The New Zealand String Quartet was in Napier, rounding off
the Hawke's Bay installment of its 'Beethoven Cycle'-playing in the exotic
and thirst-inducing venue of Montana's Church Road Cellars. Over the last
14 years, the NZSQ has made itself one of our country's musical Taonga;
Helene Pohl, Douglas Beilman, Gillian Ansel and Rolf Gjelsten have
breathed a rare quality of life into the music of our composers and taken
it around the country and out into the world. I was keen to find out where
all this energy came from-and, after the Beethoven concert, I wanted to
know when they first got caught up in chamber music:
DOUGLAS BEILMAN: I really wanted
to play the flute but my Dad wouldn't have any of it because he wanted to
have a string quartet. In the end I did play violin and, for me, the main
attraction was the amazing repertoire. One of the first quartets I played
was Beethoven's Opus 18 no 4 and the first movement of the Franck. And
then I heard the Tokyo Quartet when I was 16 playing Haydn's Sunrise and a
Bart-k Four which was amazing-just so viscerally exciting!
ROLF GJELSTEN: I grew up in a
family with a Norwegian folk tradition, we even built a Norwegian room in
our house and all the guests had to see the room, hear us play accordions
and sing Norwegian songs and so on. But by the time I was 15, I wanted to
experience an instrument that I could play with others in an orchestra or
chamber group. I started cello with a very fine teacher at the
Conservatory and eventually I played in a quartet. The first piece we ever
did was the third movement from Opus 18 no 1. I don't even know if it was
recognisable, but we were so infatuated that we rehearsed that movement
every day and must have played it for three months. At that stage I
realised that the experience was more than just making music-it was about
intense interaction with other people.
Gillian Ansell explains a musical
point to some audience members after the Quartet's
Ghost Dances concert in Napier, 1998
GILLIAN ANSELL: I didn't have
much chamber music as a child except as a duo with my mother as my most
regular accompanist-I didn't think of that as 'chamber music'-but my
wonderful violin teacher, Heather Smith, instilled the concept of really
listening to what was happening in the piano part. I entered the Westpac
Competition, but just once, playing this peculiar little trio with a flute
and piano written by some almost unknown composer. When I got to the Royal
College and was asked to join groups, a new world opened up for me. I
remember the first time I heard the Schubert Quintet. It was a pivotal
experence; I just about died and went to heaven.
HELENE POHL: I was a Suzuki kid
so I played with others from the word go and I'm sure that's what kept me
interested-because I wasn't so keen on practising by myself. I remember
when a group of us was doing the second movement of the Bach Double. The
first movement is 'Suzuki books canon' of course, but to play the second
movement was a special treat. In the opening, one violin plays the tune,
the other follows. My teacher said, 'you have to give that tune to the
others, you have to look over and the others have to say "thank
you" as they take the tune'. It's amazing how much that little thing
describes how I think about chamber music: that sense of give and take, of
playing with and for each other.
G.A.: I remember Janetta McStay
in Auckland telling us that when you come to the end of a phrase don't
stop it so the other musicians can't begin theirs. Make sure that you're
handing it to them in such a way that they can easily step in.
MUSIC IN NEW ZEALAND: Douglas's
first revelation was hearing the Tokyo Quartet. What about the rest of
H.P.: For me it was the
Cleveland Quartet when I was studying at Eastman. I'll never forget their
Shostakovich #8-it left me stunned and speechless.
G.A.: The Amadeus Quartet when I
was a student in Cologne. They were hugely inspirational, both in their
teaching and in concert. I remember some very special Mozart performances
from them-the E flat Divertimento for string trio and the G minor Viola
Quintet with Max Rostal on second viola.
||The New Zealand String Quartet after
its sell-out concert at Wigmore Hall, London, December 2000
R.G.: There's no question, the
Beaux Arts Trio. The unbelievably unanimous ensemble with so much freedom
and so much insight into the music-a real feeling for the dimension of
MiNZ: How do you go about
planning what works you programme and building up a repertoire.
