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Sweet Memories are Made of This: Celebrating 20 Seasons of our National Tour

Kia whakanui tātou, It’s time to celebrate!

A special year indeed, 2021 marks the 20th season of our annual National Tour - our flagship series which sees us traverse the breadth and depth of Aotearoa New Zealand. From Timaru to Tauranga, Wellington to Waiheke we’ve loved performing across all corners of the country, forming special connections with people and places as we go.

It’s thanks to the generous support from the Turnovsky Endowment Trust that we’ve been able to continue to share our music on tour with all of New Zealand, championing NZ composers and connecting with schools and young people along the way. Your sustained and visionary support means the world – thank you.

While this year’s tour is temporarily on-hold, we’re excited to share reflections from nearly 20 years of music making, adventures, mishaps and laughter: stories from the very beginning, on the road, and just minutes before we stepped on stage. There’s never a dull moment on tour with the NZSQ!


Bach, Blenheim and Ball Gowns

Gillian Ansell | Viola

I’ve got such a kaleidoscope of memories in my mind as I contemplate almost 20 years of National Tours we’re currently celebrating.

With so many thousands of hours of repertoire planning, rehearsals and personal practice preparation, discovering new venues, dress rehearsals, concerts, van rides, plane trips, hotel rooms, occasional stays with friends and family, meeting audience after concerts, it’s all been a set of rich and fulfilling experiences I wouldn’t give up for anything.

I have extremely happy memories of each time we play in the Treehouse at Cloudy Bay in Blenheim, (including a non-lethal version of Russian Roulette), where the quartet plays in the round with audience at tables happily sipping away at wine, gazing past us out at the mountains, or in the gorgeous acoustics of the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts in Hamilton, where every nuance you make with the bow and vibrato is enhanced and amplified.

I’ve loved our fun times playing in the intimacy of the Lodge Theatre, Geraldine with the array of fabulous costumes stored on hangars backstage, including lots of fur coats, ball gowns etc, (some of which needed trying on at interval) and staying with our fabulous hosts in their gracious home and park-like garden.

Another favourite performance spot is the gorgeously warm and woody Church Road Winery, beautifully designed to be a small concert hall as well as a place for barrels of wine to mature and as is, of course, the Nelson School of Music, which overwhelms me with happy memories (from the Adam Festival and Adam Summer School) every time I set foot in it, and which we call our second home.

One of our most fun projects was celebrating Haydn (2009) when we chose our very favourite movements and interspersed them with his letters, which we read in various voices. But each year we have played incredible music, from Purcell, to Bach, Mozart to Shostakovich, Gao Ping and Gareth Farr.

Out on the road in a very full van

We’ve never missed a concert till Covid struck last year, though I once nearly slept through one in Dunedin… From small beginnings in 2002 to the 30 concerts we had planned for Beethoven’s 250th birthday last year, the series has become a central part of our year.

Hours of lively van discussions with all five of us (the manager comes along on National Tours), political debates, relaxed chat on any subject, the frequent beauty out the window, have all added to the total package of the pleasures I’ve experienced.


How it All Began

Diana Marsh | NZSQ Manager 1999 - 2006

2002 was a year full of milestones, including the launch of the annual NZSQ National Tour series.

For some time we knew that in order for our organisation to grow, we needed to have our own self-presented series. There were many reasons for this including managing our brand, sponsor opportunities and freedom to plan and curate from an artistic perspective.

The Turnovsky Endowment Trust was already a sponsor of the NZSQ, but they were keen to be involved with a special project. This desire coincided nicely with the decision to have our own annual series and the support of the Turnovsky Endowment Trust made this possible.

The first series was managed between me and Grant O’Neill (who had stepped in while I was on maternity leave) and it was called Czech and was themed around the music of Czech composers. It was designed to acknowledge the Turnovsky family’s heritage and the support they had provided to the NZSQ over many years.

It is wonderful to see that the series has flourished over the last two decades, and that the Turnovsky Endowment Trust continues their support.

Our first tour poster for our Czech Tour from 2002


Is it Schumann or Beethoven?

Rolf Gjelsten | Cello

Some years back we toured the country with two wonderful programmes, each ending with a meaty masterpiece from our repertoire. One programme finished with a Schumann Quartet and the other with Beethoven’s sublime Opus 131 Quartet. In one of our concerts, in which we were particularly inspired by the warm atmosphere and lovely venue, we finished the concert with a glow after an inspiring journey through the Beethoven Quartet.

