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Tales from Canada’s Festivals

Our August tour to Canada took us to festivals in Ontario and British Columbia.

We’ve just arrived back in New Zealand invigorated having played with some exceptional musicians and ensembles – not to mention the lovely audiences. It’s been a full-on but also wonderful and multi-faceted tour. Here are some impressions of our time.

Soon after landing, we began our trip in a very intense way - recording Janacek’s two String Quartets and two beautiful sonnets for the Naxos Record label. What a world to delve into! We set up in the centre of the beautiful St Anne’s Anglican Church in Toronto, where the ever-astute ears of Norbert (our engineer and producer) guided and inspired our recording process. It’s such a treat to be able to travel so deeply into this music and to know it will be a moment in time captured permanently! I know we all feel happy with the result and look forward to being able to share it with you when it is released.

Recording earlier this month for the Naxos Record label

After the intensive sessions, we were rewarded by performing to a large and keen audience sprawled out all over the green grass in the Toronto Summer Gardens. The Gardens are a beautiful outdoor space where you’re surrounded by the beauty of nature; the sound of water lapping nearby and the sun kissed sunset of the evening. After the concert we caught up with Helene’s former violin student, Gemma New, conducting Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde in Koerner Hall. Beautiful, expressive and powerful conducting – no wonder she’s hitting the big time!

Helene and Rolf with Gemma New earlier this month in Canada

Not a day to rest before we were on the road again, returning to Parry Sound (Ontario) for ‘The Festival of the Sound’. This is a real treat as always. Parry Sound is known for its glorious lakes, which we were able to finally dip into! Festivals are always exciting – running around from rehearsal to rehearsal; meeting new inspiring musicians; performing multiple concerts for audiences who are really in for the ‘marathon’ of watching almost every concert (there are up to four performances in one day sometimes). Much like the Adam Chamber Music Festival, the buzz is infectious. At Festival of the Sound we made friends with the Canadian Guitar Quartet. Monique even ended up having a musical ‘duel’ with one of the guitarists. Her weapon of choice? The last movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 59, No. 3. (See the ‘duel’ for yourself here). In the Guitar Quartet’s version we were interested to see how they shared the parts around as they arrange much of the repertoire themselves. Most rewarding of all was performing Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 131 in Stockey Centre’s concert hall, such a profound musical journey.

Performing at the 40th Festival of the Sound earlier this month

Following our time in Ontario, we flew from Toronto to Vancouver (unchartered territory for Monique), taking a beautiful ferry trip and a car ride to Pender Harbour on the west coast of Canada. This is a small, quaint place with a festival that has been running for 15 years. We spent a week here premiering some new Canadian music and, of course, showcasing our own quartet repertoire. The forests were large and bold here, the sunsets more glowing and red in the dusk.

On the final leg of the tour – and for the final concert – we travelled to Victoria - the home of Rolf Gjelsten. It was a treat to meet his family, see his home turf and of course play for the loving audiences keen to see their treasured cellist who lives happily in New Zealand. We had one free day to explore the area, which Monique spent roaming the tree-lined streets to get a real flavour of the place – unexpectedly leading her to Rolf’s earliest place of study: Craigdarroch Castle. This was built in the late 1800s as a family residence for the wealthy coal baron Robert Dunsmuir and his wife Joan. Over time it became a military hospital and eventually the Conservatory of Music where Rolf studied. Today, it is a historical museum and tourist attraction. It was incredible to walk the halls, and imagine the music which sounded through those corridors.

As we head home, Gill via Banff to join the jury of the String Quartet Competition, we’ve reflected so much we’re already looking forward to the next series of concerts and adventures ahead!

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