Known worldwide for its passionate musicality, impressive technique, and expansive repertoire melding the delicacy of Eastern music with the emotional breadth of the Western canon, the Shanghai Quartet is one of the world’s foremost chamber ensembles. From traditional Chinese folk music to masterpieces of Western musical literature to cutting edge contemporary works, the Quartet has expanded the musical palette of its devoted fans since its founding at the Shanghai Conservatory in 1983.
Poems from Tang
String Quartet no. 12
String Quartet no. 14 in A-flat Major, op. 105, B. 193
The Cultural Engagement program in Montclair State University’s Office of Arts and Cultural Programming involves students, faculty, and community members in creative and intellectually stimulating education events that connect audiences with artists from around the globe. All engagement events are free and open to the public. Click here to see our full list of engagement events for this season.
National Medal of Arts, Pulitzer Prize, and Grammy Award-winner William Bolcom (b. 1938) is an American composer of chamber, operatic, vocal, choral, and symphonic music.
Born in Seattle, Washington, he began composition studies at the age of 11 with George Frederick McKay and John Verrall at the University of Washington while continuing piano lessons with Madame Berthe Poncy Jacobson. He later studied with Darius Milhaud at Mills College while working on his Master of Arts degree, with Leland Smith at Stanford University while working on his D.M.A., and with Olivier Messiaen and Milhaud at the Paris Conservatoire, where he received the 2éme Prix de Composition.
He joined the faculty of the University of Michigan’s School of Music in 1973, was named the Ross Lee Finney Distinguished University Professor of Composition in 1994, and retired in 2008 after 35 years.
Bolcom won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1988 for 12 New Etudes for Piano, and his setting of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience on the Naxos label won four Grammy Awards in 2005.
As a pianist Bolcom has performed and recorded his own work frequently in collaboration with his wife and musical partner, mezzo-soprano Joan Morris. Their primary specialties in both concerts and recordings are cabaret songs, show tunes, and American popular songs of the 20th century. They have recorded 25 albums together – Autumn Leaves was released in 2015.
As a composer, Bolcom has written four violin sonatas; nine symphonies; three operas (McTeague, A View from the Bridge and A Wedding), plus several musical theater operas; eleven string quartets; two film scores (Hester Street and Illuminata); incidental music for stage plays, including Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass; fanfares and occasional pieces; and an extensive catalogue of chamber, choral, and vocal works.
Bolcom’s setting of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, a full evening’s work for soloists, choruses, and orchestra, culminated 25 years of work on the piece. The April 8, 2004, performance in the recently-renovated Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was recorded by Naxos. The CD won four Grammy Awards in 2005: Best Choral Performance, Best Classical Contemporary Composition, Best Classical Album, and Producer of the Year, Classical.
As a Czech musician in a Germano-centric world, Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904) struggled at first for recognition and even a living. Brahms championed him, however, and ultimately Dvořák became an international celebrity, particularly beloved in England and the United States. He is best known today for his sweeping orchestral and characterful chamber music, rooted in the rhythms of Czech folk music, but he also composed a significant body of songs, large-scale choral pieces, and operas. (laphil.com)
The Washington Post praised Zhou Long (b. 1953) for “effortlessly transcending cultural boundaries” and for composing chamber works “dazzling in their delicate intensity.” Long is internationally recognized for creating a unique body of music that brings together the aesthetic concepts and musical elements of East and West. Deeply grounded in the entire spectrum of his Chinese heritage, including folk, philosophical, and spiritual ideals, his creative vision has resulted in a new music that stretches Western instruments eastward and Chinese instruments westward, achieving an exciting and fertile common ground. In 2011, Long won the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his pioneering cross-cultural opera, Madam White Snake.
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 including traditional Chinese folk music, masterpieces of Western music and cutting-edge contemporary works.
Formed at the Shanghai Conservatory in 1983, the Quartet has worked with the world’s most distinguished artists and regularly tours the major music centers of Europe, North America and Asia. Recent festival performances range 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 in all regions of North America. The Quartet has appeared at Carnegie Hall in chamber performances and with orchestra. In 2006 they gave the premiere of Takuma Itoh’s Concerto for Quartet and Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. Among innumerable collaborations with noted artists, they have performed with the Tokyo, Juilliard and Guarneri Quartets; cellists Yo-Yo Ma and Lynn Harrell; pianists Menahem Pressler, Yuja Wang, Peter Serkin and Jean-Yves Thibaudet; pipa virtuosa Wu Man; and the male vocal ensemble Chanticleer. The Shanghai Quartet has performed regularly at many of North America’s leading chamber music festivals, including the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, Chamberfest Ottawa and Maverick Concerts where they recently made their 24th consecutive annual appearance.
