Princeton’s "chamber music underground," as Barbara Sand playfully dubbed the fans of small-scale musical performance, eagerly wait each year for the Princeton University Summer Concerts series, which Sand founded 36 years ago. This year, for both listeners and performers, the opening event is more than just another concert gig.
Sand, an enthusiastic cellist, died in December, 2003, and the first concert of the season, by the Shanghai Quartet, on Wednesday, June 29, at 8 p.m. in Richardson Auditorium, is dedicated to her memory. Sand’s death seemed premature. She died long before she could play all the music that delighted her, publish all the articles that bubbled up within, or throw all the parties of which she was capable.
The Shanghai Quartet will bring along their special memories of a close relationship with Sand.
Tickets are free and are available beginning at 7 p.m. the evening of the concert. Members of the ensemble are violinists Weigang Li and Yi-Wen Jiang, violist Honggang Li, and cellist Nicholas Tzavaras. Weigang and Honggang are brothers. About performing with his brother Weigang says, in a telephone interview from his hotel room before a concert in Richmond, Virginia, "It’s better than a husband and wife in a quartet. At least you go back to different homes after rehearsal."
The program consists of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Quartet Op. 18, No. 6; Samuel Barber’s String Quartet, Op. 11; and Johannes Brahms String Quartet Op. 51, No. 2. The Barber piece contains a sad but comforting elegiac adagio movement that is often played as an independent entity. Weigang Li says: "The program was influenced by Barbara. The Barber is especially appropriate for a memorial concert. And Barbara always liked Beethoven and Brahms."
At the time of her death Sand had been trailing the ensemble for two years to places where they worked or performed, gathering material for a book. "She came to Marlboro, [Vermont, where the festival founded by pianist Rudolf Serkin takes place] and to Richmond, [Virginia, where the quartet was in residence at the University of Richmond]," Weigang says. "We went to her house. She interviewed us separately. She was fascinated by our upbringing. Three of us grew up in China. It was an unusual background for a quartet – coming from China. We are the only Chinese string quartet to play worldwide."
Weigang points out the appeal of the American member of the quartet. "Our cellist, Nick, was interesting because of his mother’s work," Weigang says. Cellist Tzavaras’ mother is Roberta Guaspari-Tzavaras, founder and artistic director of the Opus 118 Music Center in East Harlem, whom Meryl Streep portrayed in the 1999 film "Music of the Heart."
Tracing the history of the Shanghai Quartet with the Princeton Summer Concerts and Barbara Sand, Weigang says: "Barbara asked the quartet to play in the Princeton Summer concerts in the late 1980s. We were the new kid on the block, and we played everywhere. We started [performing in the United States] in 1988 and played 60 concerts that year. A new hot quartet emerges every year. They are affordable, and everybody asks them to play.
"We first played in the courtyard [of Princeton’s graduate school]. And we played every few years in the summer concerts series." Under Sand’s direction, the concerts were held outdoors for more than two decades. In 1991, when the graduate school was renovated, the series moved indoors to Richardson Auditorium.
At first, the concerts were an extension of Sand’s domestic life. She readied the Graduate College space by pruning tree branches and transporting lamps from her living room. She recruited local children, including her own three, to sell lemonade and collect contributions. Sometimes the children perched in the trees to hear the music. Listeners settled on blankets on the lawn, with picnics and babies. After the concerts, performers and invited guests retired to Sand’s Princeton quarters.
"We went to her home," Weigang remembers. During the last few years of her life Sand lived in Manhattan. "She came to many concerts in New York," Weigang says. "I had the key to her apartment. We could sleep there when we were playing concerts in New York." The quartet was in residence at Virginia’s University of Richmond for 13 years ending in 2003.
Since 2002 the Shanghais have been in residence at Montclair State University. I ask Weigang how they managed two residencies simultaneously. "It was very difficult," he says. "We lasted for a year and then quit Richmond." The ensemble retains its Richmond connection as Distinguished Visiting Artists, giving concerts from September to May, participating in the annual Summer Nights arts series in June, and giving workshops in the area.
