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Members of the Shanghai Quartet discuss their backgrounds

BROADCAST: May. 17, 1989 | DURATION: 00:23:00


The day before their concert performance at North Park College, the Shanghai Quartet was at the WFMT studios. Betty Bucchari explained her job was to search for great musicians that were not well-known. The Li brothers were destined to play the violins, as their parents were music teachers for 15 years.


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Studs Terkel The major portion of this hour is the work, the reflections and the music of the Shanghai Quartet, a remarkable young group of chamber musicians who are performing tomorrow night at North Park College. And they'll be, they're playing here in the big studios in a moment. But more of this after a couple of other events in town I've talked about, this weekend, Friday and Saturday, nineteenth and twentieth, at a place called Rosa's Lounge. A word about Rosa's Lounge at West Armitage. It's run by Tony Mangiullo. And Tony Mangiullo came from Milano, from Italy, and he fell in love with American blues artistry. And his mother, Rosa, after whom the lounge is named, followed him from Milano here. And he has all kinds of old blues artists who appear at Rosa's Lounge. It seems incongruous and yet so right. And this weekend, Friday and Saturday, Yank Rachell is there. Now Yank Rachell is a pioneer blues mandolin player. There--it's not the same as the tradition of the guitar, the blues guitar, of whom there are hundreds of excellent ones. There are some mandolin players too, but they are few in number and Yank, who came out of Brownsville, Tennessee and then Indianapolis, is a master of it. And he's worked with some of the old timers whom I used to collect on the old Bluebird and Okeh records. Back in those days they were known as quote unquote 'race records'. And he's worked with Sonny Boy Williamson and Peetie Wheatstraw. Peetie Wheatstraw was once known as the Devil's son-in-law or The High Sheriff of Hell on these old-time Okeh and Bluebird Records. But Yank Rachell is playing the blues mandolin at Rosa's and suppose we hear him. This is something he calls "Lonesome Blues" and he sings a bit, but dig the mandolin. [Pause for music].

Studs Terkel Now that's Yank Rachell, that the blues mandolin. He's about 80 now and that's him at 80, Yank Rachell playing at Rosa's Lounge which is a story in itself. That's Friday, Saturday, May ninteenth, twentieth. That's at 3420 West Armitage. I was thinking in contrast, another event in town, this Sunday afternoon at five. It's the Third Annual Ecumenical Festival of Praise and at--it's sponsored by the first Baptist Church of Oak Park and the guest conductor the Festival of the choir, that is is called Grapentine, one of our premier announcers. And so the, the choir conducted by Carl is going to be singing music of Brahms, Vaughan Williams, and William Dawson. And that's Sunday afternoon at five at the First Baptist Church of Oak Park. And suppose we hear an example of what they're going to sing, they're going to be performing Brahms' "How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place". But we're going to hear, at this moment, the Robert Shaw chorus with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. [Pause for music]. That's Brahms' "How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place". Be one of the pieces performed Sunday afternoon at five at the First Baptist Church of Oak Park, part of the Third Annual Ecumenical Festival of Praise. And so we've heard a blues mandolin, we've heard a choral piece, and in a moment we hear the Shanghai quartet working live in the big studios here. [Pause for music].

Studs Terkel Well that's just a, an introduction to a remarkable chamber group. The Shanghai Quartet, who I imagine are fusing a couple of different cultures. Three of the participants, the Li brothers, Honggang and Weigang, the violins are from Shanghai as is the, the viola, Zhengh Wang, and Käthe Jarke, you're Czechoslovakia.

Käthe Jarke Well, I'm American here.

Studs Terkel You're here, but I mean from Czechoslovakian ancestry. And so with them is Betty Buccheri who will also participate with them in a, in a, in a Brahms quintet. Betty Buccheri is the accompanist of Solti of Abbado of Barenboim of the conductors backstage when the Chicago Symphony Orchestra gets going. What's, what's significant about this group immediately is that tomorrow night, Friday night at the--

Betty Buccheri North Park college,

Studs Terkel At North Park College at the auditorium. North Park College at 8:15 and perhaps a word about this group, but then we'll talk about the program. Betty Buccheri, how, how are you connected with the Shanghai Quartet?

