HANOVER, N.H. — In 1983, Tan Dun was an unknown conservatory student in China who had come to composing as a largely self-taught musician, creating music despite the chill that the Cultural Revolution cast over intellectual and artistic work. His composition “Feng Ya Song” for string quartet changed all that, winning a major international prize while at the same time being labeled as “spiritual pollution” by the Chinese authorities.
It was his ticket out, however, enabling him to move to New York three years later — and to become one of the most celebrated “world classical” composers, with acclaimed chamber and orchestral works, operas and film scores to his credit, including his Oscar-winning score for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000).
Now Tan Dun has gone back to that early composition and revised it, hoping it will reach new ears. The revision will be premiered at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 5, at the Hopkins Center’s Spaulding Auditorium at Dartmouth College, by the Shanghai Quartet.
Known for sensitively melding East and West, the Shanghai Quartet performs the work alongside Haydn’s String Quartet in D major, Op. 20, No. 4 and Beethoven’s String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2 (“Razumovsky”).
Tan Dun and the quartet members have been talking about doing projects together for at least 6 years. About 2 years ago, they at last found time to get together in Shanghai and make more concrete plans for doing a pretty sizable project.
Tan Dun asked to include in the project the reworking of his very first string quartet that, while it was recorded in 1983 and won second place in the international Weber prize competition, has not often been played over the intervening decades. The new version revises passages and shortens the overall work in preparation for it being reintroduced to the world. The work is next scheduled to be performed March 7 at the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C., and March 16 in Shanghai Symphony’s Chamber Hall. The Shanghai Quartet plans to program the piece dozens of times in the coming season.
Founded in 1983 by four students at the Shanghai Conservatory, the Shanghai Quartet is one of the world’s foremost chamber ensembles, renowned for an elegant, passionate style that encompasses Western masterworks, Asian music and contemporary compositions.
The Shanghai Quartet — Weigang Li (violin, founding member), Yi-Wen Jiang (violin, member since 1994), Honggang Li (viola, founding member) and Nicholas Tzavaras (cello, member since 2000) — has worked with the world’s most distinguished artists and regularly tours the major music centers of Europe, North America and Asia.
Wrote the Boston Globe: “The Shanghai’s playing was superb throughout. The quartet’s sound is plush but always translucent enough to appreciate each player’s distinctive qualities.”
Tickets are $20 and $30, $17 and $19 for 18 and younger; call 603-646-2422, or go online to https://hop.dartmouth.edu.