Returning from summer break in January, the first rehearsal for the NZSQ was more unusual than most: a movement session to begin preparing for Transfigured Night. Chamber Music New Zealand are presenting a ten-centre nationwide tour in March, in collaboration with NZSQ and Ballet Collective Aotearoa, and special guests Ken Ichinose (New Zealand Symphony Orchestra) and Serenity Thurlow (Christchurch Symphony Orchestra). The programme is choreographed and directed by Loughlan Prior, whose Hansel and Gretel with Royal New Zealand Ballet in 2019 wowed audiences with its warmth and imagination.
Commissioned especially for this tour, NZ composer Tabea Squire’s I Danced, Unseen sees the NZSQ incorporate more movement than usual into their performance. For the NZSQ, standing to perform is completely natural, communicating a physical and emotional response to the music. In Transfigured Night, Squire’s music leads an amalgamation of music and dance that culminates in Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night).
As cellist Rolf Gjelsten explains,
‘...it’s really interesting to us to see what physical impulses he picks up from our music-making.’
Schoenberg’s work tells a complex story of love and forgiveness, based on a mystical poem by Richard Dehme. Three of Ballet Collective Aotearoa’s dancers create a narrative that interleaves with the shades and colours of the music.
‘Sometimes [the dancers] move our music around on us while we’re playing...’
says violinist Helene Pohl. At other moments, their positioning on the periphery enhances the music, which also includes Romantic Czech composer Dvořák’s String Sextet in A major, Op 48 in the first half.
The second half brings Schoenberg’s iconic work to life. Violist Gillian Ansell explains,
‘Schoenberg is in his Romantic phase before he became a 12-tone specialist – so it’s ultra lush. This is full of the most exotic, beautiful harmonies.’
For Choreographer Loughlan Prior, Schoenberg’s work is dream to set, and a work he has long admired. This project has developed from several small-scale collaborations with the NZSQ over the past few years. Loughlan says that
'...working to develop this beautiful collaborative project with the New Zealand String Quartet and the Ballet Collective Aotearoa has proven to be full of rich learning and rewarding exchange. My goal from the onset has been to bring narrative energy and physical form to the choreography performed by the dancers, and to create musical harmony with the exquisite nuance of the quartet's interpretation of the works. Both dance and music worlds co-exist together with ease on the stage.’
The costumes and set for Transfigured Night are designed by William Fitzgerald, who is also dancing alongside Laura Saxon Jones and Tabitha Dombroski from Ballet Collective Aotearoa.
Transfigured Night tours 9—23 March. For dates and booking information visit https://chambermusic.co.nz/transfigured-night/