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 SS