The Quartet has a long history of championing new music and juxtaposing traditions of Eastern and Western music. The Quartet’s 30th anniversary season brought five new commissions; Bullycide, for piano, string quartet and bass by David Del Tredici; Fantasie, a piano quintet by Australian composer Carl Vine; a concerto for string quartet and symphony orchestra by Jeajoon Ryu; and Verge Quartet by Lei Liang and Scherzo by Robert Aldridge, commissioned by Yu Long and the Beijing Music Festival. Its 25th anniversary season featured Penderecki’s String Quartet no. 3: Leaves from an Unwritten Diary, Chen Yi’s From the Path of Beauty, String Quartet no. 2 by Vivian Fung, and jazz pianist Dick Hyman’s String Quartet. The Penderecki premiered at a special 75th birthday concert in Poland honoring the composer, followed by the US premiere at Peak Performances @ Montclair State University and numerous performances worldwide. It was featured at the composer’s 80th birthday celebration in November 2013. Chen Yi’s From the Path of Beauty, co-commissioned with Chanticleer, premiered in San Francisco followed by performances at Tanglewood and Ravinia, in Beijing and Shanghai. Other important commissions and premieres include works by Bright Sheng, Lowell Lieberman, Sebastian Currier, Marc Neikrug, and Zhou Long. Bright Sheng’s Dance Capriccio had its premiere in spring 2012 with pianist Peter Serkin. The Quartet premiered Dan Welcher’s Museon Polemos for double quartet with the Miro Quartet at the University of Texas at Austin in September 2012. In 2015, the Quartet gave the world premieres of Du Yun’s Tattooed in Snow and of Zhao Ji-Peng (Raise the Red Lantern, Farewell, My Concubine)’s quintet for string quartet and pipa with Wu Man.
The Shanghai Quartet has an extensive discography of more than 30 recordings, ranging from the Schumann and Dvořák piano quintets with Rudolf Buchbinder to Zhou Long’s Poems from Tang for string quartet and orchestra with the Singapore Symphony (BIS). Delos released the Quartet’s most popular disc, Chinasong, a collection of Chinese folk songs arranged by Yi-Wen Jiang reflecting on his childhood memories of the Cultural Revolution in China. In 2009, Camerata released the Quartet’s recordings of the complete Beethoven String Quartets, a seven-disc project.
A diverse and interesting array of media projects range from a cameo appearance playing Bartok’s String Quartet no. 4 in Woody Allen’s film Melinda and Melinda to PBS’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 film Music of the Heart, starring Meryl Streep.
The Shanghai Quartet currently serves as Quartet-in-Residence at the John J. Cali School of Music at Montclair State University, Ensemble-in-Residence with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, and visiting guest professors of the Shanghai Conservatory and the Central Conservatory in Beijing. They are proudly sponsored by Thomastik-Infeld Strings.
Born into a family of well-known musicians in Shanghai, Weigang Li began studying the violin with his parents when he was 5 and went on to attend the Shanghai Conservatory at age 14. Three years later, in 1981, he was selected to go to study for one year at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music through the first cultural exchange program between the sister cities of Shanghai and San Francisco.
In 1985, upon graduating from the Shanghai Conservatory, Weigang Li left China again to continue his studies at Northern Illinois University and later studied and taught at The Juilliard School as teaching assistant to the Juilliard Quartet. His teachers have included Shmuel Ashkenasi, Isadore Tinkleman, and Tan Shu-Chen. Mr. Li was featured in the 1980 Oscar-winning documentary film From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China. He made his solo debut at 17 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and has appeared as soloist with Shanghai Symphony, China Philharmonic, BBC Scottish Symphony, Asian Youth Orchestra. Weigang Li is a founding member and first violinist of the Shanghai Quartet since 1983. In its 31st season, the Shanghai Quartet has performed well over 2,000 concerts in 30 countries; recorded 34 CD albums, including a seven-disc cycle of the complete Beethoven string quartets on Camerata label.
Weigang Li is a violin professor at Montclair State University in New Jersey and Bard College Conservatory of Music in New York. He also holds the title of guest concertmaster of Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and guest professor at Shanghai Conservatory and Central Conservatory in Beijing. Mr. Li plays on the 1600 Giovanni Paolo Maggini violin (ex-Burmester), which is on a generous loan from Mr. Rin Kei Mei.
Violinist Yi-Wen Jiang was born into a musical family in Beijing where both parents were professional musicians. Beginning his violin studies with his father at age six, Jiang made his concerto debut at the age of 17 with the Central Opera House Orchestra in Beijing where he played the Prokofiev D Major Concerto, opus 19.