At the after-concert gathering, an audience member came up to us and said, “that was wonderful … I don’t think I’ve ever heard Schumann sound like that!” Alarm bells rang and we all grabbed a programme to confirm that, indeed, the Schumann was programmed for that concert and NOT the Beethoven! Since then, we always check the programme before the concert!


Music From My Homeland

Helen Philpott Trustee, Turnovsky Endowment Trust

I was amazed when I was reminded that this year will mark our 20th anniversary tour. For me the first series featuring Czech music was special and feels like only yesterday. It was wonderful to share the music of Smetana, Janáček and Dvořák with New Zealand audiences and the link to my parent’s homeland made the concerts particularly memorable.

Each series is very thoughtfully planned by the Quartet members around a theme, anniversary or event, so really each series is unique and unforgettable in its own way. But our 20th anniversary does feel particularly special.


There’s Never a Wasted Minute on Tour

Elizabeth Kerr | NZSQ Manager 2006 – 2011

I have many memories of the national tours with the NZSQ. These self-presented concerts were a special annual highlight, always with the invaluable support of the Turnovsky Endowment Trust. After I joined the organisation on the brink of their Mozart tour in 2006, the Quartet and I planned a “Bach and Mendelssohn” tour for 2007. A highlight of that was including a new quartet arrangement of Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations’ and in Wellington we presented ‘Goldbergs by Candlelight’ at St Mary of the Angels Church. The queue for tickets snaked down the steps to the street and afterwards composer Ross Harris was so inspired by Bach’s music he composed his Variation 25, which the Quartet has performed many times.

Working with the NZSQ is like being attached to an unstoppable force. Full of energy and enthusiasm, these musicians are absolute troupers on the road. Travelling with the Quartet means never a wasted minute.

We planned the 2008 tour in a van driving up the North Island. Someone remembered that Michael Houstoun loved the Franck Piano Quintet and within an hour we had all the repertoire for the “French Connections” tour theme and a soloist to join in.

Hungarian Rhapsodies tour poster from 2011

Not everything went smoothly. One year, setting up in the intimate Tom McDonald Cellar in Taradale, we discovered someone had left their music stand behind. We put the word out and the Hawke’s Bay music community delivered no fewer than six stands before the day was out. 2011 was the year for a tour of Hungarian-inspired music with Hungarian pianist Péter Nagy.

In earthquake-shattered Christchurch, with the concert for Christopher’s Classics in an unfamiliar church, Péter initially refused to play the Brahms Quintet on the less-than-wonderful borrowed grand piano. After a few difficult hours trying to sort a “plan B” he relented, and the five musicians delivered a great and much-appreciated concert.

Monique works with keen ākonga / students from Sistema Whangarei on our 2016 tour


Music, Nature, People – Bliss!

Monique Lapins | 2nd violin

A fond memory for me was from our National Tour (Beethoven cycle) last year - post NZ lockdown #1.

We jumped out of the tour van to catch some snow on the Lindis Pass after playing an electrifying concert in Wanaka! The excitement and energy from our audiences on this tour - and equally for us as a quartet - was magnified after an extended silence in the land of live performances. All things music, nature and people were heightened sensory experiences after lockdown.

The Quartet take a stop in the Lindis pass for a spot of snow (2020)


Sometimes It’s a Game of Roulette…

Helene Pohl | 1st violin

Our Russian Roulette programme in 2015 immediately springs to mind.

It was one of those ideas that crop up unpremeditated in meeting - I love those slightly wacky ideas that seem to appear in the air when you’re discussing, at first it’s just a fragment of a thought, then it develops, and afterwards you don’t remember whose idea it was. It’s like coming up with an interpretation in quartet rehearsal - in the end it’s everyone’s idea!

So anyway, we were talking about making a programme of Russian music, and someone’s free association came up with "Russian roulette"… so then before we knew it Christine (our then Manager) was organising a roulette wheel that we took with us on tour (a massive beast! Logistical challenge!), and each number on the wheel, 1-19 I think, corresponded to a movement that we had ready to play. So for the second half of the Roulette programme audience members came up on stage, spun the wheel, and then we turned the page to that movement and performed it. It was really fun not to know what was coming next, both for us and the audience! Some fabulous juxtapositions ensued between say sweet Borodin and sarcastic Shostakovich….


Visit our National Tour 2021 page for the full concert dates and programme details.

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