Musicians enjoy ‘home’ run

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Shanghai Quartet share their experience, expertise and knowledge with domestic program after return from the US.

For decades, the Shanghai Quartet, veterans of chamber musicians, have lived and performed abroad.

In 2019, the quartet-first violinist Weigang Li, violinist Angelo Xiang Yu, violist Honggang Li and cellist Nicholas Tzavaras-joined the Tianjin Juilliard School, the first overseas campus of New York's Juilliard School, as resident faculty members, and relocated to China to concentrate on educating the next generation of musicians, as well as performing in the country.

On Wednesday, they will give a concert at the concert hall of Tianjin Juilliard School performing Bohemian composer Bedrich Smetana's String Quartet No 1 in E Minor, From My Life, Chinese American composer Zhou Long's Song of the Ch'in for string quartet and Austrian composer Franz Schubert's String Quartet No 14 in D Minor, D 810, Death and the Maiden.

The concert will be livestreamed, the first for a concert by the Tianjin school.

On Dec 22, the quartet will perform in Shanghai, their first concert outside Tianjin since they started to teach in the city.

On Dec 31, they will work with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra again to perform pieces without a conductor. Each of the four members will also perform as soloists during the concert.

"For all of us, it's a life-changing decision to make when we decided to return to China," recalls Yu, who joined the quartet in November 2020.

Born in North China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region in 1988, Yu went to the primary school affiliated to the Shanghai Conservatory of Music to study violin at 10 and is the recipient of the 2019 Avery Fisher career grant and the Lincoln Center emerging artist award in the same year. In 2010, he won the first prize in the Yehudi Menuhin Competition.

"We moved back to China with our families," Yu says. "It feels like experiencing a new adventure, especially for cellist Nicholas Tzavaras, a native of New York, who came to live in China with his wife and three children."

Yu also notes that the development of classical music in China, chamber music in particular, is faster than any other country in the world, which is vibrant and exciting. He is keen on training and working with young Chinese musicians and composers.

"Unlike our days, when chamber music only appealed to a small group of people, now chamber music is widely practiced at music schools in China by the younger generation of musicians, which is a good sign for the future development of classical music in China," Yu adds.

"We are interested in building up an educational platform in China, which enables us to share our experiences and knowledge as a string quartet over the past 37 years. It's a great opportunity to fulfill this idea, so we decided to return to China," says Weigang Li, who teaches both the pre-college and graduate programs.

Li went to attend the Shanghai Conservatory Middle School at 14. Three years later, in 1982, he was selected to study for one year at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music through the first cultural exchange program between Shanghai and San Francisco.

The quartet was formed in 1983 by Weigang Li and his brother, Honggang Li. In 1984, the quartet won the second prize at the Portsmouth International Quartet Competition. They made their debut in New York in 1987 and since then, all members of the quartet were living in the United States and touring throughout North America, Europe and Asia. 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.

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