H.P.: Up until now, the
Beethoven cycle has been such a determining factor- it seems that we've
built everything else around it.
D.B.: I think one of the
pleasing things is that we've been together long enough to have a history
with certain pieces. The whole aspect of coming back to works and finding
a new way to look at them. That's a mysterious and always rewarding
MiNZ: In an ideal world, what
work would each of you like to see in the Quartet's repertoire?
R.G.: This is a longstanding
problem with any quartet-the pieces that are the most engaging, the most
challenging, say Schoenberg's Third, are sometimes considered 'box office
poison'. There are so many works that we may find difficult to programme
unless it's in a festival context or squeezed into the one programme with
popular standard repertoire.
D.B.: And often those are the
very pieces that you have to play more often to really be able to do them
with the proper authority and understanding.
G.A.: I want to do the Brahms C
D.B.: That's one that I'm sure
we'll get to!
G.A.: But not next year or this
H.P.: I've been dying to do
Schoenberg Two. I'm sure it will come up at some point, but next year
we're doing the Berg Lyric Suite!
D.B.: Schoenberg One or Two are
special for me, but largely we've done most of the works I wanted to do. I
can't think of a single piece at the moment.
MiNZ: Does the Quartet's
official Mission Statement give you any guidance here?
R.G.: The whole Mission
Statement is something of a superficial exercise because our activities
are determined by our chemistry and our commitment to our ideals-those
things can't be laid out in any one statement. We do want to include the
New Zealand component, the sense of New Zealand voice, showing that we
wouldn't be what we are if we didn't reside here with the support that we
G.A.: It's being as good as we
can be. And every two or three years we try to commission new works.
R.G.: Then there's always the
challenge of developing new audiences.
H.P.: One of the things that I
really believe in is that people have to hear live chamber music to
realise how great it is. The more committed the musicians, the more
appreciation and understanding the audience will have. I'm a great
campaigner for chamber music. That's one of the roles of the quartet in
this country-to promote the artform. The artform is not about the sound
byte or instant gratification, it's about going into a deeper level of
awareness and concentration.
MiNZ: And this is coming through
in audience reactions?
R.G.: When we were playing in
the Monadnock Festival in the States, we played Gareth Farr's Owhiro and
some elderly women came back to me after the concert, almost shaking with
excitement. I felt like I was Mick Jagger. One said, 'Oh that piece by the
New Zealand composer, I don't think I've ever been so excited in my life'.
G.A.: And a lot of people are
also very nice about our playing!
D.B.: We recently played for
this big series in North Carolina which was for a really devoted chamber
music audience. One night we did John Psathas's Abisheka and Jack Body's
Transcriptions. I had brought four of five copies of John's Rhythm Spike
CD and they all sold. And this was a conservative chamber music audience,
not a University series where you get people who might have been exposed
to that sort of music.
MiNZ: Jack's Three
Transcriptions were picked by one reviewer as the highlight of your recent
G.A.: In the first one we don't
sound even remotely like a string quartet-more like real Chinese
instruments, and people are intrigued by that. Jack creates these sounds
with clever use of harmonics and strange bowing effects. The middle one,
from Madagascar, is more lulling; then comes the wild Bulgarian dance with
its 7/8 metre which really gets people jumping out of their seats.
D.B.: I love those pieces too,
but one has to remember that they are transcriptions of music from
Madagascar and China . . . .
G.A.: Well, it's one world we're
all living in!
MiNZ: And obviously Owhiro has
just as much power to transfix audiences as it did us when you opened your
Auckland concert with it in 1994!
D.B.: That one's as close as
we'll get to a group like Strike and the sheer rhythmic power of their
recent Gareth Farr CD.
MiNZ: These ambassadorial duties
are obviously where a major part of your energy goes . . .
R.G.: And one of the indications
that we're doing well overseas is that we're able to get very good
managers. In Korea we have Korea Musica who are the only management that
tours chamber music outside of Seoul. In the States we have Jonathan
Wentworth Associates in New York who have arranged a substantial tour over
there through September and October this year.