Betty Buccheri I first became acquainted with them this summer, this past summer, at the Ravinia Festival. They and I were participants in the new Young Artist's Institute at the Ravinia Festival. And since I'm always on the lookout for terrific players, who are perhaps not so well-known yet, to present in this concert series at North Park College, I immediately began speaking to them about coming back to Chicago this year to play on my series. And happily they were able to schedule this so we had a few weeks together at Ravinia this summer and then we're having a nice week together, this week, rehearsing for this concert Friday night.

Studs Terkel This is your --you have a series?

Betty Buccheri Yes. This is the last concert in a four concert series that the college presents each year. We are in the ninth year of this concert series.

Studs Terkel Now your work, I mean when you work, you have a company. The conductors there.

Betty Buccheri Yes.

Studs Terkel Your work is what, how would you describe your work with the Chicago Symphony?

Betty Buccheri I would say it's, it's preparatory. And I would say also that it's a kind of efficiency machine because, as you can imagine, it's quite expensive for conductors to discuss detail with the hundred or so members of the orchestra present. So to save time and money, they hire a pianist to get together with the conductor and soloists in a room, usually as a matter of fact, Solti's hotel room before the first orchestra rehearsal and such details as interpretation, tempi, the conductor's ideas about a certain way of doing the piece, are worked out at that time. It's a, it's a very exciting thing to do to be associated with those musicians.

Studs Terkel But you're also double as an impresario?

Betty Buccheri Yes, I guess, you can say that.

Studs Terkel At the North Park College series.

Betty Buccheri Yes.

Studs Terkel But you're, you, you're on the lookout for fine young

Betty Buccheri Yes, yes I am, yes.

Studs Terkel And this is part of the series.

Betty Buccheri That's right.

Studs Terkel So I was thinking, course now we're interested in, in the Shanghai Quartet itself. You've rehearsed, now the Li brothers, both of you, Weigang and, and well Weigang and, and Honggang Li. You're both from Shanghai?

Weigang Li? Yes.

Studs Terkel How did the violin and you two come together?

Weigang Li? Oh, well both our parents are all violinists and my mother's father and many of our uncles, aunts they're all playing violin. So, we're kind of--

Studs Terkel Were your parents your teachers?

Weigang Li? Yes.

Studs Terkel They were.

Weigang Li? Many years, for about fifteen years.

Studs Terkel We know there was a, a banning of Western music and literature. Did you, how, how did you practice at home? By that time?

Weigang Li? Oh, in the first five or six years of the cultural revolution and it's really restricted,

Studs Terkel So you

Weigang Li? But after some years, you know, people started to--you can play a little bit.

Käthe Jarke Be sneaky.

Weigang Li? Yeah, you can close your window and play violin concerto and nobody will know.

Studs Terkel Yeah by this time you were open, when you grew up you were open to all sorts of music from outside.

Weigang Li? Yeah, but after The Cultural Revolution ends then everything just normal again.

Studs Terkel How is it with our viola man Zhengh Wang, what about--your Shanghai too.

Zhengh Wang Right. Well, I start, I start when I was 10 and I started violin and then later switched to viola. See, that, that time I think that's true. That very beginning of The Cultural Revolution you know, nobody was allowed to play the Western music, but after like three or four years, you know people will realize if you want to learn the instrument, you better play.

Studs Terkel And so you

Zhengh Wang And then especially where we lived is like faculty housing. Because both our fathers started teaching, are, are on the faculty of Shanghai Conservatory, you know. So all the areas, there are musicians. And there I think it, it's easier for musicians to understand the reason why you have to play, you know, Western music, if you play an instrument.

Studs Terkel Did you hear recordings, say of William Primrose?

