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Celebrating 35 Years of the New Zealand String Quartet

It's our birthday! 2022 marks 35 years of performing, touring, music making, championship of classical music and music education as New Zealand's only full-time string quartet. To celebrate, we all took a look back at some of the highlights of the past 35 years.

Our First Public Concert - 1988

Gillian Ansell (Viola)

One of my strongest Quartet memories from the 1980s is our first public concert, held on Tuesday, 24 May 1988 in the Memorial Theatre at Victoria University of Wellington. Our rehearsal studio at that time was a brown-curtained, thin, high-ceilinged room in the old Hunter building, where the music department was housed till June 1989, when the new School of Music building opened. In order to develop a quartet sound and reliable ensemble technique, we spent five hours a day for about eight months rehearsing our three pieces before we were let loose on audiences! Today that seems incredible when we usually have so many pieces on the go at all times. We certainly knew every note of Haydn’s “Rider” quartet, Beethoven op. 59/2 and the Debussy forwards backwards and inside out…… There was a great buzz, a sold-out hall, very positive reactions and we were on our way!

Teachings With Zoltan - 1995 / 96

Helene Pohl (First Violin)

One is when we were invited to play for Vaclav Havel, the first president of Czechoslovakia and of the Czech Republic, when he visited New Zealand in 1995.  It felt a real honour to play for this great statesman.  It was obvious from his reaction that music meant a great deal to him, and that hearing music from his great compatriot Dvorak being celebrated here in New Zealand was very special.

The other has to do with our feeling of being the curators and guardians of a great tradition of music making.  We each carry the inspiration that was given to us by our teachers and mentors with us and strive to pass it on to our audiences as well as our students.  In 1995 and 1996, as we were preparing to perform and record all the Bartok string quartets, we spent several weeks each northern summer at the Banff School of Fine Arts and had coachings with the violinists Zoltan Szekely, who had performed extensively with Bartok before Bartok left Hungary in 1939, and who had played Bartok’s string quartets over his many decades in the Hungarian String Quartet. It was magical to be just one person removed from one of the towering figures of 20th century composition, and to imagine how Bartok would have heard his music as performed by Szekely.  Later we were entrusted to give the world premiere of the quartet Szekely himself wrote, and we studied that with him as well.

Wigmore Hall - 2000

Rolf Gjelsten (Cello)

Our first of two Wigmore Hall concerts in 2000 was particularly memorable.   I had goose bumps entering the green room with its wall to wall signed photos of many of our artistic icons and then playing the first notes in this glorious acoustic with its intimate feeling and warm ambience. 

The final concert of our 6 concert Beethoven cycle tour with CMNZ in 2000, which culminated in Wellington after touring the country, was an inspiring milestone for the quartet. These 17 works, often called ‘the Everest’ of quartet repertoire, really felt as if we had planted the flag on the summit!

A Return to Music - 2020

Monique Lapins (Second Violin)

A fond memory for me was a tour we did in 2020 straight out of NZ lockdown #1. During our journey across the gorgeous NZ South Island landscape, we jumped out of the 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.

Here's to the next 35 years of music making!

If you have a memory of the NZSQ that you's like to share with us, we'd love to hear it! Send us an email at

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