Northern summer touring stories

25 August 2015 / News

Touring brings multiple rewards and our recent journey to the Northern Hemisphere in July was no exception. In the following four accounts, we each take one leg of the journey and share the personal experiences of our concerts in the UK and Canada, as well as our Brahms recording session in Toronto.

This year’s Northern-summer tour began with two concerts in the UK at festivals in Cheltenham and London. After a few intense days of rehearsal and an appearance on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune programme, we headed to Cheltenham to meet and rehearse with our new young clarinet-player friend Julian Bliss, who has taken the world by storm with his precocious artistry, melting tone and warm stage presence.  The venue, the Pittville Pump Room, was infinitely more resonant and beautiful than its name!  At the post-concert luncheon we were amazed by the many NZ connections among the other guests; I wouldn't be surprised to see a contingent arriving here for our next Nelson Festival.  Back to London for a return visit to the historic City of London Festival, where we revelled in the opulent surroundings of the Goldsmith's Hall and were amazed at the fortitude of the audience, who filled the hall to capacity despite a Tube strike which began that very day.  After the concert it was a pleasure to catch up with some of our former students from the NZSM, now furthering their studies in Europe.
-       Helene

Our first Canadian concert of the tour was in Lachine, near Montreal, where we played in a theatre as part of their summer series. I had been anxious that we'd find playing exhausting, as we'd just arrived from London the day before, so the 8pm concert felt to us like 1am. But the warmth of the audience was infectious and there seemed no shortage of energy after all.  One of the loveliest places to return to (now our 4th visit) is peaceful Amherst Island, at the east end of Lake Ontario, just a 20-minute ferry ride from the mainland.  Apparently people skate across in winter and before global warming, it was safe to drive cars across the ice. In summer, it's beautifully green, full of flowers and gentle breezes and the lake is warm enough to swim in. There are no shops, petrol stations, restaurants or bars on the island but we were treated very hospitably by the concert organiser, who hosted us for a delicious dinner the night before the concert and a spectacular post-concert party. The island audience is international, full of erudite music-lovers and the old brick church where we played is acoustically warm and charming, with birdsong outside and the odd moo of a cow.
-       Gillian

In Toronto, we took time out of our tour of music festivals to record a CD of works by Brahms, the second in our series of three for Naxos…

It is always true that any music to be recorded for posterity will inevitably undergo the crucible of an honest, committed and unique presentation at the critical hour - or is that 32 hours? Such was the case during our latest rendezvous with Brahmsian fervour! It was providential, however, that on this occasion we had the inimitable Jim Campbell to provide the extra inspiration and impetus to our efforts. His clarinet sang with an artistry that can only be mustered from decades of familiarity and devotion. Having performed the work with him many times over the past ten years, both in NZ and abroad, it was a true culmination of communal association and love of this profound masterwork: the Clarinet Quintet in B minor, a late work of quintessentially autumnal Brahms. It is not often that you can deem the process a 'meditation', but on this occasion that is what it felt like. The glow we were left with after setting that work down certainly sustained us through the many hours left to us for the last quartet from the quixotic Viennese master, the Quartet in Bb major, opus 67. For myself, in my final year with the NZSQ, this will indeed be a lasting memory; not just of the music and the artistry of my colleagues, but the wisdom and patience of Norbert Kraft, our producer and counsellor of so many of our important recordings.
-     Doug

Last stop of the tour was at the Festival of the Sound on beautiful Georgian Bay north of Toronto.   In its 36th season, this is one of Canada's premier festivals, attracting top Canadian and international musicians, and this was our 11th consecutive appearance.  We were again treated to the fabulous acoustics of one of the best concert halls anywhere.  Our week's residency included performances of the Brahms and Mozart Clarinet Quintets with the artistic director and Canadian icon, James Campbell, as well as duos, trios, quartets, quintets and sextets with visiting artists.   My personal favourite moment was Beethoven's witty 'Eyeglass Duo' with Ron Ephrat, which was inspired by the coming together of our Gofriller viola and cello made about the same year, 1705, in the same shop!  We cherish these festivals where we feel a part of an intimate musical family - audience included.
-    Rolf

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