Concerts to Celebrate Amati Viola's 400 Years

17 October 2019 / News

Is this marvellous Amati viola now the oldest string instrument in New Zealand? We think it might be! Hear history in action in our final concerts for 2019.

You may remember that early last year, the NZSQ welcomed a new member into the group – a viola crafted in 1619 in Cremona, Italy, by the distinguished instrument-maker Nicolò Amati. In 2019, this exceptionally rare instrument reaches a significant milestone – 400 years old. But you won’t find it behind glass. Violist Gillian Ansell performs on the viola, which is generously loaned by the Adam Foundation.

To celebrate such a significant birthday, we're presenting two concerts of music chosen to showcase the Amati viola and its glorious multi-layered sound. Join us in Wellington on 16 November and Paekākāriki on 1 December for works by Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven, Vieuxtemps, and New Zealand composers Jack Body, and Salina Fisher.

Gillian Ansell Aug. 7 2019 FOTS 6

Gillian performs on the 1619 Amati viola


With a gloriously sweet sound, the Amati viola is a joy for Gillian to play. She explains

"I would love to know everything about its history, who has played it and where, in which European court orchestras – maybe it was involved in the first performance of a Bach cantata, Mozart opera or a Beethoven symphony!"

Much of the viola’s journey will forever remain a mystery, played out before New Zealand even appeared on European maps. A small insignia on the viola indicates the influential Medici family probably commissioned the viola. The Medici’s reigned over Tuscany and bankrolled the music industry from the Renaissance to the eighteenth century. The Amati family were trailblazers in their craft. They developed the forms and proportions of violin, viola, and cello known today, with delicately carved and golden-coloured designs. The 1619 Amati viola exemplifies the astounding modernity and complexity of these instruments.

Amati 1

The Medici family crest is carved on the instrument's scroll


As Adam Foundation Chairperson Verna Adam explains

"When the Adam Foundation was approached by Gillian about the possibility of acquiring the Amati viola we were delighted to assist, not only because of our regard for the NZSQ as a quartet, but also because they have a very high regard for Gillian Ansell as a fine musician who deserves an equally fine instrument."

Nor is the Amati the only historic instrument in the quartet. Our other beloved instruments range in age from a youthful 235-year-old Storioni (played by Monique, courtesy of David Duncan Craig and the Lily Duncan Trust), to two distinguished Venetian instruments, Helene's 1730 Guarneri violin and Rolf's 1705 Goffriller cello. Back in February, TV1 featured all our remarkable instruments on Seven Sharp. See the full story here.

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