The New Zealand String Quartet in Featherston

Sunday, 31 August 2014 (the last day of winter), the NZSQ came to Featherston. Ross & I hosted one of the Quartet’s intense and fabulous “Salon Series” performances in our old Army hall on  Fitzherbert Street.

The Salon Series has only just started.  The NZSQ website has the programme for the rest of the series at his link:  Tell all your friends and rellies, you’re unlikely to hear internationally-acclaimed music-making so up close.

The old Hall turns 100 year after next and we’re delighted that it’s being used for the purposes the builders intended – to bring people together and enjoy company, conversation and music.

The Quartet arrived before I was out of the shower (after shifting furniture, mowing lawns, cleaning, setting up a ‘green room’).  Don’t think I’ve ever hugged friends wearing a towel before.

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Rolf arrives and wonders if he’s in the right place

Helene, Gill, Doug and Rolf settled in to practise, enjoying the acoustic (hurrah!).  Cups of tea and coffee were consumed variously and some Tai Chi was done.  Rolf played parts of Bach’s Cello Suite No 6 and I had to stop making cuppas to go and listen and watch.  Unbelievably good – I feel the tears well up while writing this.

Our audience began to arrive about 15’00 before the concert and I began to feel slightly anxious – would there be too many or too few …

But no, just like every other event we’ve held here, exactly the right number of people turned up – all sofas and chairs (kindly lent by Ed & Juliet Cooke in Greytown) were taken (how does that happen???)

3pm on the nose we were off – after I introduce the event the Quartet appeared. (from our bedroom).  This was Programme 2 of the two  they’re playing in this series, and began with Gill playing the Prelude of Bach’s Cello Suite No 1.  During the concert all four musicians played solo Bach, from memory, sitting or standing as the sun streamed in on their beautiful faces, birds singing in the background.

After the first Bach came Haydn’s Gypsy Quartet.  Rolf gave a hilarious introduction, proclaiming Haydn the father of the quartet, piano sonata, symphony etc etc.  The second movement is a treasure, Haydn writing out an improvisation for the first violin that sounds soooo modern.    The audience was so excited we applauded freely and enthusiastically (encouraged by the musicians).

Helene played beautiful Bach, like a minstrel, walking in from the kitchen, behind the audience, while playing, bending and moving with the music.  The audience was in raptures.

And then to Zhou Long’s Song of the Ch’in – a modern interpretation of a 2,000 year old instrument that is still loved and played  by the Chinese.  Tapping instruments, imitating squeaky oars, one audience-member told me after that he’d listened to this work with his eyes closed, and transported himself to an art film of Chinese agricultural workers.

Doug played virtuosically (real word?) in his Bach, to a response of stamping and shouting and then Wolf’s sunny Italian Serenade (perfect for a wintery day in Wairarapa – we were all transported).

After a short break Rolf opened the second half with spellbinding playing of a movement from  Bach’s 6th Suite, before we were treated to the Quartet’s first ever performance of Grieg’s String Quartet.  I’d never heard this work before.  It’s full of romanticism and Norwegian dance rhythms, in equal measure.  The Quartet gave it their all and did total justice to this man who certainly could write as beautifully and more again than his Peer Gynt.

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Shot through the kitchen doors, so apologies for reflections

After two hours of heavenly music we all retired to the kitchen, for cheese supplied by lovely Paul at C’est Cheese (a shop all Wairarapa and Wellington visitors travel to from afar) and darlings, and the best wine in the valley, provided by Christine and Vaughan at Pawlonia Wines (actually just outside Masterton).

The musicians talked with the audience and merriness abounded.  Some Featherstonians had never heard classical music played right there, before them, in their lives.  That’s what this is about.  Bless you Quartet, for bringing your astonishing playing out of the cities, to us locals.  We love you.

As the daylight dwindled, Peter (Helene and Rolf’s son) and I fed the sheep, Julius and Lucille.  They’d enjoyed it too, they said.

Helene, Gill, Doug and Rolf, please come and visit again soon.  K XXXX



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