The New Zealand String Quartet with
students at the 2000 Adam Summer School in Nelson
MiNZ: They're very, very
important these people and so often under-estimated!
G.A.: They're absolutely vital
to the whole thing happening!
D.B.: So true. The manager of
the Adam New Zealand Festival of Chamber Music, Cindy Flook, has
singlehandedly capped the energy and momentum to the point where there is
a real sense of local ownership of the event. And yet she is largely
G.A.: Although the artists
themselves always have the greatest of admiration for the organisers!
R.G.: And for arts
administration in general!. It really is an artistic process in itself.
MiNZ: Surely it's a balancing
act, knowing what to programme, knowing how far you can extend that
H.P.: That is so important.
People do learn and ears do open. When you're exposed to music of our
time, more and more it speaks to you. I've just heard an interview with
the General Manager of New York's Metropolitan Opera. Their season of
Berg's Lulu was 96% sold out this year and they're programming more
contemporary operas next year because that's what interests younger
R.G.: And you can affect an
audience's perception through promotion and marketing, and predispose them
towards having open ears.
D.B.: These people have to be
advocates. They can't fake it. Our manager, Diana Marsh has to interface
with individuals, groups, our trustees and she has to have as much
understanding and delight in what we do as we do ourselves.
MiNZ: You must be amongst our
more charismatic performers in terms of presentation, particularly with
Helene, Douglas and Gillian standing rather than sitting to play.
H.P.: Standing makes us feel
that we can play better-we can move and feel the whole rhythm in our
bodies-occasionally there have been some negative reactions to it, though.
G.A.: It might seem way out, but
chamber orchestras have been doing it for years.
|The New Zealand String Quartet with
the American violinist DOnald McInnes, after playing at 2001
Viola Odyssey, Wellington 2001
R.G.: The best and worst reviews
on our last Australian tour came from the same Sydney concert and the
worst review would not accept that standing was an option. The string
quartet has probably the most devoted and conservative audiences of all
the chamber music mediums. Some people don't want convention changed.
D.B.: There are practical
spinoffs, however. In some venues, it makes it much easier for the
audience to see us!
MiNZ: With all the energy that
you generate in these performances, how do you maintain a physical
H.P.: I've been doing Tai Chi
since 1988. I started it when I was getting over some RSI. I just felt so
connected and alive.
G.A.: I got RSI in 1994 and
doing Tai Chi has meant I can now play. We're just like dancers and
athletes-if you get your muscles warmed up and prepared before you start
using them, it does prevent injury.
MiNZ: And Tai Chi solved your
G.A.: I did have a little
recurrence in 1995 and I just made my decision then and there that 20% of
my mental space while playing was to be given over to my physical
R.G.: I prefer a good sweat. I
love tennis and running long distances, including marathons. Running
clears my head like nothing else.
H.P.: Musicians don't realise it
but we are athletes as well as artists. You think it's just all in your
head and your body does its job automatically, but it's not so.
R.G.: A good part of our
teaching and playing is trying to understand the physical process,
learning how to relax to get maximum effect from minimum effort. In order
to get maximum control you can't work so hard physically.
D.G.: When it comes to the
concert situation and the will takes over that's when the damage can be
done. You don't have to work as hard to produce more. Walking next to the
practice rooms on the way to our studio, I often hear students going over
and over this same passage with no understanding of the real challenges.
MiNZ: What are your own practice
H.P.: In Wellington we rehearse
five days a week-five hours with two breaks. We talk at the beginning
about what we want to cover and how we'll divide up the time, because it's
really easy to get so involved in the first thing that you don't get to
R.G.: In each rehearsal, one
person oversees the rehearsal process ensuring we cover all of the desired
material in the time allotted-and as productively as possible, without too
many emotional, technical or philosophical snags!
MiNZ: Moving back to your
presentation of your music on stage. You make great use of facial gesture
and body movements when you're playing . . .
