near-capacity crowd in the PAC’s Williams Theatre certainly
responded strongly tothese finely crafted, beautifully melodic
The first, titled “ Yao Dance,” was perhaps the most obviously
“Chinese” of the three, with the quartet evoking — rather than simply
mimicking — the sound and tone of traditional Chinese instruments to
create that uniquely metallic, elastic sound of Chinese music.
On the other hand, “Shepherd’s Song” had a lush, sweeping melody
would not have
sounded out of place in a Golden-Age Broadway musical.
Only some unexpected twists in the harmony revealed its Oriental
origins, while “Harvest Dance” was an energetic romp, with cellist
Nicholas Tzavaras providing a bit of percussion by thumping on his
But the rest of the program — Mozart’s Quartet in F Major, K. 590,
the Quartet in A-fl at Major, Op. 105 by Dvorak — was performed with
such passion and intelligence that not even the selections from
“Chinasong” could obscure the accomplishment.
These two quartets were written near the end of their respective
composers’ lives, and there was a valedictory air to the way the
Shanghai Quartet approached this music.
That was especially true in the Mozart, which was infused with a
of unshakeable melancholy from Tzavaras’ opening solo through the
finale, which concluded not with a shout but with a resigned sigh.
What was striking about the quartet’s playing was their balance
between a uni- fied group sound and maintaining distinctly individual
voices. This was helped by Tzavaras’ often assertive playing, and the
contrast between the sharp, clear tones of the violins of Weigang Li
and Yi-Wen Jiang and the rougher, woody sound from Honggang Li’s
The Dvorak quartet was more of a rampage — a nervous, unsettling
movement, a rampaging second, a contemplative third, building up to a
final mad dance.
This performance brought the crowd to its feet, and the quartet
responded with an encore — the second movement of Ravel’s String
Quartet in F Major.
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