Day Four: ProAm, Ensembles of Power and Standing O’s

Despite being restricted to 10 days every 2 years the Adam Chamber Music Festival isn’t holding back on how much is on offer. Our Nelson blogger is still sending us updates from the Saturday activities – not that we’re complaining! So here’s the next instalment in which Korimako talks ProAm, ensembles of formiddable power and standing ovations at Mahler’s 4th…

Saturday 2 Feb – From Korimako

After the drama of the switchboard fire at the Cathedral I wandered up Trafalgar St to the beautifully-restored Fairfield House, a haven for the Pro-Am group to rehearse and give their concert.  Fourteen students spent two days practising Mozart’s Dissonance Quartet (No 19 in C) and played it with their tutors to a good crowd, so many that some stood outside on the verandah. 

Cello tutor Euan Murdoch (Chief Executive of CMNZ) talked a bit about the premier of the quartet and the highly accomplished performers (all composers too) – Haydn played violin I, the fantastically named Baron Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf violin II, Mozart played viola & Vanhal cello.  That’s the great thing about these Festival concerts where you often pick up fascinating facts like this. 

The other tutors were Justine Cormack (NZTrio leader), former Nelsonian Rebecca Struthers (NZSO –  locals never miss a chance to claim her!) and Victoria Jaenecke (principal viola Orchestra Wellington).

The students put their heart into playing, with enthusiasm and careful attention to detail, mostly following their tutors’ leads.  I thought both tutors and students looked as if all really enjoyed the experience, & the audience certainly enjoyed it too.

The ProAm ensemble with tutors - Justine Cormack, Rebecca Struthers, Victoria Jaenecke, and Euan Murdoch

The ProAm ensemble with tutors – Justine Cormack, Rebecca Struthers, Victoria Jaenecke, and Euan Murdoch

A couple of hours later in the substitute venue, the School of Music, the acclaimed Penderecki Quartet from Canada opened the evening concert with the same Mozart quartet.  Their promotional material quoted them as being “an ensemble of formidable power and keen musical sensitivity”.  I couldn’t find better words to describe this performance.

Next up was Ross Harris’s Chaconne for solo viola, commissioned by Gillian Ansell over a decade ago, and played by her at this concert.  Ross wrote of this work …”when I thought of Gillian alone on stage, I imagined refugees fleeing from devastated areas of war…”  The underlying ground bass is overlaid by alternate pizzicato and bowed sections, ending gently with a lament.

The Jet Whistle for flute and cello written by Villa-Lobos in 1950, is a good example of his exotic Brazilian style.  Bridget Douglas and Rolf Gjelsten gave a vivid performance which is reminiscent of folk and Indian music, bird song, a small donkey’s trotting, with great contrasts of high and low notes.

Now where to start describing the highlight of this concert – Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No 4 arranged in 2007 by Klaus Simon for a conducted chamber ensemble of fourteen musicians with soprano in the last movement. 

Ever since the 2013 Festival programme was released I’ve been waiting for this moment.  I first heard Mahler played live at the 1970 Cambridge Music School when Mahler 1 was the major work – don’t laugh – it was a good performance with 50+ strings, nearly enough winds (I think no trombones), conducted by Juan Matteucci.  From that time I’ve found Mahler irresistible (a few other composers fall into this category)!

Although many think Mahler should be off limits to this sort of reduction, Simon’s version of the Fourth is near perfection.  The clarity of melody lines the recurring sleigh bell motif, the characteristic Ländler section, the fabulous cello and bass opening of the adagio, combine to show Mahler with a transparency I couldn’t have imagined.  Then there’s the climactic finale with sung poems from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, the collection of German folk songs which Mahler loved, and often used in other works.

I could spend an hour or two praising all the musicians individually, but take my word – they were all perfect and here’s the list:

Helene Pohl (violin)                                            Bridget Douglas (flute) 

Douglas Beilman (violin)                                                Robert Orr (oboe)

Gillian Ansell (viola)                                           Philip Green (clarinet)

Rolf Gjeltsen (cello                                            Robert Weeks (bassoon)

Hiroshi Ikematsu (bass)                                                 Darryl Poulsen (horn)

Emma Sayers (piano)                                        Lenny Sakofsky (percussion)

Diedre Irons (harmonium)                                   Bruce McKinnon (percussion)

Jenny Wollerman (soprano)                                Michael Joel (conductor)


I now know Simon has also done chamber versions of Mahler 1 and 9 – I’m hoping that the great success of this venture means one or other of these will be heard at festivals here very soon!

This concert was transferred to the School of Music because of the Cathedral electrical fire.  Of course the audience all knew this, but a stranger popping in for a last minute ticket could not have detected that less than four hours earlier this programme was in rehearsal at another venue. I went to two of the Mahler rehearsals at the Cathedral, and I think the School of Music with its softer, wood-panelled acoustic, gave a better sound result.  I wasn’t alone in thinking this, and many, but not all of the musicians agreed.

The full house gave a standing ovation, and there was also much appreciative clapping for the three management team members who did the bulk of the transfer work.


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