Summer Series Finale

The internationally known Shanghai Quartet closes out this year's Summer Evenings of Music Series.

By - Jun 27th, 2016 03:14 pm
Shanghai Quartet. Photo from Facebook.

Shanghai Quartet. Photo from Facebook.

The Fine Arts Quartet (violinists Ralph Evans and Efim Boico, cellist Robert Cohen and violist Juan-Miguel Hernandez ) closes this year’s Summer Evenings of Music Series with a pair of concerts this Thursday and Friday evening at the UW-Milwaukee Zelazo Center. A second quartet, also prominent on the international stage, will join them. The Shanghai Quartet, now in its 33rd year, will offer a Grieg Quartet, the second of the Brahms’ Sextets and combine full forces with the Fine Arts Quartet for the Mendelssohn Octet.

The Shanghai Quartet (violinists Weigang Li and Yi-Wen Jiang, violist Hongang Li and cellist Nicholas Tzavaras). After their start in 1983 with a focus on Western Classical music, the Quartet have become cultural ambassadors between East and West. Unfortunately, the Milwaukee schedule does not include Chinese music adapted to string quartet. But among their 30 plus recordings, the quartet’s reputation has been established by their interpretations of Beethoven, Ravel, Penderecki and others in the West.

The group has been prolific. Just since the most recent member, New York born Tzavaras joined the group in 2000, they count more than 1,300 concerts all over the world. They have frequently crossed paths with the Fine Arts Quartet at international festivals. “We’ve been talking for some years about having them come to Milwaukee,” Cohen said. They played the Mendelssohn Octet together at last July’s Casals Festival in France.

Thursday evening’s concert will open with the Fine Arts Quartet playing Joseph Haydn‘s String Quartet in D major, Op. 71, No. 2. This work is cheerful example of the best of Haydn as he began to write for the concert-going public rather than his long time patron, Count Esterhazy. The work incorporates scampering melodies in the the first movement, a singing cantabile in the second, a minuet at a pace anticipating the scherzo in quartets to come and a virtuoso dance to close.

The Fine Arts Quartet will also offer Dmitri Shostakovich‘s String Quartet No. 7, Op. 108 (1960). Shostakovich dedicated the quartet to the memory of his estranged wife, Nina. Critic Stephan Harris concisely summarizes this transparent, morose work: “His quartet to her is compact and, presumably like their marriage, full of contradictory moods: the first movement being perky, agitated, but full of impish humour; the second dream-like; whilst the third, although at first violent, finally relapses into mellow contemplation.”

Cohen and Hernandez will join the Shanghai Quartet for Johannes BrahmsString Sextet No. 2 in G major, Op. 36. As with Brahms’ first sextet, Brahms explores the combinations of voices in a decidedly non-symphonic way. He allows duets, trio and other combinations to emerge. The emotional content of this sextet was inspired by an recent abandoned love affair. Brahms weaves Agatha’s name into the score. In one intense cathartic moment, he seems to be cleansing himself of her memory.

Friday evening’s concert will open with the Shanghai Quartet playing Edvard Grieg‘s String Quartet in G minor, Op. 27. Grieg’s only quartet seems to invite the four players to sound symphony. His aggressive, attractive music incorporates tunes and dances of Norway into a contemporary sounding package.

The summer series closes with Felix Mendelssohn‘s String Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20.  It may be misleading to remember that Mendelssohn was only 16 when he wrote this masterwork. Critic Wilfred Mellis observes that Mendelssohn “pays tribute to his predecessors not only by adhering to sonata form in all four movements but by incorporating the contrapuntal mastery of Bach, the lyrical grace of Mozart, the dramatic vigor of early Beethoven and the rich sororities of Weber.” This work is symphonic in style, although occasionally subdued. Mendelssohn takes full advantage of the eight players to create a grand sound. To some extent designed for two quartets, the Shanghai Quartet will play the role of “first quartet.”

The June 30th and July 1st concerts begin at 7:30 p.m., preceded by a pre-talk at 6:30 p.m.. Tickets may be purchased on-line at the Peck School of the Arts box office or at (414) 229-4308. Tickets are a bargain $10 ($5 students). Parking is available in the Zelazo Center lot, to the south of the building, and in the Union parking garage across Kenwood Boulevard.

One thought on “Classical: Summer Series Finale”

  1. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    Chris and I are looking forward to seeing The Shanghai Quarter join The Fine Arts Quartet on Friday evening. We also enjoyed your Listening session at St. John’s, which included the first violinist from The Fine Arts Quartet as a special guest. Thank you, Michael Barndt!

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