In 1983, Tan Dun was an unknown conservatory student in China who had come to composing as a largely self-taught musician, creating music despite the chill the Cultural Revolution cast over intellectual and artistic work. His composition Feng Ya Song, for string quartet, changed all that, winning a major international prize while at the same time being labeled as “spiritual pollution” by Chinese authorities. It was his ticket out, however, enabling him to move to New York three years later—and to become one of the most celebrated “world classical” composer, with acclaimed chamber and orchestral works, operas and film scores to his credit, including his Oscar-winning score for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).
Known for sensitively melding East and West, the Shanghai Quartet performs Tan Dun’s work alongside Haydn’s String Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4 and Beethoven’s String Quartet in E minor, Op.59, No. 2. (“Razumovsky”).
Tan Dun and the quartet members have been talking about doing projects together for at least six years. About two years ago, they at last found time to get together in Shanghai and make more concrete plans of doing a pretty sizable project. Tan Dun asked to include in the project the reworking of his very first string quartet which, while it was recorded in 1983 and won second place in the international Weber prize competition, has not often been played over the intervening decades. The new version revises passages and shortens the overall work in preparation for it being reintroduced to the world. The work is next scheduled to be performed March 7 at the Freer Gallery in Washington, DC, March 16 in Shanghai Symphony’s Chamber Hall. The Shanghai Quartet plans to program the piece dozens of times in the coming season.
Founded in 1983 by four students at the Shanghai Conservatory, the Shanghai Quartet is one of the world’s foremost chamber ensembles, renowned for an elegant, passionate style that encompasses Western masterworks, Asian music and contemporary compositions.
Critics have praised the quartet’s “charismatic, sensitive musicianship” (New York Classical Review), “ravishing beauty” (ConcertoNet) and “singing tone, a wide range of dynamics, and near perfect balance, all in the service of a well-thought-out conception of the work” (Maine Classical Review). Wrote the Boston Musical Intelligencer: “Aside from abundant technique, the rarest quality the Shanghai possess is an uncanny ability not only to produce a variety of sounds but also to evoke a variety of sound worlds, and invariably to find the perfect textural mixture to realize a composer’s intentions. … Watching the players trading solos like rockstars, one imagines Beethoven proud.”
Watch the Shanghai Quartet play Chinese Folk Songs at the Crossing Art Gallery in Flushing, Queens