String quartet in town

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An engaging string ensemble will lead Queenstowners on a cultural revolution in chamber music next week.

Wellington’s celebrated Aroha String Quartet – which features two members of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra – brings a varied two-hour programme of music to the Memorial Centre on Tuesday evening.

It begins with Mozart’s String Quartet No 1 before moving onto Chinese piece The White Haired Girl.

Cellist Robert Ibell says: “It’s a traditional Chinese piece from the revolutionary era, Mao’s era.

“We plan to give the audience an introduction to the story and play the links so they can follow the drama.

“There’s bits where you can hear the horses of the Red Army troops coming to save the girl, all those kinds of things, so it’s a dramatic and interesting piece.

“It follows the first piece, the early Mozart quartet, written by him when he was about 15 I think, so youthful, energetic, a delightful piece.”

Ibell joined the quartet in 2009 followed by Blythe Press in 2012. Haihong Liu and Zhongxian are original members, previously with two other Chinese musicians.

“It started 10 years ago as a meeting of friends and a chance to play music for fun and while it’s still fun or we wouldn’t be doing it, it’s more serious now,” Ibell says.

“We’ve got busier. We try to cover two full programmes in a year which is quite a lot of music for an ensemble which is not a full-time quartet. We have to fit rehearsals around our other jobs and NZ Symphony Orchestra schedule. It can be challenging.”

The programme continues with two short pieces from Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich before Mondo Rondo by Gareth Farr, one of NZ’s greatest living composers.

“We play quite a grotesque and witty polka which Shostakovich took from a ballet score,” Ibell says.

“In the ballet he’s taking the piss out of representatives from the League of Nations so there’s all these caricatures of people in there and you can hear that in the music. It’s quite funny and very well done, a cool little piece.” 

Aroha String Quartet at Queenstown Memorial Centre this Tuesday, 7.30pm-9.30pm. Tickets are $25 adults/$15 concessions/$50 family (2×2)