2015 – Day Two: Ah, yes – the concerts

The Gala Dinner was just the beginning of the beginning for the Adam Chamber Music Festival with the first full day (Friday 30 Jan) being all about the Grand Opening Concert!


Our blogger’s pseudonym is after composer Richard Wagner’s (here pictured) opera Tristan and Isolde.

And to blog Day Two of the festivities this year we have a man who is no stranger to the classical music world in NZ. He will, for these blogs, be known as ‘Tristan’, a name he has chosen after composer Richard Wagner’s famous opera “Tristan and Isolde” and also because it happens to be the name of a very engaging young back-packer’s host in Hanmer Springs.

Our ‘Tristan’ has been a music critic on daily and other papers for many years as well as writing articles and editing a music magazine. He is not a professional musician, but became hooked on music from his early teens, which he tells us was a very long time ago. Tristan has been to every Adam Chamber Music Festival since 1995 and it has become a critical element in his musical life, “It is the only real music festival in New Zealand, world-class at that.” he  says.

So without further ado, here’s his experience of the start of the 2015 Adam Chamber Music Festival…

Friday 30 Jan – from ‘Tristan’ (written 31 Jan)

We took the long road to Nelson as we’ve often done before: across the Strait in magnificent weather from that foreign country, the North Island, the stark, dry, Brent Wong hills of Cape Terawhiti, to the dramatic, green Sounds. Coffee at Blenheim’s well-preserved railway station, overnight at Kaikoura with the looming, jagged Seaward Kaikouras westward, then inland by the Leaders Road to Waiau and Hanmer Springs, which becomes more Swiss alpine with every passing year. 

I never tire of the Lewis Pass, first cycled in my teens over unsealed roads, memories still clear, of heat, very rare traffic, dips in the rivers, and the arrival of sandflies with the beech forests around the pass.

It’s a long, still largely uninhabited drive, through 33 degree Murchison, to Nelson, spotting traces of the sadly aborted Railway, victim of faint hearts, north from Gowan Bridge.

Our favourite back-packer’s awaited us in Nelson – we’ve stayed there for more than ten years; mainly young, foreign visitors, German, French, Dutch, occasional Swedish, Japanese, Italian and Spanish, generally much younger than us: intelligent, well-read, liberal – even radical, with refreshing, unclouded views about New Zealand. After coming back late evening from a concert, there’s still time to fix the world.

Ah, yes – the concerts.

There are still opinions about the benefits of having compressed the former 17-day festival into 10 days. It somewhat reduces flexibility for excursions like to Golden Bay, but you can get more music in a shorter time.

The big change at the 2015 festival is the sad closure of the Nelson School of Music (whose example of the European pattern of music conservatories in every town failed to take root here) and its replacement by Old St John’s church on Hardy Street. At least, the church was designed by the same architect as the School of Music, and the sound is lovely.        

The Grand Opening Concert venue: St Mark's Nelson Cathedral.

The Grand Opening Concert venue: Nelson Cathedral.

 The Grand Opening Concert, however, was as usual in the Cathedral. They wheel in some of the festival’s main performers: the New Zealand String Quartet of course, whose initiative the festival was back in 1992, the New York-based Ying Quartet, clarinettist David Griffiths and harpist Helen Webby. Greater variety of music and means would be hard to devise, no doubt opening ears for many in the audience. As ethnically mixed as our hostel: French, Russian-Jewish-Argentinian, Hungarian, German and New Zealand. The only ‘main-stream’ piece was one of Schumann’s rather neglected, but highly rewarding, Quartets (in F).

The Grand Opening Concert performers. clockwise from top left: Ying Quartet, New Zealand String Quartet, Helen Webby, David Griffiths

The Grand Opening Concert performers. clockwise from top left: Ying Quartet, New Zealand String Quartet, Helen Webby, David Griffiths

For most, there was no familiar piece, yet the audience seemed delighted: at the beguiling opening section of the violin and harp Fantaisie by Saint-Säens; then a sonic adventure in Florence by Hamilton composer, Martin Lodge, played by the cellists from the two string quartets, one the observer, the other the manifold sounds of the city and its people. 

The New Zealand String Quartet and David Griffiths played a three movement piece by Osvaldo Golijov whose opera on Garcia Lorca astonished last year’s New Zealand Festival in Wellington. Based on writing by an early Jewish rabbi, it mixed hypnotic Klezmer rhythms with the outlandish sounds that came from Griffiths’ five clarinets (hardly knew there were so many models), and he followed with a brief solo piece, a la Bach, by Béla Kovács.

The main course in the second half was the little-known Schumann quartet, played by the Ying Quartet. A highly persuasive performance, revealing a beautiful slow movement and highly inventive Scherzo.

The Ying’s CD of the three Schumann quartets was for sale, and I invested.  What better endorsement could there be?

And we’ll leave you with a snippet of the Ying Quartet’s CD should you too wish to invest 🙂 …


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