Zhengh Wang Yeah, yeah. We, I think but you'd better close your window when you listen to these, these stuff.

Studs Terkel And what about Käthe?

Käthe Jarke I grew up in Montana, in a small university town, and I was very lucky with my teacher there. And then I studied at Juilliard and after I graduated I was in New York and I got a call one day from Weigang Li of the Shanghai Quartet, and I was very surprised. I said, 'Are you calling from Shanghai', he said, 'No, from Illinois'. So they were already in this country when I joined the group.

Studs Terkel And I think you're, you're the--you replaced an earlier cellist.

Käthe Jarke Right.

Studs Terkel Right. So I was thinking of, you studied with the Vermeer and the Juilliard quartets. What is it, is there one thing, what mostly did you learn, you think, from your teachers? Is there one aspect of playing that you learn anybody. What do you think?

Käthe Jarke Oh, so many things.

Zhengh Wang Gee, there are lots of

Weigang Li? Very different in, in China I thought we play pretty well, but when we play well sometimes we don't know what's good about it and when we feel something's wrong we don't know when it was wrong. [mandolin sound]. And after we came here, we started with all these great musicians. Both of the Vermeer and Juilliard are fantastic quartets and--

Studs Terkel I know tomorrow night you're going to play some, a Mozart quartet, Bartok, and a Brahms quintet with Betty Buccheri at the piano. What -- an example, just a touch. This, consider this sort of a rehearsal. And what of, of the Mozart Quartet. Is there--there's a sprightly movement there, isn't there? And you--you're gonna play a passage of that. What, what is it you want to tackle?

Käthe Jarke Can

Studs Terkel Yeah that's great. And no wonder, and John Rockwell of the New York Times, the music critic, called the Shanghai quartet, who are here in the studio of FMT with their, with their instruments and very generous too. Consider this, you know, my payoff to you is consider this a rehearsal. Though, you're just about set and it's the Shanghai Quartet, who are performing tomorrow night. And you heard the minuetto, the, one of the fast movements of the Mozart Quartet in C major. That's tomorrow night at the, part of the series that Betty Buccheri has, is impressario-ing at the North Park College, that's at 3225 West Foster. That's at 8:15 tomorrow night. And I was thinking this and Bartok and the Brahms quintet. And Betty, I was thinking about how you uncover these young artists, how you find them and, oh all over.

Betty Buccheri Well, I just I guess I just keep my antenna up for this sort of thing. And as I said I had known them from Ravinia, so this was sort of a natural for me, and I, I'm sure this is going to be a terrific concert. So I hope they can come back in some future years too.

Studs Terkel It's the Shanghai Quartet and its Weigang Li at the violin, his brother Honggang Li at the violin, Zhengh Wang at the viola and Käthe Jarke at the cello. [pause in recording] So I was thinking as we pick up with the group you, you're rehearsing here and naturally I'm greedy, so it's more I'm seeking of the music that we're going to hear. This is a foretaste of what will be heard and enjoyed by the audience tomorrow night. The series itself Betty is what? This is, what year is this of the series?

Betty Buccheri This is the end of the ninth year.

Studs Terkel Ninth year.

Betty Buccheri And so we're looking forward to celebrating, you know, certain anniversaries. Ten and I hope fifteen and twenty. It's, I, I think I found a niche there because not only is the college a willing and, and wonderful sponsor for these concerts, but that side of Chicago seems to have responded quite enthusiastically to this quality of chamber music. In fact, it has caught on far more than my wildest dreams. I guess people are quite pleased that it's easy to come there in their own neighborhood and not have to deal with downtown parking or whatever.

Studs Terkel Yeah, you know I was thinking of, I was thinking of, of Weigang and Honggang and Zhengh. You're playing the works of masters of the Western world, yet the music we know is universal. Do you feel, this a crazy question, as you play, is there also an added touch to what you do that would differentiate the way you might interpret it say from a European quartet? You know what I mean, might be a touch of something possibly Chinese or something, you know? I'm thinking of, I'm thinking of the traditional music of China. It's a wild, crazy question. Or is it wholly an interpretation similar to that of the American-Europeans?