"Now we’re down to only playing concerts in Richmond, and we’re in residence at Montclair," Weigang says. "We don’t have the time for two residencies, teaching fulltime in two places, and giving about 100 concerts [a year]. We also have a huge repertoire. We’ve talked with members of other quartets and realize that we carry more than most. We’re trying to cut back so we won’t kill ourselves. Last year was our 20th anniversary, and we did seven Beethoven cycles in addition to our regular concerts."
Performing the cycle of Beethoven’s 16 string quartets is a benchmark of musical maturity. Since the quartets cover all periods of Beethoven’s compositional life, ensembles can assert their individuality by deploying the pieces as they choose. The Shanghais like to present the cycle in six concerts, and they try to avoid a chronological approach. "Not everybody attends all six programs," Weigang says. "So we want each concert to have variety by including music from early, middle, and late periods." Over the next four or five years the Shanghais will record the cycle.
The ensemble came into being when Weigang was 19. Born in 1964, he is now 41. The second son of his family, he is 18 months younger than Honggang, the quartet’s violist. The Li parents are both violinists. Their father, a former professor at the Shanghai conservatory, retired 15 years ago. Their mother was associate concertmaster of the Shanghai Symphony.
All the members of the ensemble have musical backgrounds. Violinist Yi-Wen Jiang’s father was concertmaster of a Chinese navy orchestra, and his mother was a professional singer. The mother of cellist Tzavaras, Roberta Guaspari-Tzavaras, insisted that string music be offered to children at the East Harlem school where she taught, hence the 1995 documentary that led to the 1999 film. Tzavaras’ father, who is retired from the U.S. Navy, is the only quartet parent who is not a musician.
Weigang’s developing career in the China of the late 1970s and early ’80s shows the zigs and zags of Chinese policy at the time. In 1978 at age 14 he entered the Shanghai Conservatory. As one of a group of five sent abroad by the Chinese government in 1981, he spent a year at the San Francisco conservatory before being asked to return.
"Going back to China was good for me," Weigang says. "The next year I started the quartet." Formed in Shanghai in 1983, the quartet’s original members included Weigang and his brother Honggang as violinists. In 1995 Honggang switched to viola and Jiang, who had studied at Rutgers with Arnold Steinhardt, replaced him. Tzavaras, who joined the quartet in 2000, is the third American cellist to play in the ensemble.
Weigang graduated from the Shanghai Conservatory in 1985 and was immediately appointed an assistant professor. A self-effacing person, he says with simplicity, "It’s a tradition. The school offers a faculty job to the best student. Usually it’s the best job you can get in China."
Within months, despite being asked to stay on in Shanghai, the quartet left China to study with the Vermeer Quartet at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. "It was a great place to practice," says Weigang, "because there’s nothing else you can do."
In 1987, as a graduate ensemble-in-residence, the quartet moved to New York’s Juilliard School, where they assisted the Juilliard Quartet. Extensive concertizing followed.
The quartet strongly believes that first and second violins are fixed positions and that the violinists should not switch roles. "You have to play very differently when you play first and when you play second," says Weigang. "It’s hard to adjust. Personally, I think a quartet has a personality when four people are placed in a particular way. When there’s a switch, it becomes a different quartet and sounds very different."
Weigang plays down the primacy of the first violinist. "I don’t feel that I’m the dominant person," he says. "We’re four strong personalities, and there’s no weak link. We treat each other with complete equality and respect. Whatever works for the piece matters. Music is the only ego we have. It’s the only way you can make great music. If you’re always thinking of ‘me’ and the composer, you put it backwards. You have to constantly think what is the composer’s intention, not ‘I would like to play this thing a certain way because I like it like that.’"
Weigang continues: "The first violin is the most exposed part. I’m the most responsible technically and interpretively." I ask him if the other quartet members can get away with more than he can, and he replies, "It depends on who’s listening."
