The Shanghai Quartet
“A wonderfully ferocious and illuminating performance.”— The Washington Post
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 and the Beethoven Festival in Poland, 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 in Isaac Stern Auditorium. 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, Peter Serkin, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Yuja Wang, pipa virtuoso Wu Man and the vocal ensemble Chanticleer. The Shanghai Quartet has been a regular performer at many of North America’s leading chamber music festivals, including Maverick Concerts where they recently made their 27th consecutive annual appearance.
The Quartet has a long history of championing new music and juxtaposing traditions of Eastern and Western music. With more than 30 commissioned works, their recent premieres include Du Yun’s Tattooed in Snow (2015), Zhao Lin’s Red Lantern (2015) for pipa and string quartet, and String Quartet No. 12, Fantasia notturna by William Bolcom (2017). The Quartet’s 30th Anniversary season in 2013 brought five new commissions; Bullycide by David Del Tredici; Fantasie by Australian composer Carl Vine; a concerto for string quartet and symphony orchestra by Jeajoon Ryu; Verge Quartet by Lei Liang and Scherzo by Robert Aldridge, commissioned by Yu Long and the Beijing Music Festival. Their 25th anniversary season featured commission works by Penderecki (String Quartet No. 3: Leaves From an Unwritten Diary), Chen Yi (From the Path of Beauty), Vivian Fung, and jazz pianist Dick Hyman. The Penderecki quartet was premiered at the composer’s 75th birthday concert in Poland, followed by numerous performances worldwide. It was featured again at the composer’s 80th Birthday celebration in 2013. Chen Yi’s From the Path of Beauty, co-commissioned with Chanticleer, premiered in San Francisco, with performances at Tanglewood and Ravinia, Beijing and Shanghai. Other important commissions and premieres include works by Bright Sheng, Lowell Lieberman, Sebastian Currier, Marc Neikrug, and Zhou Long. The tradition continues with forthcoming works by Wang Lei and Tan Dun composed for their 35th Anniversary in 2018-19.
The Shanghai Quartet has an extensive discography of more than 30 recordings, ranging from the Schumann and Dvorak 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. The complete Beethoven String Quartets, a highly praised, seven-disc project, can be heard on an acclaimed Camerata set, released in 2009.
A diverse and interesting array of media projects include a cameo appearance playing Bartok’s String Quartet No. 4 in Woody Allen’s film Melinda and Melinda to PBS television’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 is the subject of a documentary film, Behind the Strings, currently in production, to be released this year.
The Shanghai Quartet perform on four exceptional instruments by Goffriller, Guarneri, and Stradivari, generously loaned through the Beare’s International Violin Society, to honor the quartet’s 35th Anniversary. The instruments will be featured in eight cycles of the complete Beethoven String Quartets throughout the world. The Shanghai Quartet currently serves as Quartet-in-Residence at the John J. Cali School of Music, Montclair State University in New Jersey, 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 and BAM cases.
Weigang Li, violin
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. Read More »
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 31th season, the Shanghai Quartet has performed well over 2000 concerts in 30 countries; recorded 34 CD albums, including 7-discs cycle of 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 concert-master of Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and guest professor at Shanghai Conservatory and Central Conservatory in Beijing
Mr. Li plays on a 1714 Antonio Stradivari nicknamed “Kneisel Grün” generously loaned to him by the Beare International Violin Society
Yi-Wen Jiang, violin
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.
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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 a close relationships with his students. Jiang 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, and food & wine.
Mr. Jiang plays on a 1729 Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu nicknamed ‘The Stretton’ generously loaned to him by the Beare International Violin Society.
Honggang Li, viola
Honggang Li is the founding member Shanghai Quartet, now in it’s 30th season, has performed over two thousand 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 reopened in 1977 after the Cultural Revolution, Mr.Li was selected to attend from a group of over five hundred applicants.
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He continued his training at the Shanghai Conservatory and co- founded the Shanghai Quartet with his brother Weigang while in his senior year in 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 MM of North 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 also an artist-in-residence and faculty at Montclair State University and held the same title at University of Richmond in Virginia from 1989 to 2003. He has been the guest professor of both conservatories of Shanghai and Beijing. Mr. Li is also the guest principle violist of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra since 2009.
Mr. Li plays on a 1700 Matteo Goffriller viola generously loaned to him by the Beare International Violin Society
Nicholas Tzavaras, cello
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 1500 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. Read More »
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 ten.
Mr. Tzavaras plays on a 1690 Antonio Stradivari cello generously loaned to him by the Beare International Violin Society.