Day Five: Making Fine Arts Accessible to the Masses

Sunday 3 Feb – from Korimako

The Minguet Quartet receiving a KLASSIK PRIZE from the 2010 ECHO awards

The Minguet Quartet receiving a KLASSIK PRIZE from the 2010 ECHO awards

The Minguet Quartet are a very popular youngish group of musicians based in Germany, and their visit to the festival was sponsored by the Goethe Foundation.  They get their name from Pablo Minguet, an 18th century Spanish philosopher who wrote about making fine arts ‘accessible to the masses’.  These players follow these values, talking in an on-stage conversation with Helene Pohl about their visits to India working with under-privileged children.  They enjoyed telling us about when a group of youngsters asked about their ‘national hymn’ they played the German national anthem.  Then in a turnaround they got about 600(!) children to sing an Indian national song.  Their enthusiasm about this flowed through into their performances.

First up they played a couple of Contrapuncti from Bach’s Art of Fugue – my idea of a perfect start to recital.  Then we heard String Quartet No 11 by a contemporary German composer Wolfgang Rihm who’s part of a group associated with New Simplicity, a movement which reacted against the avant-garde generation.  He’s composed in a wide range of genres from opera and other vocal works to large orchestral works.  This quartet has lots of mood swings, and I’d like to hear more of Rihm’s music, so I’ll be visiting youtube soon. (We’ve taken the liberty of doing this for Korimako…see the video below)

Brahms Quartet No 1 has had the words ‘terse’ and ‘tragic’ applied to it, and it’s fair to say that his three quartets are less popular than his other chamber works.  Sadly he wrote 20 now lost quartets before he allowed this one to be published, and this first survivor is a beautiful work, in parts expressively introspective, elsewhere almost orchestral in intensity.

The Minguet Quartet are a stunning group of musicians with huge energy and passion, capturing the large audience (particularly large for a 10.30am Sunday concert) and getting great applause.  After several call-backs we were rewarded with a polished and graceful Minuet and Trio by Mozart.  I heard many enthusiastic comments afterwards about this group’s performance and hopes that they’ll be back soon.  I fully endorse these sentiments.

I’ve been excited since the first mention that Colin Carr was to play Bach’s six Cello Suites at the festival and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.  I was at the Cathedral about 1.50 for a 2pm start, and there was barely a seat left, even counting those with restricted viewing.   And yes we were back in the Cathedral but there were no lights on – not sure if this meant lighting couldn’t be used after yesterday’s fire or if the muted sunlight was just the other-worldly atmosphere chosen by Carr.  The performances took three and a half hours including interval and re-tuning breaks, and I have no intention of commenting on the absolute perfection of the experience, one of my most memorable ever.

However, I don’t want anyone to think Carr is in any way other-worldly himself.  We know he’s an enthusiastic runner, covering 10km most days, and he’s really enjoying all the running tracks around Nelson.  He set the scene very informally almost like chatting over a cup of tea, talking first about his liking for George Bernard Shaw’s writings, particularly his often acerbic music criticisms.  Then he talked us through what’s known about Bach’s composition of these suites (not much), whether they were meant to be played all at once (unknown), who he wrote them for (also unknown).  Carr’s Goffriller cello was made about the time Bach was writing the suites and he thinks the instruments is a perfect vehicle for performing them.  He also told us to stick around for the second half as the music gets better and better!

JS BACH – Cello Suite No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1009 (Colin Carr) / CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

So, this was a wonderfully stimulating way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon in Nelson. It doesn’t seem possible but the suites did get better and better, with the final one being more virtuosic and freer in form than the others.  When Carr relaxed after the last notes, the audience rose as one with passionate clapping, and even some shouting!  Carr modestly acknowledged this well deserved accolade.

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