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Playing Viola Quintets with New Zealand String Quartet violist | ANZVS Journal Issue No. 48

This article originally appeared in print in the Australian and New Zealand Viola Society (ANZVS) Journal Issue No. 48.

It is always of great interest for a full-time string quartet, used to spending hundreds of hours shut away together in a room and then performing and travelling together, when one or more additional members joins the group for quintets/sextets etc. The New Zealand String Quartet has been doing this for years and built up a wonderful set of experiences and memories with inspiring pianists, singers, double bass players, clarinettists, horn-players, cellists and violists. As the lone violist, it is the cause of real joy when another violist joins us for string quintets or sextets, with instant viola camaraderie, quite apart from the added warmth, depth and tonal richness that the extra voice brings. And of course, the opportunity to get my mitts on these sublime works is always to be treasured.

When Olwyn (ANZVS Secretary) asked me to write this article on viola quintets, it was a good opportunity to pause and reflect on the great good fortune I’ve had over the years to have played these works with so many wonderful violists, either on tour for CMNZ, at music festivals round the world, at the Adam Chamber Music Festival in Nelson or at a couple of International Viola Congresses, often with someone joining my quartet but also when I’ve joined another quartet or in a festival mix-and-match situation. But well before that, I have vivid memories of discovering some of the Mozart quintets as a student at the Royal College of Music and many delighted readings of them with friends thereafter. The first hearing of the Brahms G major quintet, with its opening jubilant, exhilarating cello solo against a backdrop of pulsating semiquavers, played by principals of the Deutsche Kammerakademie, of which I was a member, left me breathless with excitement. And perplexed that I’d never heard of it -- why hadn’t anyone told me about that piece? And the first time I heard the Dvorak 2-viola quintet in concert was years later, when I was already in the New Zealand String Quartet. We were in the US and already close by, more or less, so some of us popped into the legendary Marlboro Festival in Vermont for a few hours and I heard, amongst other things, the Dvorak quintet and once again wondered why I didn’t know it better. Sometime after that, the beauties of the 2 Mendelssohn quintets was opened up to me and that was another whole new world too.

NZSQ and the Jerusalem String Quartet

Now after 33 years in the NZSQ, I’m delighted to say I've played all these pieces, some many times and had so many fabulous experiences. The list of these other violists who have joined us or groups I have joined is quite amazing now that I see it laid out and includes, in alphabetical order:

  • Atar Arad, (ex-Cleveland Quartet and professor at Indiana) Mozart C major at the 2001 International Viola Congress in Wellington-- also Mozart C major and Dvorak at the 2003 Adam Chamber Music Festival

  • Roger Benedict (principal viola SSO) Dvorak and Mozart G minor at the 2017 International Viola Congress in Wellington

  • Catherine Consiglio Professor of Viola at Wichita State University, a member of the Fairmount String Quartet and Principal Viola in the Wichita Symphony Orchestra.

  • Brahms F major in Wichita, Kansas 2016

  • Peter Cropper (ex-Lindsay Quartet) – Brahms G major in Sheffield 2014

  • Steven Dann (professor at the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto) – Dvorak E flat at the Festival of the Sound, Ontario 2008

  • James Dunham (ex-Cleveland Quartet now on the faculty at Rice University, Houston) Mozart D major and G minor and both Brahms on tour for CMNZ 2016

  • Ron Ephrat (Principal Violist Rotterdam Philharmonic 1983-2013) Brahms G major, Festival of the Sound, Ontario 2015

  • Goldner Quartet – Mozart G minor with them at the Hunter Valley Festival 1997

  • Nicholas Hancox, (former student of mine at the NZSM and a member of the NZSO) Mozart G minor at the Martinborough Festival 2020

  • Alan Iglitzin (ex-Philadelphia Quartet) Mozart C minor and B flat K.174 at the Olympic Festival 1999

  • Nobuko Imai (ex-Vermeer Quartet and now Michelangelo Quartet) – Brahms G major and Mozart E flat at the 2005 Adam Chamber music Festival. Mozart D major and Mendelssohn B flat at the 2007 Adam Chamber Music Festival