The quartet’s energy in performance comes through in their 20-disc discography. Primarily western European chamber music, it also includes Chinese music. Their very last disc, on the Delos label, contained Beethoven String Quartets Op. 59, No. 2 and No. 3. The preceding disc was "China Song," also for Delos, which consists of traditional Chinese folk songs arranged by the group’s violinist Jiang.
Their next project, the Beethoven Quartet Cycle, will be issued on the Camerata label, founded by fastidious Japanese sound-engineer and impresario Hiroshi Isaka. "We were surprised when we mentioned the Beethoven cycle as our dream project, and he said, `Let’s do it.’ It’s a huge undertaking for him as well as for us." The late quartets will be recorded first.
Weigang explains that Delos, for whom the Shanghais’ have recorded extensively, doesn’t have the resources for the entire Beethoven cycle and readily agreed to their doing the project with Camerata, which is based in Japan and has an international reach. Recording will take place in China and Japan, tucked around the twice yearly trips the ensemble makes to Asia.
The globe-trotting string quartet was in Shanghai at the end of April and beginning of May. After alighting briefly in the United States, they performed in New Zealand in early June. Now they return to Princeton, playing from their hearts in the memorial concert for Barbara Sand.
Princeton University Summer Concerts
Richardson Auditorium, 609-631-7884. Free tickets available at the box office at 7:30 p.m. Concerts at 8 p.m.
The Shanghai Quartet. Program features works of Beethoven, Barber, and Brahms. Musicians include Weigang Li, violin; Yi-Wen Jiang, violin; Honggang Li, viola; and Nicholas Tzavaras, cello. The concert, in memory of Barbara Sand, is the first concert of the 37th season. Wednesday, June 29.
Gryphon Trio. Program features works of Mozart, Hatzis, and Dvorak. Musicians include Annalee Patipatanakoon, violin; Jamie Parker, piano; and Roman Borys, cello. Thursday, July 7.
The Miro Quartet. Program features works of Haydn, Beethoven, and Smetana. Musicians include Daniel Ching, violin; Sandy Yamamoto, violin; John Largess, viola; and Joshua Gindele, cello. Thursday, July 14.
The Enso String Quartet. Musicians include John Marcus, violin; Maureen Nelson, violin; Robert Brophy, viola; and Richard Belcher, cello. Program to be announced. Wednesday, July 20.
Taplin Auditorium, 877-343-3434, www.golandskyinstitute.org.
Summer Festival. Concert by Michael Berkovsky, winner of the 2005 Julliard Rachmaninoff Concerto Competition. Sunday, July 17.
Ilya Itin, winner of all the major prizes of the renowned Leeds International Pianoforte Competition in 1996. Monday, July 18.
Richard Steinbach, winner of the top prize in the 1995 France Piano International Competition in Paris. Tuesday, July 19.
Emanuele Arciuli, guest faculty at the University of Cincinnati. Thursday, July 21.
Father Sean Duggan, winner of the Johann Sebastian Bach International Competition in 1983. A graduate in theology from Notre Dame Seminary, he was ordained to priesthood in 1988. Friday, July 22.
Danilo Perez, a Panamanian pianist and composer. Saturday, July 23.
Westminster Choir College
Bristol Chapel, 609-921-2663, westminster.rider.edu.
Hymn Sing. Cynthia Westbrook and Mark Trautman, leaders. Free. Monday, June 27.
Sing In. Sun Min Lee conducts Mozart’s "Verperae solennes de confessore and Coronation Mass." Free. Tuesday, June 28.
Recital. City Winds Trio. Free. Wednesday, June 29.
Recital. Tatyana Grushinskaya, soprano; and Marina Leonova, piano, present "Classical Fantasies for Voice: Works of Mozart, Strauss, Loewe, Puccini, and Rimsky-Korsakov." Free. Thursday, June 30.
