Tour Diary: Shanghai Quartet Brings Beethoven to China for 35th Anniversary Season

April 9, 2018: Weigang (first violin), showing us the lounge life, getting ready for our 35th anniversary Beethoven Quartet Cycle in Beijing, Tianjin, Wuhan, and Changsha. Scotch is the quartet’s drink of choice when traveling, as you can see here with soda water.

April 9

April 11, 2018: We had a lovely dinner upon our arrival to Beijing for our 35th anniversary Beethoven Cycle tour with maestro Long Yu, David Stern, and Cheng Zen, concertmaster of the China Philharmonic. Such good friends always meet over great food and, thanks to classmate and Shanghai neighbor maestro Long Yu, good wine, too!

Shanghai String Quartet

April 12, 2018: The 35th anniversary Beethoven Cycle began with Op. 127 at the Forbidden City Concert Hall in Beijing. This was the first of 24 concerts performing the 4 cycles across China. The excitement in the hall was palpable on the stage and in the house for opening night.

April 13, 2018: Second violinist Yi-Wen with Steven Smith, director of J & A Beare, after our second Beethoven cycle performance in Beijing. Beare’s International Violin Society graciously loaned the Shanghai Quartet four instruments for our 35th anniversary season, including two Stradivari, one Guarneri del Gesù, and a Goffriller. We are so grateful for the generosity of the violin society, and for the loans of these truly spectacular instruments.

violinist Yi-Wen with Steven Smith, director of J & A Beare

April 13, 2018: Often our tours have CD signing sessions directly following performances. In Tianjin following the first of two concerts at the Grand Theatre—we sold quite a few CDs to even the youngest of our audience members! And what is nice is that audience members are actually buying physical CDs. It’s also super helpful that we are selling recordings of the very pieces that we played that evening. (We’ve recorded the entire Beethoven quartet cycle on the Japanese label Camerata.)


April 14, 2018: Sometimes things get out of control on empty buses when going to and from the airports and train stations. We try to keep it civil, but all too often things get out of hand and someone gets hurt either physically or emotionally. Yi-Wen had just listened to our playback from the last night’s concert and let us know how he felt about the recording. We thought he was kidding, but he was not and it was emotionally hurting. Not to worry however, we hugged it out at the airport later that afternoon.

April 14

April 15, 2018: We were invited to appear on the CCTV show Life in Music, a one-hour long show that will air in August and be seen by more than 10 million viewers. We did our best not to look too stiff, but kept it string-quartet stylish with our signature bow ties!

April 15

April 19, 2018: Heading to Wuhan we learned a terribly hard lesson—always take the high speed trains rather than flights when traveling within China! Though the train may take a few hours longer, they are consistently on time. Also, they never get delayed by military air activities like our flight did on our way to Wuhan on this particular day. We left our hotel at 7:30am and waited more than 10 hours at the airport in Beijing before finally flying to Wuhan and arriving far after our first Beethoven performance was scheduled to begin that very evening at the Qintai Concert Hall. We will most definitely be traveling by train from here on.

April 20, 2018: Wuhan: One of the best concert halls in China acoustically and visually. What a joy to play here.

April 20, 2018: Post-concert dinner of Chinese crawfish, a Wuhan delicacy that we certainly appreciated. Some of the most delicious and rewarding dinners follow our high-octane concerts. FYI, there were five different preparations for these crawfish. We all agreed that the fried and garlic-sauteed were tied for “best of show” that night.


April 21, 2018: Pre-concert talk in Changsha with a giant poster of the quartet and excellent questions from an unprompted audience of concertgoers. Please note the very suspicious and young Beethoven in the background. Interestingly, the audience knew quite a bit about the quartets and the entire cycle.

April 21, 2018: A special evening. Weigang and Honggang’s mother flew to Changsha for our final concert of this tour. Usually we have our parents show up for our concerts in New York, Beijing, or Shanghai.

April 21, 2018: Changsha, the hometown of Mao, has a very special dish called “chou doufu,” which loosely translates to stinky tofu. If you like severely-aged cheese, you would very much enjoy this dish of fermented black tofu. We agreed that it is an acquired taste and can be painfully repugnant for some. We all love it, however.


April 22, 2018: We were thrilled with the excitement and reception we received after starting this great journey of Beethoven Quartets all over China. We gave our very first Beethoven cycle in China 15 years ago for our 20th anniversary to a different kind of audience. Now we are seeing greater appreciation and understanding for these quartets and, perhaps more importantly, growing enthusiasm for chamber music. This is far different from 2003 when we very likely gave the China premiere of some of his late quartets. Now, we have conservatories emphasizing chamber music, we have complete cycles being presented in lower-profile Chinese mega-cities, and we have audiences with multiple copies of recordings by various string quartets. It’s an amazing time and a great honor to be the ambassadors for chamber music in China for our 35th anniversary year. We can’t wait to continue this journey later in the summer!

April 23, 2018: Shanghai Quartet Gear: Instruments provided on loan by Beare’s International Violin Society; strings by Thomastik-Infeld, and BAM cases.