Adam Chamber Music Festival at Nelson

Adam Chamber Music Festival (A selection of events from the Festival)

Nelson, Marborough, Motueka, Golden Bay  

23 January to 7 February 2009

Cynics often remark, a propos of the hoo-hah surrounding ‘world premieres’, that second performances, like second editions of novels, are much rarer than first ones. So the Adam Chamber Music Festival in Nelson has already entered the sphere of the remarkable by reaching its tenth.

It began in 1992, the brainchild of New Zealand String Quartet second violin Doug Beilman and NZSO violinist, the late Stephen Managh, and cellist James Tennant. The ambition then was for annual festivals but after the second festival, in 1993, it has prospered as a biennial event with the continued huge support from the Adam Foundation.

The artistic management has now moved to two of Beilman’s colleagues, Helene Pohl and Gillian Ansell. In the past there have been some famous and exciting ensembles and soloists from around the world: few more so than the Prazak Quartet, one of the world’s greatest string quartets; it also remains an important date in the diaries of many leading New Zealand, Australian, American and other musicians.

The festival’s administration, at first in the hands of Cindy Flook with logistic support from her husband, landscape architect Ron, has been assumed this year by Wellington music administrator Roger Lloyd. It is also necessary to acknowledge the many years of dedicated guidance by chair of the Festival’s Trust, Colleen Marshall.


Mendelssohn and More II

Beethoven and Mendelssohn Quartets: respectively Op 132 and Op 13, in A minor

New Zealand String Quartet, Prazhak Quartet

St John’s Methodist Church, Monday 2 February

The 1pm concert at St John’s on Monday featured both quartets in a special programme offering an example of Mendelssohn’s devotion to his predecessors. Having heard the first quartet, Op 12, on the Sunday, a work in which Beethoven’s influence is clear enough, this concert was specifically devoted to playing Beethoven’s Quartet in A minor, Op 132 on which Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No 2, Op 13 was modelled.

Gillian Ansell spoke about the thematic and spiritual relationship between the two works and the New Zealand String Quartet began with the Mendelssohn. It couldn’t have been written by Beethoven even though only a year or so younger than Beethoven’s, in 1827, the year of Beethoven’s death. But it was by an 18-year-old, a composer 40 years younger, and its spirit was of a later era. In place of the great slow movement in Beethoven’s quartet, Mendelssohn’s Adagio has a somewhat sentimental feel, even though there is weight and it is meditative in a way that few young men of his age would manage. In the NZSQ’s hands it was affecting nevertheless. It’s as if the young composer whose compositional skills were already astonishingly mature, knew what it should be like but lacked the years of disillusion and frustration, and spiritual ecstasy, that fed Beethoven’s late works.

Given all that, this was a very significant performance by the New Zealand String Quartet, the fruit of some years devoted to study of Mendelssohn’s chamber music. It was generous to give the Beethoven to the Prazak Quartet, for it gave the audience the chance to hear them in one of the great masterpieces, in a performance that was a study in Beethoven’s expression of unimaginable emotion: the wit, flippancy, torment, spiritual power equalled by hardly any other composer before or since.

Mendelssohn hardly scratched the surface of all that, and the Prazak Quartet had the key to it. It was yet another Nelson concert that ended with the audience, emerging into the midday sun, bemused and many without words.


There was a concert at Motueka on Monday afternoon, 2 February, by American guitarist, David Tanenbaum. It was the most disappointing concert of my festival and I concluded that he was having a bad day.

I left Nelson on the Tuesday of the second week; the festival continued till Saturday, 7 February, with several great concerts to come: Mendelssohn’s Octet and his Quartet Op 18; another Piers Lane concert, repeating in part his Blenheim one; the Prazak in Blenheim repeating the Dvorak Quintet plus Haydn’s Emperor Quartet; the Prazak Quartet and others in Beethoven’s Archduke Trio, and York Bowen, Schubert, Webern; a New Zealand programme with Farr, Whitehead, Rimmer and Ian Whalley featuring Richard Nunns on taonga puoro; Schubert’s String Quintet in C and a grand finale including Tchaikovsky, Kenneth Young, Haydn and Bartok.

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