On today’s date in the year 2000, the Shanghai Quartet premiered a new chamber work at the University of Richmond in Virginia. This was the String Quartet No.4 by the Chinese composer Bright Sheng.
Sheng was born in Shanghai in 1955, but since the 80s he’s made the United States his home, and now has an enviable reputation as both a composer and teacher. But back in the late 1960s, during the tumultuous years of Madame Mao’s “Cultural Revolution,” Sheng worked as a pianist and percussionist in a Chinese folk music and dance troupe near the Tibetan border, where he also studied and collected folk music. Sheng’s String Quartet No. 4 is subtitled “Silent Temple.” He explains that title as follows:
“In the early 1970s I visited an abandoned Buddhist temple in north-west China. As all religious activities were completely forbidden at the time, the temple, still renowned among the Buddhist community all over the world, was unattended and on the brink of turning into a ruin. The most striking and powerful memory I had of that visit was that, in spite of the appalling condition of the temple, it was still a grandiose and magnificent structure. Standing in the middle of the courtyard, I could almost hear the praying and chanting of the monks, as well as the violence committed to the temple and the monks by the Red Guards. To this day, the memories of the visit remain vivid, and I use them almost randomly as the basic images of my String Quartet.”