Current Issue

Back Issues

Contact

Search

Home

Talking Strings: 
The New Zealand String Quartet in Conversation


The New Zealand String Quartet, Wellington 2000 (left to right)
 Rolf Gjelsten, Gillian Ansell, Douglas Beilman & Helene Pohl

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 you?

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 chamber music.

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 process.

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 minor Quartet.

D.B.: That's one that I'm sure we'll get to!

G.A.: But not next year or this year!

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 have.

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 London concert.

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 unsung.

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 audience.

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 opera-goers.

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 equilibrium?

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 problems completely?

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 wellbeing.

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 routines?

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 the others.

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 audience?

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 celebrate that.

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 reception like?

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 Sixth.

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 Zoltn Szkly, who has had such close associations with you.

R.G.: I studied with Szkely 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 Szkely 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 1999.

D.B.: He didn't even tell his quartet that he had written this work.

MiNZ: I know that a recording of the Szkely 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 about?

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 months.

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 presentation.

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 programme.

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 liberation.

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 outside perspective.

R.G.: Michael Houstoun had the same idea.

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 Campur Sari.

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 play!

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 tune.

D.B.: It sounds like an out-of-tune player-piano.

H.P.: He wanted that nostalgic effect!

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 language.

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 the experience.

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 'warm up'.

MiNZ: But that's a deliberate compositional device!

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 Civilisation.

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!

 

Next article in issue 39     Contents Issue 39    Home