Five Lines: Celebrating chamber music in Nelson

Elizabeth Kerr | 3 March 2021

This article was originally published via Five Lines. For the full original article, visit this link.

Faced with the closure of New Zealand’s borders, the organisers of the bi-annual Adam Chamber Music Festival in Nelson made the pragmatic decision to stage a shorter event featuring New Zealand-based artists in February 2021. Calling their four-day festival “Adam Summer Celebration” was inspired. New Zealand musicians and audiences have much to celebrate and the party atmosphere at the largely sold-out concerts was joyous. Recent New Zealand lockdowns and cancellations demonstrate how fortunate we were to gather for this feast of chamber music.

Curated by artistic directors Helene Pohl and Gillian Ansell of the New Zealand String Quartet, the rich programme offered fourteen events. Part of the buzz of the Adam Festival comes from collaborations between musicians from different ensembles, expanding the repertoire and creating exciting new relationships on stage. In the ‘Grand Opening’ concert a lush Sextet by Korngold saw the NZTrio’s violinist Amalia Hall and cellist Ashley Brown with the NZSQ for this seldom-heard work. The final work of the ‘Grand Finale’ concert was Schumann’s Quintet in E flat major, pianist Michael Endres joining the NZSQ for a thrilling performance of beloved music.

German-born Endres is a Christchurch-based pianist who should be better-known by New Zealand audiences. His all-Schubert solo recital was predictably a highlight of the programme, although the audience might have needed a short breath between the lightness of the Wiener Damenlieder (Viennese Ladies’ Dances) and his profound performance of Schubert’s monumental Sonata in B flat major.

Endres also proved numerous times that he’s a great chamber music colleague - and the musicians of the NZSQ seem to be his new best friends. With Ansell’s romantic viola in Brahms, Pohl’s melodic character in Dvořák, Monique Lapins’ wonderfully languorous and playful Debussy and Rolf Gjelsten’s dancing cello in a fanciful show-off piece from a teenage Chopin, Endres showed versatility and sheer love of music in multiple styles.

New Zealand compositions have always featured proudly at this Nelson event. Highlights this time included two new string quartets written for the NZSQ. Louise Webster’s thoughtful and complex This Memory of Earth was premiered by livestream under lockdown last year and made its first live outing in a concert of New Zealand music for Waitangi Day. [My profile of Louise and review of the work is here.]

The audience was also entranced by Ross Harris’s String Quartet #9, a short single-movement work requiring the musicians to hum and play simultaneously. “It’s strangely difficult to do,” Ansell told us before the performance. The resulting blurred, magical and reverent “chorales” alternate with fleet, elusive contrapuntal episodes which become increasingly agitated. It’s a compelling piece I’d like to hear again soon.

The Adam Festival has only occasionally featured singers in the past but this time the beautiful effortless voice of soprano Anna