Annual Bach Festival. Fuma Sacra conducted by Andrew Megill. Donations invited. Saturday, July 2.
Sing In. Elizabeth Schauer conducts Bach’s "Magnificat." Free. Tuesday, July 5.
Recital. Marvin Rosen on piano presents "The Ink is Still Wet." Free. Wednesday, July 6.
Hymn Sing. James Moyer, leader; Jason Vodicka, organ. Free. Monday, July 11.
Recital. Tara Buzash on piano presents "Creative Spirit: Jazz Piano." Free. Wednesday, July 13.
Recital. The Practitioners of Musick present "Musick from Georgian London and works by Handel, Stanley, Boyce, and Arne." Free. Thursday, July 14.
Hymn Sing. Kevin O’Malia, leader. Free. Monday, July 18.
Sing In. Paul Head conducts Faure’s "Requiem and Cantique di Jean Racine." Free. Tuesday, July 19.
Recital. Nancy Froysland Hoerl, soprano; and Akiko Hosaki, piano, present "Songs of Debussy and Sibelius and American Songs." Free. Wednesday, July 20.
Recital. Kenneth Cowan on organ. Free. Thursday, July 21.
Sing In. Allen Crowell conducts Faure’s "Requiem and Cantique di Jean Racine." Free. Tuesday, July 26.
Recital. Radek Materka on piano presents "Works of Mozart, Chopin, and Szymanowski." Free. Thursday, July 28.
Hymn Sing. Stanley Szalewicz, leader. Free. Monday, August 1.
Recital. Anthony Kitai, cello; and Shannon Hesse, piano. Free. Wednesday, August 3.
Recital. Nancy Froysland Hoerl, soprano; and Frank Abrahams, piano, present "Women I’ve Been or Wanna Be." Free. Thursday, August 4.
Grounds For Sculpture
18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton, 609-689-1089, www.groundsforsculpture.org.
Jen Chapin. Contemporary singer-songwriter Jen Chapin performs. Daughter of the late Harry Chapin, her unique sound is described as urban jazz folk. Co-sponsored by Concerts at the Crossing. Postponed from January. $18. Saturday, June 18.
Cheryl Wheeler. Singer-songwriter Wheeler writes original songs that blend humorous topics with more serious themes. Saturday, July 23.
Grounds For Sculpture Courtyard Concerts
18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton, 609-689-1089, www.groundsforsculpture.org. Concerts move indoors if rain threatens.
Animus blends Middle Eastern, Latin, and Caribbean music. Azhia, recently named Belly Dancer of the Universe, demonstrates. $8. Friday, June 24.
Townhall presents high-energy original pop-rock music. $8. Friday, July 15.
The Car Music Project presents an evening of intrigue as each musician performs original compositions on instruments designed from car parts. Master designer and conductor Bill Milbrodt explains how this unique project evolved. $8. Friday, July 29.
Foxy Moon Baby fuses funk, jazz, reggae, pop with many world cultures. The sound includes trombone, sax, trumpet, bass, lead and rhythm guitar, drums, and solid percussion. $8. Friday, August 26.
Morris Cultural Center, 300 Mendham Road, Morristown, 973-335-9489, www.folkproject.org.
Open Stage. Area singer-songwriters and musicians are invited to test their skills in front of a live audience. Friday, July 8, and Friday, August 12.
Philadelphia Folk Festival
Old Pool Farm, Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, 800-556-3655, www.folkfest.org. Friday through Sunday, August 26 through 28.
The Folk Project
Minstrel Coffeehouse program, Morristown Unitarian Fellowship, 21 Normandy Heights Road, Morristown, 973-335-9489. $6. www.folkproject.org.
Magpie. Friday, June 17.
Jeremey Kittell. Friday, June 24.
Bryan Bowers. Friday, July 1.
2633 Main Street, Lawrenceville, 609-895-0844, www.acmemusicco.com.
Darla Rich Quartet. Jazz vocals. Thursday, July 7.
