WQXR kicked off the China in New York festival in the heart of Flushing’s Chinatown on Sunday when the Shanghai String Quartet performed at Crossing Art, a small fine art gallery tucked away on the bottom floor of a shopping center.
For the quartet, the setting was an unlikely change from the night before, when it performed at Boston's Jordan Hall. After landing at JFK Airport, the four musicians instinctively headed straight for a restaurant on Main Street in Flushing, known for its savory Chinese dumplings. Sufficiently fueled up, they arrived for a brief warm-up and proceeded with a program of works by Beethoven, Smetana and a suite of traditional Chinese folk songs.
In the songs, arranged by violinist Yi-Wen Jiang, the group evoked the sound and tone of traditional Chinese instruments, from the evocative "Yao Dance" to the lush "Shepherd’s Song" and the percussive "Harvest Celebration." It drew some knowing expressions from members of the audience.
Formed in 1983 at the Shanghai conservatory, the Shanghai's members were among the first generation to be allowed to study Western classical music after China’s Cultural Revolution. The quartet has long been based in the US, and is currently in residence at Montclair State University. The current lineup includes three Chinese players -- brothers Weigang and Honggang Li, on violin and viola, respectively, and violinist Jiang -- and one American, cellist Nicholas Tzavaras.
Video: Amy Pearl; Engineer: Irene Trudel; Text: Brian Wise