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The Shanghai Quartet with pianist Todd Crow performs Jan. 22 at University of Richmond.

An Intimate Evening with the Shanghai Quartet

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Chamber music is prized for its intimate, conversational and light character. For many, it is the pinnacle of musical enjoyment, thanks to the close interplay between the musicians and the precision that such intimacy requires. The upcoming performance of Mozart, Beethoven and Dvorak by the Shanghai String Quartet and the renowned guest pianist Todd Crow should deliver on this great promise. The "Prussian" String Quartet, Opus 589, is one of the last string quartets Mozart wrote. Commissioned by King Wilhelm of Prussia, it reflects that monarch's love of and ability to play the cello. It stretches the 18th-century idea of what a string quartet should be. Rather than the typical Mozart string quartet, where the two violins and viola play beautiful melodies over the repetitive and somewhat unimaginative bass figures of the cello, the Prussian quartet allows all the instruments an equal measure of importance. At some points, the cello even has a greater variety of melodic material than the other three instruments — all to flatter Mozart's powerful amateur musical patron. The second piece on next Monday's program, Beethoven's self-proclaimed Serioso string quartet, cannot be described as pretty. The Serioso quartet is seen by many to be an intensely personal work for this master musician. By its composition in 1810, Beethoven had suffered a complete loss of his hearing, a rejection of a proposal of marriage and months of Viennese occupation by the French. These external influences are reflected in this amazingly moving work that is at times furious and out of control. Beethoven reins in all of this passion by the end and offers the listener, finally, a measure of peace and hope. The final work on the program is the Piano Quintet in A major by Czech composer Anton Dvorak. Known best for his New World Symphony, written while the composer lived in the United States, Dvorak was the darling of his native Prague. His Piano Quintet features all of the musical traits that continue to make him popular: rhythmic excitement, exquisite use of each instrument's tonal color and the influence of native Czech dances — including two in the quintet's third movement. Violist Honggang Li says that it is "one of the best pieces Dvorak wrote." The Shanghai string quartet is joined in this final piece by pianist Todd Crow whose playing has been described by The New York Times as "heroic, showing endless flair, color and stamina." Well-known to concertgoers in the United States and Great Britain, Crow has appeared recently at the National Gallery of Art, London's Wigmore Hall, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as Avery Fisher Hall and Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center. Honggang Li calls him "a pianist we love." These three pieces, by such different composers, wonderfully display the variety and possibility of chamber music. Li vows that audience members "will be moved and excited by this performance." Exactly the reaction audiences everywhere prize in chamber music performances. The Shanghai Quartet with pianist Todd Crow will perform Monday, Jan. 22 at 7:30 p.m. Camp Concert Hall, University of Richmond. Tickets are free but must be acquired ahead of time by calling

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