Käthe Jarke I think it is probably more a question of personality actually when it comes right down to it. Because their background doesn't really include any study of Chinese music, at least not in a very thorough way. So I, probably, I don't know whether you agree with me, but I doubt--

Weigang Li? It's possible but we--

Käthe Jarke It's

Zhengh Wang It's not very, like a very, something that you can really can see just that we, because we grew up in China because we heard a lot more Chinese music than American people, you know. So it's possible that when you grew up and when, you know, all things processing

Studs Terkel Way, in the back, subliminally.

Zhengh Wang Right. Yeah.

Studs Terkel Yeah. So I was thinking what about the audiences in China? Now it's, there's a, pretty much of an enthusiastic audience now for, for the classical music scene.

Weigang Li? In

Zhengh Wang Big city you know, in big cities.

Studs Terkel In the cities.

Zhengh Wang Audience, yeah. They have a lot more chance to hear Western music and--

Studs Terkel Is there a chance, I know you're, you're in Beijing and in Canton and in Shanghai, I was curious. You think the time might come of us to, that maybe the, the peasants who are most of the population can also hear this sometimes in the villa if ever there might be a quartet or artists going to a village auditorium, their hall?

Zhengh Wang Oh well, yeah, they play, but see if we go.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Zhengh Wang We have to put Chinese music.

Studs Terkel Of course.

Zhengh Wang They, I don't think they, they heard, I think of course they heard that, but I don't think that they were really

Studs Terkel By the way, can you play Chinese music? I mean, can you, I know these--

Weigang Li? Chinese music, but not Chinese

Studs Terkel Not Chinese instruments, yeah we are talking the instruments of being wholly different too.

Zhengh Wang Right.

Käthe Jarke Well, there, there are contemporary Chinese composers, but their style is not, not, it's not really easy to differentiate it from, from other contemporary composers, is it? I mean

Zhengh Wang Well, the, the material, yeah, the material is

Käthe Jarke -- Some of the sources, yeah

Zhengh Wang Like from the Beijing Opera. But it's hard to recognize.

Studs Terkel Yeah. What, you know, I, I was thinking the, the Mozart, before we hear the wind-up and this coming tomorrow night too in which Betty Buccheri's at the piano, you're playing a Brahms quintet. Well, you're part of that today too I'm delighted to discover. There's a slow movement of the Mozart isn't there of that--which is that, that's the adagio was that it? No, the andante cantabile.

Weigang Li? The

Studs Terkel The andante, so we're gonna hear the, the Shanghai quartet Weigang Li, Honggang Li both violins and Zhengh Yang at the viola and Käthe Jarke at the cello. [Musical pause]. Beautiful, thank you. I was thinking, no wonder you're, you're in a great demand. You've been playing at where, Tanglewood and where else you--you've been playing just about everywhere haven't you? Right now you're the quartet in residence, student quartet in residence, at, at Juilliard.

Käthe Jarke Right.

Studs Terkel And so it's tomorrow night. Betty Buccheri.

Betty Buccheri 8:15.

Studs Terkel At the North Park College, by the way it's very convenient there too. It's 3225 West Foster, and 8:15 the concert. And it will

Betty Buccheri If people are interested in tickets, our presale is excellent but we do have a few left and we'd love to have people come. It's the phone number to call if they wish to engage a ticket is 583-2700.

Studs Terkel 583-2700 for tickets. Otherwise, you get at the door there.

Betty Buccheri Yes.

Studs Terkel Although, althought it's pretty, pretty

Betty Buccheri Our, our audiences are excellent. We like to

Studs Terkel You have, you have a regular patronage?

Betty Buccheri Yes, we do. We have a loyal group of people who have made this series what it is.