15 East Broad Street, Hopewell, 609-466-9889, www.acmemusicco.com.
Darla Rich Quintet. Jazz vocals and dancing. $15 minimum. Saturday, June 18.
The Matinee Trio with Tony Mennella. $15 minimum. Saturday, June 25.
Darla Rich Quintet. Jazz vocals and dancing. $15 minimum. Saturday, July 9.
Karen Zumbrunn Trio. $15 minimum. Saturday, July 16.
Darla Rich Quintet. Jazz vocals and dancing. $15 minimum. Saturday, July 23.
Crystal Torres Trio. $15 minimum. Saturday, July 30.
Darla Rich Quintet. Jazz vocals and dancing. $15 minimum. Saturday, August 6.
Karen Zumbrunn Trio. $15 minimum. Saturday, August 13.
Darla Rich Quintet. Jazz vocals and dancing. $15 minimum. Saturday, August 20.
Lawrenceville Main Street
Music in the Park Series. Weeden Park, Main Street, 609-219-9300, www.LawrencevilleMainStreet.com. Free.
Darla Rich Quintet. Thursday, July 7.
Also Thursdays, July 21, August 4, and August 18.
Music in the Park 2005. Thompson Park, Forsgate Drive, 732-521-4400. Bring lawn chair. Free.
George Manikas and his three-piece band present Greek music. Friday, July 1.
David Cedeno and his orchestra present "Put a Little Salsa in Your Life." Friday, July 8.
The Rick Koreyva Band presents classic Italian-American standards. Friday, July 15.
Chameleon presents South American hits from Venezuela, Brazil, Columbia, and Cuba. The group includes Jim Royer, double bass and vocals; Rosie Rounds, flute and saxophone; Ismail Butera, accordion; and Neil Ochoa, percussion. Friday, July 22.
Mariachi Bustamante presents romantic folk tunes and traditional Mexican love songs. Friday, July 29.
Princeton Shopping Center
Summer concert series. North Harrison Street, 609-921-6234. Free.
Ron Kraemer and the Hurricanes. Thursday, June 16.
Nassau Brass under the direction of Glenn Kaufmann. Saturday, June 18.
Bed Bug Eddie. Thursday, June 23.
Phoenix Rising with Latin jazz. Saturday, June 25.
Blawenberg Band. Thursday, June 30.
Tone Rangers with country, rock, and blues. Thursday, July 7.
Billy Hill Band with R&B. Thursday, July 14.
Tom Klimchock with classic and contemporary country music. Thursday, July 21.
Linda Torchia and the Ted Firth Quartet with big band and jazz standards. Thursday, July 28.
Moonlighters with big band sounds. Thursday, August 4.
Party of 5 with classic rock & roll, oldies, and doo wop. Thursday, August 11.
Trenton Brass Quintet Plus One. Thursday, August 18.
The Robert Murdock Band presents classic rock from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. Thursday, August 25.
West Windsor Recreation and Parks
Summer Sounds. West Windsor Senior Center Gazebo, Clarksville Road, 609-799-6141. Bring a lawn chair or blanket. Indoors if it rains. Free.
Peanut Butter N’ Jammin Music Company presents an interactive children’s show. Wednesday, June 29.
Joshua Everett Andrew Suslak presents classical, show tunes, and classic rock. Wednesday, July 6.
Jazz Workshop presents jazz music with a touch of class. Wednesday, July 13.
Nassau Brass presents classical and more. Wednesday, July 20.
Swing Era presents swing music. Wednesday, July 27.
Yosi presents an interactive children’s performance. Wednesday, August 3.
Lou Filiano Cruz-N-Concert Series
Third Reformed Church, 10 West Somerset Street, Raritan, 908-334-1463, www.cruisenights.org.
Keith & JT. Rain or shine. Free. Wednesday, June 29.
The Raritan Music Center Jazz Ensemble. Also, Sparkee the Somerset Patriots mascot. Rain or shine. Free. Wednesday, July 20.
