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New Zealand String Quartet’s 25th Anniversary: An All-Beethoven Celebration

1 Feb 2012

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The New Zealand String Quartet is celebrating its 25th anniversary with an old friend: Beethoven.

“BEETHOVEN! The Complete String Quartets”is a 27-concert tour of New Zealand during 2012. It starts with two Wellington concerts on the opening weekend of the New Zealand International Festival.

Named The Age of Enlightenment, the Wellington concerts present the first six string quartets Beethoven wrote, known as Opus 18. The title refers to the graceful, classical elegance of the Enlightenment in this music.

NZSQ second violinist Doug Beilman says the NZSQ began its 2012 rehearsals with these early quartets. The lively sense of fun in the music made for an ideal start to the year.

“There’s a joie de vivre in being back together. You understand that although the detailed work will come later, you are listening to each other and you instinctively know so much about how to play together,” Beilman says.

“We’re blessed to have played together so much.”

The quartet last played the entire Beethoven cycle in 2001. These days, the quartet talks less about technical issues, and more about the music’s meaning. “We can ask, ‘What are you saying there?’”

The quartet’s violist, Gillian Ansell, echoes this.

“There’s less stress about how we’re going to do things in a technical sense. These quartets are in our bloodstream now. There’s more freedom in being older and wiser now.”

“We were quite earnest about everything 10 years ago, trying to uncover every detail in great depth. Of course you have to do that the first time you play a Beethoven quartet. But now we see straight through to the heart of the character.”

For Beilman, these early quartets, influenced by Mozart and Haydn, convey a zest for life, but already hint at greater things to come.

“You see the humour of Haydn and the elegant structure of Mozart, but there’s also this real sense of fun. He knew that audiences wanted to be entertained, to be entranced.

“Yet already by the last quartet of this early period, he’s got the seeds of the full gamut of his expression: the epic, the heroic, the powerful. But at the same time, they’re incredibly entertaining.”

Programme information

Part One: The Age of Enlightenment;

Programme 1

When: Saturday 25 February, 6pm

Where: St Mary of the Angels, Boulcott St, Wellington

String Quartet No 3 in D major Opus 18 No 3
String Quartet No 2 in G major Opus 18 No 2
String Quartet No 1 in F major Opus 18 No 1

Programme 2

When: Sunday 26 February

Where: 7.30pm  St Mary of the Angels, Boulcott St, Wellington

String Quartet No 4 in C minor Opus 18 No 4
String Quartet No 5 in A major Opus 18 No 5
String Quartet No 6 in B? major Opus 18 No 6

The NZSQ will be performing around the rest of the country. Find out when and where