G.A.: If you're standing, you
can swivel around really easily or stand back . . .
H.P.: If Doug has a solo I will
move back, for instance.
MiNZ: And those knowing glances
when the motives pass around. Do you see them as signposts for the
H.P.: Some of the audience like
to watch our eyes. They can tell what they should be listening for by
where we're looking.
G.A.: Especially with the
Bart-k. People love being in the audience for these. On CD it can be hard
to know who's playing what.
D.B.: But they don't go to a
concert just to hear. They go there to have the whole experience.
R.G.: True, great music contains
great conversations and they can feel that we're talking through our
instruments to one another.
MiNZ: Why did you settle on
Bart-k for your first big project in 1995.
H.P.: It just happened to be the
fiftieth anniversary of his death and Chamber Music New Zealand wanted to
R.G.: Every one of his quartets
would have been on our wish list!
D.B.: He's one of a handful of
composers since Beethoven for whom the quartet medium was a bypass
straight into his soul.
G.A.: When it came to learning
them, it was almost like a trial by fire. We'd had very little time
together, and had those six Bart-ks to get into as well as a lot of other
repertoire. Bart-k One, Five and Six were the ones I hadn't done and to
get say, Number Five, a technical tour de force, up to Bart-k's tempo
markings, didn't happen overnight!
D.B.: Now we're determined to
bring back at least one a year. Once you get the Bart-ks in your blood
they're there for good.
MiNZ: What was the audience
H.P.: The best was when we
played them all in one day in Hamilton. People came along on dares and
things and by the end of the day we had converts.
D.B.: Despite his reputation as
a 'dissonant' composer, for me, Bart-k seems almost 'Romantic' at times.
For example, the truly voluptuous textures in parts of both the First and
Second Quartets; the incredibly expressive, doleful viola solos in the
R.G.: And after you get to know
a piece you don't think in terms of dissonance and consonance, more in
terms of tension and release. Some people say Bart-k is so dissonant but I
cannot understand that any more.
D.B.: I had a similar experience
listening with my partner to Lyell Cresswell's and every sparkle
shivering, which we toured with Michael Houstoun last year. One of things
I hadn't noticed while we were playing it, was the beauty of the
dissonance, the crystalline purity of it. The parameters of what is
actually considered to be dissonant music have been reduced.
R.G.: When you're working on a
piece you're often too close to appreciate this in the early stages.
G.A.: Something that has been so
wonderful with the Beethoven concerts is the feeling that with each
performance you get more and more of the overview. You seem to be stepping
back at the same time as playing.
D.B.: But then it is the
'performance' that counts the most in the growth of an
interpretation-certainly for a collective effort such as ours. In
performance, one isn't allowed to break the continuum from beginning to
end and it's this 'imprint; that gives us the license to go in new
directions with a work in the future.
G.A.: And it's been great having
the space of time between the various Beethoven concerts. Playing a lot of
other stuff and then coming back to them . . . .
MiNZ: Talking of Bart-k leads
naturally to Zolt‡n SzŽkŽly, who has had such close associations with
R.G.: I studied with SzŽkely in
Banff in 1975 (when the Hungarian Quartet retired, Banff gave him a
residence there for the rest of his life). The first piece we tackled was
Mozart K 575. We were going to do the whole first movement in the first
lesson-in three hours we got through the first eight bars. It took us
three weeks to get through the first movement.
D.B.: I was playing for him a
bit later. It was the mid-80s and we played Bart-k Five and Beethoven's
Opus 132. It was amazing-the level of acuity with which he looked at every
possible problem. There were always solutions. He wasn't a modern-style
coach, making you feel good about playing, doing the holistic thing. It
was honest-to-goodness getting into the score . . .
G.A: [with a heavy Hungarian
accent]Honour the score . . . .
MiNZ: Do you think we have
enough of that these days?
G.A.: I know that we are
unbelievably fussy about detail, both with our pupils and with ourselves.
