2015 – Day Three: The other side of the world

Our Day Two blogger ‘Tristan’ returns to share with us some of the wonderful ‘extras’ that are on offer at the Adam Chamber Music Festival in addition to the concerts…


Saturday 31 Jan – from ‘Tristan’ (written 1 Feb)

It rained lightly overnight and was a bit cooler. A late start? But the temptation of hearing Gillian Ansell talking with Kathryn Stott at 10 am abbreviated breakfast rituals. It was in St John’s church.

Pianist, Kathryn Stott.

Pianist, Kathryn Stott.

She proved a thoroughly unpretentious virtuoso star, born in a town called Nelson in Lancashire of working class parents with musical interests if not great accomplishment; but enough to detect and encourage piano learning aged five which led at eight to her applying for and being accepted in the Menuhin school. Though her first years were productive and contented, by her teens she had fallen into the hands of an unsympathetic teacher, chronically embittered in Kathryn’s opinion, and she left to enter the Royal College of Music. Things went well there, encountering both Nadia Boulanger and Vlado Perlumuter who gave her deep sensibility into French music. She did not disgrace herself when, perhaps prematurely, she entered the Leeds Piano Competition; it led to an agent and sudden demands for a much bigger repertoire than she commanded. Her career seemed to be spinning out of control and before long she withdrew entirely. 

But after picking herself up, she had an unusual and fruitful encounter with Yo Yo Ma and success came quickly; finally, at the peak of her career, she finds herself in a Nelson on the other side of the world.  A real insight into her talent and naturalness, and determination to hear everything she will play here.

(Video: UBS Banking advert from 2012 featuring Kathryn Stott and Yo Yo Ma)

After lunch, a small musico-dramatic show took place in the church hall. A piece called Lines from the Nile, recreating a musical soiree in colonial Nelson, in a hall such as we inhabited. Soprano Rowena Simpson graduated from Victoria University before heading for the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague to study early music practice. That was more than 15 years ago.

Back in Wellington she puts her training to excellent use; this time, in a satirical piece that purported to celebrate Queen Victoria’s wedding with Prince Albert: soprano Mrs Garratt with her compliant accompanist, Mr Hammersmith (Douglas Mews). Using music by Haydn, who had been appropriated by the English – the couple performed, with hilarious histrionic flair, jingoistic piety, several pieces with an English connection, glorying in British naval supremacy, expurgated references to Nelson and Lady Hamilton, his naval victories at the Nile and Trafalgar, and the glories of Empire.

Tahanui Beach in Nelson where 'Tristan' has a daily swim during the Festival.

Tahanui Beach in Nelson where ‘Tristan’ has a daily swim during the Festival.

The daily swim at Tahunanui was fitted in before the evening concert, again in the Cathedral, entitled Quintessence, a careful distortion to mean music for five. The quintets were delightful rarities: the first, Beethoven’s own arrangement of his Piano Trio, Op 1 No 3, which utterly removed any sense of its origin through the use of a second violin and two violas. Joining NZ String Quartet players were the Ying’s leader, Ayano Ninomiya and violist, Phillip Ying. Emphatically, it deserves to be ranked equal with the original.

The second was Bruckner’s little known quintet, again employing two violas (this time, Ying players Janet Ying – violin and again Phillip). Bruckner is a bit of an acquired taste: I have acquired it chronically and incurably, though it’s a long time since I aired my recordings of this quintet. The Scherzo is entertaining and the Adagio rather beguiling, though undoubtedly needing two or three hearings for it to take root.

Along with those two biggies, Helen Webby returned with her harp (and charming comments about its origin) to play a piece written for her by Pepe Becker, better known as a fine early music soprano, and then a gorgeous performance with Helene Pohl of the famous Meditation from Thaïs. 

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