Big Jeff. Kids Night. Also, the New Jersey Devil Mascot. Rain or shine. Free. Wednesday, August 10.
The Plum Run Bluegrass Band. Rain or shine. Free. Wednesday, August 31.
New Jersey Symphony
Mercer County Park, West Windsor, 800-ALLEGRO.
Concert and Fireworks. "Hollywood Salute" Fireworks to follow. Bring chairs and blankets. No raindate. Free. Saturday, July 2.
The Great Auditorium, Ocean and Pilgrim pathways, Ocean Grove, 800-773-0097.
Michael Amante. Classic operatic tenor Michael Amante in concert. $23 to $28. Saturday, June 18.
Doo-Wop All Stars. Saturday, June 25.
PNC Bank Arts Center
Holmdel, 732-335-0400, www.artscenter.com.
Steve Miller Band and Kenny Wayne Sheperd. Saturday, June 18.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and the Black Crowes.
The Strange Days Festival with the Doors of the 21st Century. John Kay & Steppenwolf, Vanilla Fudge, the Yardbirds, and Pat Travers. Friday, June 24.
James Taylor. Saturday and Sunday, June 25 and 26.
Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire. Friday, July 1.
Sugar Water Festival. Friday, July 15.
John Mellencamp & John Fogarty. Saturday, July 16.
O.A.R., Pepper, the Southland. Friday, July 22.
Loggins & Messina. Saturday, July 23.
Toby Keith, Lee Ann Womack, Shooter Jennings. Sunday, July 24.
Ozzfest 2005. Tuesday and Wednesday, July 26 and 27.
Duran Duran. Saturday, July 30.
Donna Summer. Saturday, August 6.
Brian Wilson. Friday, August 12.
Motley Crue, Sum 40, the Exies, and Silvertide. Sunday, August 14.
Tori Amos, the Ditty Bops, Imogen Heap. Friday, August 19.
Ktu’s Beatstock 2005. Sunday, August 21.
The Allman Brothers Band. Tuesday, August 23.
Gigantour. Wednesday, August 24.
Avril Lavigne, Gavin Degraw, and Butch Walker. Thursday, August 25.
Journey. Friday, August 26.
Meat Loaf. Saturday, August 27.
Alice Cooper and Cheap Trick. Monday, August 29.
Hall and Oates, and Todd Rundgren. Tuesday, August 30.
Tinicum Park, River Road, Erwinna, Pennsylvania, 609-397-7300, www.riverside-symphonia.org.
Concert Under the Stars. 60-piece professional orchestra. Adults, $18; Children, $12. Saturday, July 2.
Sovereign Bank Arena
81 Hamilton Avenue at Route 129, Trenton, 609-520-8383, www.sovereignbankarena.com.
Asha Bhosle. "Unplugged." $35 to $150. Saturday, June 25.
Hellfest. Three-day festival of underground music includes a flea market, skate park, and tattoo convention. www.hellfest.com. Three-day passes, $136. Daily pass, $46. Friday through Sunday, August 19 through 21.
Classic Rock Fest. ZZ Top. $35 and $45. Tuesday, August 23.
15 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 877-782-8311, www.StateTheatreNJ.org.
Michael McDonald. Former member of the Doobie Brothers, as a solo musician he presents Motown classics. $25 to $65. Wednesday, July 13.
Lucinda Williams. Singer songwriter with songs including blues, folk, country, gospel, and rock. $25 to $45. Friday, August 5.
Engelbert Humperdinck singing his greatest hits and tunes from his newest album. $20 to $55. Saturday, August 6.
Jersey Shore Rock & Soul Revue. Bandleader Bobby Bandiera leads the group in a tribute to music legend Roy Orbison. $18 to $32. Thursday, August 11.
Huey Lewis and the News. The group’s silver anniversary tour and celebration of the DVD and CD release of "Live at 25." $35 to $65. Tuesday, August 16.