H.P: I think that comes with
quartet playing. Soloists have their own way of playing and they don't
have to justify it to their colleagues like we do day in and day out.
MiNZ: And on August 5 you're
going to give Wellington a taste of SzŽkely as a composer . . .
H.P.: What a revelation it's
been for us to discover his compositional voice! When he was young, he was
as much known as a composer as a violinist. His first piece to be publicly
performed, the solo violin sonata, caused a sensation, and was applauded
by Schoenberg and Stravinsky. Shortly after finishing this work in 1937,
however, he joined the Hungarian Quartet and never composed again. It lay
forgotten until we were invited to give it its world premiere in Banff in
D.B.: He didn't even tell his
quartet that he had written this work.
MiNZ: I know that a recording of
the SzŽkely Quartet is in the pipeline, but there are a number of CDs
already on your website. The first was the Bart-k. How did that come
R.G.: We were making a recording
for Jaz Coleman and we got to know Terence O'Neill-Joyce who said, 'if you
had a choice of recording anything, what would you like to record?' It was
an obvious choice, considering we were preparing all six of these great
quartets for a cyclic tour that season.
MiNZ: Did your interpretations
change between concert hall and recording studio?
H.P.: We had a wonderful
producer Tom Rolston, who had himself played in a quartet. We were doing
Bart-k Four and trying to play it really beautifully and tidily for the
microphone and he said, 'No! Go for it. More and More!' Having someone
like that behind the glass was a learning experience for us.
D.B.: What did change was the
sense of how much articulation and dynamic emphasis you needed for such
things as sforzandi and fortepianos. It clarified our thinking, focusing
us on certain pure elements.
R.G.: The process of editing has
also been very important to our development and self-criticism. We all had
to go through and decide what takes we wanted to use!
MiNZ: The Bart-k set came out
about a year after the tour. It would have been great if they could have
been available to those audiences who had been fired up by your concerts!
D.B.: Sure. And we're quite
happy to cart our CDs with us round with us around the world-we've helped
to sell well over a thousand of the Debussy and Ravel in the last 18
MiNZ: What are your high points
in your recorded repertoire so far?
D.B.: Well, I think the Debussy
recording is quite exciting and voluptous, very close to our on-stage
R.G.: Perhaps it's the slow
movement of Ravel. I think we achieved some beautiful textural colours as
well as a special meditative feel.
G.A.: The Debussy.
MiNZ: You've done so much for
the New Zealand composer over the last few years, touring programmes like
100% Kiwi, Hot Young Things, Plugged In and Ghost Dances. What were your
first experiences with New Zealand music?
D.B.: The first New Zealand
music I heard would have been from the older generation. We played Lilburn
in the New Zealand Chamber Orchestra and the four of us did the E minor
Quartet and also the three Watson quartets. Then came the later stuff-Noel
Sanders' Wolf, a piece I never really quite got into and Ken Young's
quartet with its beautiful slow movement.
G.A.: That was on our 100% Kiwi
R.G.: Our first taste was
playing the Lilburn Trio. We were doing that on a tour in 1984 and as we
were driving through the country Doug was telling us the names of trees
and plants that we'd never seen in our lives. Lilburn reminded us of
Vaughan Williams but there was something unique about his music. Then
after doing Gillian Whitehead's Moon Tides and Shoreline, I began feeling
that New Zealand music did have this almost impressionistic feel that was
very much related to the diversity and power of the natural environment
here. One tries to get a sense for the New Zealand voice, a sense of who
the people are and how the culture evolved. How are people expressing
themselves? I got a strong sense of individuality as well as an
undercurrent of European culture from the music, not quite as suppressed
as some might think.
G.A.: I think the Farquhar was
my first taste with the Quartet. And the Watsons I really enjoyed-they
were quite potent works.
D.B.: Going back to this Nature
thing, just how much does this music reflect the spirit of the land?