  • Julia Joyce (Principal viola NZSO) at the chamber music round of the Michael Hill Violin Competition 2017 and 2019 – Mozart C major, D major, E flat and G minor

  • Jerusalem Quartet – Brahms G major with them at the 2019 Adam Chamber Music Festival

  • Ori Kam (Jerusalem Quartet) Brahms F major at the 2019 Adam Chamber Music Festival

  • Maria Lambros (ex-Mendelssohn Quartet now on the faculty of Peabody Institute) in Washington DC, Baltimore and Wildflower Festival, Pennsylvania 2016 and the other violist on our Naxos CD of the 2 Brahms quintets

  • Donald McInnes (USC Thornton School of Music) Dvorak in the 2001 International Viola Congress Wellington

  • József Molnár (Tiberius Quartet) Mozart G minor in Odorheiu Secuiesc, Targu Mures and Sighisoara, Roumania 2018

  • Irina Morozova (Goldner Quartet and ex-principal in SSO) – Mozart G minor at the 2001 Adam Chamber Music Festival and Mozart C major at the 2017 Adam Chamber Music Festival

  • Prazak Quartet – I did the Dvorak E flat with them at the at the 2009 Adam Chamber Music Festival and we mixed in Mendelssohn A major

  • Hariolf Schlichtig (ex-Cherubini Quartet and ex-professor at the Munich Hochschule) – Mozart C, D, G and E flat and both Brahms on Chamber Music New Zealand tour 2004 and Dvorak in Munich 2001

  • Gil Sharon (Fine Arts Quartet) Brahms G major in Maastricht 2017; Mozart G minor in Festival of the Sound, Ontario 2015, Mendelssohn B flat in Festival of the Sound, Ontario 2017

  • Barry Shiffman (ex-St Lawrence String Quartet, now director of the Banff International String Quartet Competition) – Mendelssohn B flat in Banff 2006

  • Serenity Thurlow (principal viola CSO) – Mozart C major, Christchurch 2018

  • Phillip Ying (Ying Quartet) – Beethoven C min op. 104 and Bruckner, Adam Chamber Music Festival 2015

  • Ivo-Jan Van der Werff (ex-Medici Quartet now on the faculty at Rice University, Houston) – Mozart G minor, New Zealand School of Music 2017 and in Houston, Texas 2018

  • Alexander Zemtsov (ex-principal viola London Philharmonic Orchestra and professor at the Vienna Musikhochschule) - Mozart C minor, Adam Chamber Music Festival 2011

  • In Queensland Conservatory at Griffiths University in 2011 we did Mozart G minor with 4 viola students, one per movement -– Martin Jude Alexander, Cameron Campbell, Greg Daniel and Finn Gilfedder-Cooney.

NZSQ with Serenity Thurlow (Principal Viola, Christchurch Symphony Orchestra)

The planned 2021 Adam Chamber Music Festival in Nelson was going to feature the viola since the previous two featured the cello and violin respectively. I was so looking forward to having the wonderful young British violist Timothy Ridout (winner of the 2014 Cecil Aronowitz Competition and the 2016 Lionel Tertis Competition and a BBC New Generation Artist since 2019) attend along with the Heath Quartet with its excellent violist Gary Pomeroy as well as some of New Zealand’s leading players but sadly the festival had to be postponed, due to Covid 19. Hopefully we will be able to present what we had planned 12 months later in February 2022 so watch this space!!

NZSQ + James Dunham

Researching for this article, trawling for hours through old diaries, has been a very interesting trip down memory lane and brought into perspective the tremendously rich and fulfilling musical life I’ve had in the NZSQ over the past 33 years, with so many varied projects and an enormous number of collaborations -- not least the great honour and pleasure I’ve had playing with these wonderful violists over the years, many of them counting amongst the world’s most illustrious.

This article originally appeared in print in the Australian and New Zealand Viola Society (ANZVS) Journal Issue No. 48.


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