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NZSM shine at Canberra

In May 2013, the New Zealand String Quartet and eight New Zealand School of Music (NZSM) students and recent graduates participated in a nine-day performance residency at the Canberra International Music Festival, as part of Canberra’s 2013 Centennial celebrations.

The inclusion of the NZSM students was through Canberra International Music Festival’s Sprogis Woods Young Artists Programme. A recent controversial re-structure of the Australian National University Music Department left the federal capital short of string players and meant that the Festival Orchestra in Canberra was severely short of accomplished young string players for the event. The New Zealand String Quartet, through its NZSM Artist Ensemble in Residence position, was able to broker a deal by arranging for these eight accomplished NZSM students and graduates to join them at the Festival and fill the ranks.

Making up the contingent were the Quadrivium Quartet – graduates Jonathan Tanner (violin) and Sophie Williams (cello) with current students Annabel Drummond (violin) and Alice McIvor (viola), joined by NZSM violinists Arna Morton, Kate Oswin, Hester Bell Jordan and Julian Baker.

All musicians performed in the nine day programme as part of the Canberra Festival Orchestra, and their performances included a substantial amount of new and unfamiliar music, including the premieres of Peter Sculthorpe’s oratorio The Great South Land and John Adams The Dharma at Big Sur arranged for amplified cello, as well as traditional repertoire ranging from Bach Cantatas to Wagner operatic excerpts.

The New Zealand String Quartet performed in other programmes also, including a string quartet arrangement of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, quartets by Brahms and Britten, a new chamber arrangement of Mahler’s 9th Symphony, and Saint Saens Carnival of the Animals. With Helene Pohl unavailable for performance the Quartet was fortunate to have been able to call on the services of colleague and friend, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra Associate Concertmaster Donald Armstrong, to join them at the Festival.

Practical assistance was generously given by the New Zealand High Commission in Canberra, which provided airfares and invaluable support at the event. To show their thanks, the Quadrivium Quartet joined the NZSQ to perform at a special reception for the New Zealand High Commission in Canberra.

Cellist Rolf Gjelsten noted what a great opportunity it was for these young players to be working with musicians and directors such as The Song Company’s Roland Peelman and cellist Peter Wispelway. He went on to say,

“It is a testimony to the excellent tuition they have received that they can step up in this way. It speaks volumes for both the breadth and depth of the Classical Performance programme at the New Zealand School of Music.”

Violist Gillian Ansell commented that the students “were exposed to the different conductors and various soloists along with all the other students and professional players who made up the orchestra, giving them a fascinating and varied experience.” She also pointed out that their billeting experiences with local hosts meant they formed lasting relationships with festival devotees from Canberra.

Violinist Jonathan Tanner commented that he gained much from the experience, especially through the opportunity to work with Roland Peelman. For him the highlight of the programme was the Bach concert which he said really extended his learning of Baroque practices through playing alongside the experienced musicians in the ensemble.

Another young musician, Hester Bell Jordan, noted that having the chance to play with a world-renowned soloist like Peter Wispelwey was a particular highlight as was the chance to build friendships with fellow students and Australian professional musicians.

The musicians received high praise from audience and artistic personnel alike including Roland Peelman, who said, “They clearly are well-taught, but they were wonderfully adaptable… the participation of these eight young string players added enormous value to the body of the string orchestra and the overall professionalism of the Festival this year. The CIMF is an extraordinarily complex and taxing annual event, something that bears little comparison with anything we may do during the rest of the year. It is the kind of event that needs youthful enthusiasm and abandon. I really think that the New Zealand students brought just that and I hope very much that their perception of the event and their experience of the festival (the other international artists, the composers, the repertoire, the audience and ambiance) was equally positive.”

The Director of the Canberra International Music Festival was equally congratulatory

“…I cannot imagine assembling young players that would function better and more happily than your young musicians did. They are exceptionally talented instrumentalists as well as very fine individuals who are a credit to their teachers, their University and their culture. I send my profound congratulations to all of them, their teachers and the New Zealand School of Music generally. They represent the next wave of classical players who will be capable over a wide variety of styles and highly adaptable, which bodes very well for music making in New Zealand.”

The Canberra International Music Festival experience was successful on many levels, not the least the profiling of the New Zealand School of Music in the international arena through the ambassadorship of these young musicians. The New Zealand String Quartet and NZSM look forward to continuing this successful trans-Tasman relationship at future festivals.

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