Paradoxically, I think that this aspect is more vividly displayed in the
music of Lilburn. It's not as specific as landscape-more the aura of being
in the New Zealand light. I think of McCahon and Woollaston, but then I
don't know how much that is after the fact. It's a tricky one.
MiNZ: Or perhaps-pace NZ Expo
1970-we could play some Sibelius and think of the Southern Alps?
G.A.: Maybe it's saying that
music is a universal thing-the feeling of space conjuring up visual images
in all kinds of people.
R.G.: It comes out in our
playing too. People can't typecast us. They can't figure us out; we don't
sound European and we don't sound American.
D.B.: To return to the Mission
Statement, one of the original board members had a very strong opinion
that the New Zealand String Quartet would play with a New Zealand voice
that somehow resonated from the landscape. And now in a funny way, I think
that we are intrinscially and unavoidably affected by where we live.
Perhaps it's the fact we live and work in New Zealand gives us a sense of
G.A.: The fact that we're
slightly in isolation, although we do have access to recordings and we do
hear other groups . . .
H.P.: And it's in the works
themselves. With a score by John Psathas, it's John's personality which is
the most important thing.
MiNZ: Which brings me to this
whole issue of the commissioning of local music . . . .
R.G.: We're fortunate we can
have the freedom to some degree of making idealistic/artistic decisions
because of our tremendous support team of manager, trustees and friends
organisations, not to forget our Creative New Zealand support and our
Victoria University residency.
MiNZ: It's a special mix of
privilege and power!
D.B.: Yes, when Chamber Music
New Zealand asked us who should we commission for their Fiftieth
Anniversary concert, we thought of Lyell Cresswell, as we'd been impressed
by a recording of his Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra. We liked
the fact that, living in Scotland and working in Europe, he has that
R.G.: Michael Houstoun had the
H.P.: It was such a privilege to
be told you can pick anyone whom you like!
D.B.: One of my projects for
June is go through stacks of scores in the filing cabinets, looking at
music by really talented composers like Jeroen Speak who has sent us
several scores which are really intriguing . . .
MiNZ: Jeroen's String Quartet no
1 was in your Hot Young Things programme. These are titles that you dream
up to showcase the music that is being written in New Zealand?
H.P.: And not just New Zealand!
Ghost Dances included works by Lutoslawski and Schnittke. I don't like
ghettoising-these concerts show that New Zealand music can stand up
alongside internationally-known mastepieces. In Plugged In we had George
Crumb's Black Angels alongside Jonathan Besser and Gareth Farr.
MiNZ: Including a curious
miniature from John Psathas . . . .
H.P.: Yes, an short arrangement
of 'Pokarekare Ana', played on harmonics, that we use as an encore, and
that we've also recorded for Radio New Zealand, hoping that they might use
it instead of some of their usual 'fillers' at the end of programmes.
MiNZ: Our composers aren't
afraid to ask you to do things that some might consider above and beyond
the call of a string-player's duty such as the vocalising in Jack Body's
D.B.: They weren't words so
much, as actual drum sounds, gamelan-style, vocal imitations, in fact.
G.A.: He trained us so hard. He
was really specific.
H.P.: We played Helen Fisher's
String Quartet in our first year and it was a little overwhelming for me
as a newcomer, singing something from the local Maori culture.
R.G.: And there was a fair share
of criticism opening the piece by each of us singing a karanga in canon,
especially us males.
D.B.: I've been most intrigued
by the microtones that John Psathas had us playing in both Abisheka and
his Piano Quintet. John and I had talked about them and how he was very
much influenced by Schnittke. The revelation for John was that that this
could be part of a very personal language.
G.A.: John certainly bends my
perspective much more than Schnittke does.
R.G.: John asks us to bend in
and out of already complex chords.
G.A.: I loved the way he'd take
a major third and pull each note apart by a quarter-tone and end up with a
perfect fourth-that idea of a slow, gradual expansion.
