The Shanghai String Quartet at Maverick

Maverick Concerts is America’s oldest continuous summer chamber music festival (it is currently in it’s 93rd season). There is a rich history surrounding Maverick Concerts and although I’m not going to go into depth about it here, I urge you to check it out for yourself. You can find information at

One of my favorite string quartets, The Shanghai String Quartet, kicked off the opening of the ’08 concert season on Sunday with a program of Franz Schubert, Maurice Ravel, Chen Yi, and Edvard Grieg.

Quartettsatz in C Minor, D. 703 Franz Schubert

String Quartet in F Major Maurice Ravel
Moderato Tres Doux
Assez Vif-Tres Rythme
Tres Lent
Vif et Agite

From the Path of Beauty (Excerpt) Chen Yi
V. The Secluded Melody Six Dynasties Period

String Quartet No. 1 in G Minor Edvard Grieg
Un poco Andante – Allegro Molto ed Agitato
Romanze: Andantino – Allegro Agitato
Intermezzo: Allegro Molto Marcato – Piu Vivo e Scherzando
Finale: Lento – Presto Al Saltarello


When The Shanghai String Quartet started playing the first piece, “Quartettsatz” by Franz Schubert, two things happened to me at once: A grin spread across my face from ear to ear, and I started crying. Strange combination I know… But that is the wonder of The Shanghai String Quartet. You could tell from the first bar of music they played that they are a force to be reckoned with. Like sorcerers, they conjure music from the deepest corners of the world, and enchant all who hear them play.

Ravel is one of my favorite composers. What I perhaps love most about his music is his use of harmonies. Not always traditional, but always, always exquisite… The music leapt from the pages, straight into the hearts of The Shanghai String Quartet. Then again, it was probably there to begin with… Through the music, the quartet created a forcefield of energy which emanated from the stage, warming and energizing everything it reached. People, animals, trees, rocks… That was the first movement. The second, Assez Vif-Tres Rythme, had a gorgeous melody. My thoughts flowed with the music and were carried on it’s broad back. Together, thoughts and music flew over fields and plains, soaring higher and higher above the boundaries of the earth. For the third movement, Tres Lent, the viola introduced the mournful melody. After a few bars it was passed to cello, then first violin, before being carried once more by viola. There were runs and trills in the middle of the movement-brief flashes of sunlight in the music-before it ended solemnly. In the last movement, Vif et Agite, the notes darted like impish faries. They dashed here and there, weaving a blanket of fury, excitement, and bittersweet love. You could hear precious whispers of previous movements, and by this particular one, I was overcome. I started shaking uncontrollably as the music ended with a flourish.

The excerpt of the piece by Chen Yi was touching. Chen Yi was the first woman to recieve a master’s degree in composition in China. “From the Path of Beauty” is a seven-movement song cycle for mixed choir and string quartet. The movement that The Shanghai String Quartet played was one of three which were written for string quartet alone. The excerpt that the quartet played at Maverick was beautiful, and I would love to have the opportunity to hear the whole piece.

The first movement of Grieg’s String Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 27 had a magnetic force which sucked my spirit to the edge of the earth. Just as I was about to plummit to depths unknown, I would be swept up, only to be dropped again… The second movement was a precious waltz which opened with warmth. As I listened, the music created a story in my mind. I saw a young woman dancing with the ghost of her dead lover. The music then became plagued with torment, as Death tried to take the girl’s lover back from her. She resisted Death’s grasp on her love, and once again the music was filled with happiness. This struggle continued for the duration of the movement, which ended with the warmth of the opening. That means one of two things: Either Death wore out the girl, who could no longer take it and killed herself to be with her love (in which case Death won both of their souls), or (and this is the one I believe) the girl won back the ghost of her lover from the vapors of the underworld, proving that love transcends even death. That’s what the music conveyed to me. Then again, I have been called “dramatic” and told that I have a vivid imagination… Intermezzo: Allegro Molto Marcato – Piu Vivo e Scherando was dancelike, and had a lilting quality. It was a nice interlude to that last movement. The Finale was very strong and forceful, with brief sections that fluttered toward the open sky, before sinking once more into the shadows of dusk. The Shanghai String Quartet’s timing was impeccable, as it was for the entire concert, and I was blown away by their playing. When the piece was over, the entire crowd was on their feet within seconds.

The Shanghai String Quartet is the most talented, dedicated, and hard-working group of musicians that I have ever had the honor of hearing. Even this obnoxious lady who was sitting next to me at Maverick couldn’t bother me… With The Shanghai String Quartet’s music flowing through my ears down to my heart, I can handle anything. More importantly, the music they create makes me want to do everything. They fulfill my thirst, yet also renew it. I couldn’t ask for more.


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