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NZ String Quartet: Into the Light (NZ Listener)

Elizabeth Kerr, NZ Listener | 18 June 2022

This article was originally published by NZ Listener on 18 June 2022, and on Elizabeth Kerr's blog, Five Lines. Click here to view the original article on Five Lines.

New Zealand String Quartet playing in small, intimate venues. Photo credit: Adrian Harris

“We want to change perceptions with these concerts,” says Rolf Gjelsten, cellist in the New Zealand String Quartet. “People sometimes think the string quartet medium is very serious and complicated. But our musical landscapes are very diverse and there’s a lot of humour in these pieces, alongside the love and deeper messages.”

Cellist Rolf Gjelsten

“…diverse musical landscapes.”

Like musicians worldwide, the Quartet members are delighted to be touring nationally and internationally again after numerous pandemic disruptions. NZSQ recently travelled to perform in Canberra and Tasmania and is now back on the road in New Zealand with the sixteen concerts of its “First Light” national tour.

New Zealand String Quartet National Tour

“…imaginative programmes celebrating reflection, rebirth and release.”

With themes that acknowledge Matariki, three imaginative programmes celebrate reflection, rebirth and release, offering music that draws on the traditions of the past, celebrates new traditions and, says Gjelsten, “overcomes adversity and emerges into the light.” Beloved classics by Haydn, Mozart and Schumann are programmed alongside more recent music in characterful programmes full of fascinating discoveries.

First violinist Helene Pohl hasn’t played William Walton’s String Quartet in a minor since it was part of her audition for her NZSQ role in 1993. Polish Grażyna Bacewicz is a 20th century master newly discovered by the Quartet. “Where has she been all our lives?” asks Pohl. “She has a wicked sense of humour; her Scherzo and Walton’s are both full of cheek.”

Violinist Helene Pohl

“…music by Bacewicz and Walton is full of humour and cheek!”

New Zealand composer Natalie Hunt’s Matariki, described by Gjelsten as “a lovely little vignette”, opens the series. Irish composer David Flynn, now resident in New Zealand, wrote Slip in 2005. “He’s using Irish dance traditions, much as Bartok used folk song,” says Gjelsten.

Lyell Cresswell’s three playful dance movements will be played as a tribute to the Scotland-based New Zealander and friend of the Quartet who died recently. “We scheduled them before we knew he was sick,” says Pohl. “Lyell lives on in this music; it’s so full of his personality and humour.”

Composer Lyell Cresswell

“…he lives on his music.”

The Quartet has chosen small intimate venues for the tour, churches, galleries and a winery. Asked about highlights, Pohl refers to “the visceral connection” with audiences. “If I feel I’ve reached someone, that’s my highlight. Communicating with real people, in real time and space.”

New Zealand String Quartet FIRST LIGHT National Tour 2022, June 12 - July 24. Find tour dates, programmes and venues here. The three programmes will be recorded by RNZ Concert for later broadcast.


This article first appeared in the NZ Listener, issue 18 June 2022. Click here to read the article on Elizabeth Kerr's blog, Five Lines.

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