Studs Terkel And so my very generous hearted guests here with, with their music and their instruments and all are here in the large studio of FMT: Weigang Li, violin. Honggang Li, violin. Zhengh Yang at the viola and Käthe Jarke at the cello. The Shanghai Quartet and Betty Buccheri. In un momento, we'll join them in a movement from the Brahms quintet. [Pause for musical break.] And so I was thinking as we enter what I call our last lap, that's our last lap of the music. You, aside from Bartok, your repertoire is getting broader and broader all the time, isn't it?

Shanghai Quartet [Sounds of

Studs Terkel Are you playing--I'm sorry.

Käthe Jarke We're trying.

Studs Terkel Are you planning also even more contemporary music than, you know, I don't mean avant garde, I mean just more than even, even Bartok? Yeah.

Käthe Jarke Well, this season we've had, we've been playing Webern, Five Movements for a String Quartet. Next season we're programming a Chinese piece which we have yet to select but we're gonna do that soon. So we'll have contemporary Chinese piece to offer.

Studs Terkel So they'll be some contemporary?

Käthe Jarke Right.

Studs Terkel Composers as well, as well as the classics and so, shall we? And this is, this is tomorrow now, that's going to be the wind up after intermission tomorrow will be the Brahms, the Brahms quintet. And you're going to be the Schnabel here?

Betty Buccheri Well, that's a rather strong statement. [Laughter]. I will play the piano. [Laughter].

Studs Terkel By the way Betty, who was your teacher? Who did you study with?

Betty Buccheri I went to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. And I studied with a, a wonderful man who just visited me last week. He was in town to play, or in the area to play a recital with Lynn Harrell, the cellist. His name is Brooks Smith, and he was known primarily as a collaborative pianist and his most famous association was with Jascha Heifetz. He was Heifetz's last pianist, and so I was very lucky to study with him because he was particularly interested in chamber music and playing with other people, and it gave me a quite a wonderful background to study.

Studs Terkel East-Eastman had that marvelous old guy there for a while too, Slonimsky.

Betty Buccheri They had him?

Studs Terkel Nicolas Slonimsky.

Betty Buccheri Oh, he is a marvelous guy. That must have been before my time.

Studs Terkel Oh yeah.

Betty Buccheri I've met him.

Studs Terkel He's close to 100.

Betty Buccheri Yes, he is. He's a fascinating person. But I didn't realize he had been in Rochester.

Studs Terkel No, so it's Eastman then, then you came here.

Betty Buccheri Yes, my husband teaches at Northwestern. So we moved to Evanston in the late 60s.

Studs Terkel And so this is, by way I want to thank all four, all five of you very much indeed for being so generous as we're going to hear the, the scherzo from the Brahms, from the Brahms Quintet for piano and strings Opus 34, and I would just remind the audience again all of my four guests Weigang Li at the violin, his brother, so you two, and Honggang Li, you two in the house together, you were learning together pretty much. In fact you're hardly, you're very close together in years aren't ya, in age?

Weigang Li? Well twenty months different. Twenty months different. And we started to play the violin on the same day. That January 1st of 1970.

Studs Terkel So you two, the Li brothers, Weigang and Honggang lead the violins, and Zhengh Yang at the viola and Käthe Jarke at the cello and Elizabeth Buccheri, Betty Buccheri piano, and so the slow movement from the Brahms quintet. And thank you, all five of you very much indeed. Xie Xie! [laughing]. [Music plays]. That's beautiful. By the way, I think I said slow movement, I must be travelling down a very fast lane. [laughing]. It was the scherzo, of course, of the Brahms quintet and once again thank you very much. To remind the audience again of the concert tomorrow night at the North, North Park College. It's, that's at 3225 West Foster and parking is easy and livin' is easy. [laughing] And it's 8:15.

Betty Buccheri Music is beautiful.

Studs Terkel And again once more. Thank you very much.

Shanghai Quartet Thank you.