D.B.: And its brutally hard to
H.P.: John also uses
quarter-tones in the Piano Quintet. The four of us start out playing in
quarter-tones and when the piano comes in it all suddenly sounds out of
D.B.: It sounds like an
H.P.: He wanted that nostalgic
MiNZ: Some of these composers
have to bear with great rudeness from our local critics. Earlier this year
John Button was extremely uncivil about the Cresswell and every sparkle
shivering, using words like 'meandering' and even questioning its
suitability as a work of celebration. What do you look for in a critic?
H.P.: In the final count, the
job of a critic is to promote the artform and, hopefully, the critic will
love that artform. They should enhance appreciation and enjoyment and
encourage the audience to listen in a more discriminating way. Some
critics do that more effectively than others.
D.B.: There's no disputing that
there is a place for the critic who can differentiate between the
approaches between this and that quartet, various pianists or whatever.
There might be some commentary on things the performers left unsaid or
areas which were not focused on. But that doesn't happen much. So much of
the review might be just background, ending with a final sentence about
the performance that delivers quite a slam.
The latest AA magazine Directions has a new Arts focus with great spots on
dance, literature and painting. In these areas there is acknowledgement of
some very sophisticated and less commonly obvious efforts. For music we
have rock icon Neil Finn and the young pop group Zed.
H.P.: There's so much else!
D.B.: People accept the high art
end of literature and dance but when it comes to music, there is this
reverse snobbery-the notion being that, while it's acceptable and 'cool'
to be challenged or even provoked in certain artforms, music exists only
to soothe and take us away from our stressful everyday lives.
R.G.: There's often a lack of
depth in some areas of a critic's background-the reviews sometimes become
an expression of one person's taste and that taste may not recognise the
essence of the music or the voice of the composer. A reviewer should as
objective as possible, but express a passionate advocacy for music.
D.G.: There's always been a
dichotomy between the objective and subjective. It's felt that a reviewer
should have a certain objectivity which disavows subjective response. But,
in fact, these critics are sometimes foisting off on the public a
misperception that what they are writing is an objective commentary.
R.G.: I want to be drawn in on
how to listen to a work just as much as the layman. I want a key into this
MiNZ: I remember some years ago
how a short talk by John Rimmer before his piece Marathon made the work
spring alive for me.
H.P.: We believe in that
approach so strongly!
G.A: It opens so many doors to
have someone explain the background.
H.P.: We see it in other
artforms. I appreciate so much the headphone guides in art museums, for
instance. At the British Museum, they're even free, because the
institution obviously sees them as being so important.
MiNZ: Do you find critics can
miss an essential point?
R.G.: It particularly hurts if
there is a real buzz after a concert and the review reflects nothing of
that excitement. People are left with the review as a final reflection of
G.A.: I have been to concerts
that I thought were absolutely sublime and then there were the sort of
reviews which pick out two wrong notes here and so on. The spirit of the
occasion was lost on that poor reviewer.
MiNZ: I'm reminded of Tara
Werner's ungracious, Herald review of Victoria de Los Angeles's concert a
few years back . . .
G.A.: Some people are not open
to taking on that sort of experience.
D.B.: Some are simply not into
the chamber music experience. They will seize upon a minor thing and say
'The group seemed to take some time to warm up in the Exposition'. Maybe
one out of ten times it's true. The other nine it isn't. It's just as
likely that it is the listener's own 'time to warm up' that's at issue.
R.G.: For instance, we start the
Beethoven cycle with Op. 18 no 3, which does take a while musically to
MiNZ: But that's a deliberate
D.G.: Yes, they fail to see that
their own expectations are being toyed with by the composer.
MiNZ: You're coming to the end
of almost two years with Beethoven. Any final thoughts?
H.P.: It's been such a privilege
to work with one of the most fantastic collection of art works in Western
R.G.: And we're feeling the
works on a much deeper level with each cycle. We're able to step back from
each work more and feel the hierarchy of nuance and form.
D.B.: We're starting to think
about LWB-Life without Beethoven.
G.A.: These quartets have sort
of become like friends and we don't want to say goodbye!
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