After winning top prize at the first China Youth Violin Competition in 1981, Jiang was accepted to study with Professor Han Li at the Central Conservatory of Music. In 1985, after receiving a full scholarship from McDonnell-Douglas, Jiang came to the U.S. to study with Taras Gabora and Michael Tree. In 1990, with the support of the Ken Boxley Foundation, he went to Rutgers University to work with Arnold Steinhardt of the Guarneri Quartet. Other teachers included Gérard Poulet and Pinchas Zuckerman. As a prizewinner at the Montreal International Competitions, he appeared as a soloist with the Victoria Symphony and Montreal Symphony. Jiang had appeared at many international music festivals by the age of 22. He has recorded for the Record Corporation of China.
As a composer, Jiang has arranged over 50 pieces for string quartet and other instruments, many pieces composed with Eastern repertoire and Western influence. In addition to his extensive touring and recordings schedule, Jiang maintains close relationships with his students. He teaches at Montclair State University and the Bard College Conservatory of Music. He is also guest professor at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing and the Shanghai Conservatory. When not performing, composing or teaching, Jiang enjoys photography, food and wine.
Honggang Li is the founding member Shanghai Quartet, now in its 30th season. He has performed over 2,000 concerts in 30 countries and can be heard on more than 30 CD albums.
Mr. Li began studying the violin with his parents at age seven. When the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing re-opened in 1977 after the Cultural Revolution, Mr. Li was selected to attend from a group of over five hundred applicants.
He continued his training at the Shanghai Conservatory and co-founded the Shanghai Quartet with his brother Weigang while in his senior year at the Conservatory. The Quartet soon became the first Chinese quartet to win a major international chamber music competition (the London International) and came to the US in 1985. He received a Master of Music from Northern Illinois University and served as a teaching assistant at The Juilliard School in New York. In 1987, he won the special prize (a 1757 DeCable violin) given by Elisa Pegreffi of Quartetto Italiano at the First Paolo Borciani International Competition in Italy.
Mr. Li is currently an artist-in-residence and faculty member at Montclair State University. He held the same title at University of Richmond in Virginia from 1989 to 2003. He has been a guest professor at the conservatories of Shanghai and Beijing. Mr. Li is also the guest principal violist of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra since 2009.
A Native of Spanish Harlem in New York City, cellist Nicholas Tzavaras has toured the globe as a chamber musician, soloist and educator for the past two decades. He has performed more than 1,500 concerts worldwide, from Cartegena, Columbia to the Tonhalle in Zurich to Nagasaki, Japan. The New York Times calls his playing “richly singing” and “beautifully nuanced.” Since 2000, Mr. Tzavaras has been the cellist of the internationally renowned Shanghai Quartet.
Recent festival engagements have included the Brevard, La Jolla, and Taos festivals; the Casals Festival in Prades France; the Melbourne Music Festival in Australia; and the Marlboro Festival. Mr. Tzavaras has held the esteemed title of guest principal cellist of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra since 2009. He has recorded more than 21 albums for the Naxos, Delos, Bis, Centaur, Camerata, and New Albion labels, including Beethoven’s string quartet cycle and Bright Sheng’s songs for pipa and cello with Wu Man, to name a few.
Formerly on the faculty of the University of Richmond, Mr. Tzavaras is currently the coordinator of the String Department and artist in residence at Montclair State University’s John J. Cali School of Music. He is also guest professor at the Shanghai and Central Conservatories of China. In the fall of 2016, Tzavaras joined the faculty of the Longy School of Music in Boston.
Mr. Tzavaras began the violin at age 2 with his mother, Roberta Guaspari and moved to the cello when he was 6. A graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, he went on to receive degrees from the New England Conservatory and the State University of New York at Stonybrook, where his cello teachers were Laurence Lesser and Timothy Eddy. Mr. Tzavaras can be seen in the Academy Award nominated documentary Small Wonders, the motion picture Music of the Heart starring Meryl Streep, and with the Shanghai Quartet in Woody Allen’s “Melinda Melinda.”
When he is not with his cello, Mr. Tzavaras is an avid cyclist, occasional triathlete, enthusiastic but unfortunately average chess player and, perhaps most importantly, a challenged father of three children all under the age of eight.
In the News
RONNI REICH, PEAK PERFORMANCES’ 2016–17 SEASON MAGAZINE: “William Bolcom: Embracing All Terrain”
“At the festival, the Harlem Quartet will play a selection of Bolcom’s rags, arranged for string quartet, alongside Latin and jazz standards and a Mozart work.”
ALL TERRAIN STRING FESTIVAL PRESS RELEASE
“Peak Performances Executive Director Jedediah Wheeler conceived the All Terrain String Festival to celebrate the richness and range of the string quartet landscape. The festival is remarkably broad not only in its lineup, but also in the program of music comprising each concert. It opens, on March 31, with the Harlem Quartet, which aims to advance diversity in classical music, in part by performing works by minority composers in multiple genres.”