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New Zealand String Quartet

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Quartet hits high note for new season


DAYTONA BEACH — The New Zealand String Quartet set a fine tone for the fresh cultural season Friday with its wide-ranging, profoundly nuanced Central Florida Cultural Endeavors concert.

Violinist Helena Pohl was a powerhouse in Beethoven’s String Quartet in B flat major, Opus 18, No. 6, a massive work that allowed the four musicians from Victoria University in Wellington to revel in their classical roots.

Gossamer without being merely glossy, the string quartet’s intricate sonic patterns explored the depths of human emotions crisply, tenderly and, always, with great subtlety. In the able hands of Pohl and her colleagues – violinist Douglas Beilman, violist Gillian Ansell and cellist Rolf Gjelsten – Hugo Wolf’s “Italian Serenade” was a jaunty, exquisitely paced romantic idyll. Its ornate passages skipped and spun, celebrating both Wolf’s eloquent ballad to the beloved and the New Zealand quartet’s absolute mastery of its frolicking love-drunk recitatives.

One of the program’s highlights came next, and won the full attention of the near-capacity audience at Our Lady of Lourdes Church. In keeping with the quartet’s goal of bringing New Zealand music to the world, the musicians produced an amazing variety of exotic sounds and rhythms in “Three Transcriptions.”

The 1987 work by New Zealander Jack Body resonated with chords from China, Madagascar and Bulgaria, played on contemporary strings that mimicked to such ethnic instruments as the southern Chinese Long-ge, a Jew’s harp with three metal blades. As exquisite as the classical and romantic pieces that preceded them, “Transcriptions” opened doors on the traditions of remote cultures.

Just so did the quartet’s performance of Bedrich Smetana’s emotionally laden String Quartet No. 1 in E minor, the autobiographical “From My Life,” offer more than enjoyment. The string quartet brilliantly and achingly, expresses his devastation at his loss in what Smetana called “a tone-picture of my life.”

Introducing the work, violinist Beilman emphasized the work’s pathos; performing it, the quartet explored the beauty of Smetana’s memories, translated into music. The New Zealander’s presentation of “From My Life” was warm, precise in every note, light and brisk.

It was, like the rest of the ensemble’s thoughtful, rich program, as near to perfect as it surely is possible to get. Each work became a living thing, constantly in the process of re-creation, serious and virtuosic.

The New Zealand String Quartet: (left to right) Helene Pohl, Douglas Beilman, Gillian Ansell, Rolf Gjelsten, performs at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, on Friday, October 15, 2004 (Photo: News-Journal/David Pringle).

Sunday, October 10, 2004

These ‘strings’ span the equator


DAYTONA BEACH — To Helene Pohl, crossing oceans and continents regularly is as natural as playing the violin. But even Pohl, who appears as part of the New Zealand String Quartet at Central Florida Cultural Endeavors’ season-opening concert Friday, never expected to travel quite as far and wide as she has.

“I started violin studies at age 4 1/2 in Ithaca, N.Y., where I was born. When my father took a sabbatical from the physics department at Cornell and we went back to Germany. I ended up in this fantastic school – the Cologne conservatory – with all these amazing players. I practiced like crazy. I found I loved the violin,” said Pohl, 40.

Both parents were German but because she was born in Ithaca, the violinist held citizenship in both countries. That made it easy to fit in at the Musikhochschule Cologne. She moved on to earn an undergraduate degree at the Eastman School of Music and her master’s degree at Indiana University, where she studied with noted violinist Josef Gingold.

Next came a five-year stint as first violinist with the San Francisco-based Fidelio String Quartet, and tours throughout Europe and North and South America, as well as residencies at the Tanglewood and Aspen music festivals. Pohl auditioned for the New Zealand String Quartet in 1993. Since its 1987 inception, the ensemble has become known internationally for what Sydney’s The Australian called their “living, breathing musicianship.”

The audition went on for an entire week, and included intensive meetings with the ensemble’s members. It culminated in her February 1994 debut with the Quartet, said Pohl.

“For them, to find a new player was like finding a new spouse – they needed just the right person for the group. So I got to know them really well that week, to understand how we all felt about music, what our dreams where, how we would play and travel together.

“It was a big commitment, a lot of things to align yourself with,” she said.

The ensemble had become the Quartet in Residence at Victoria University of Wellington in 1991 – a teaching position it still holds – and expanded its touring range with its 2000 debut at London’s Wigmore Hall and 2003 New York debut, at The Frick Collection, a New York museum, in 2003.

Pohl joined founding Quartet member Gillian Ansell – a native New Zealander and violist who also had studied at the Cologne conservatory – and Kansas-born violinist Douglas Beilman. Soon after she first appeared with the ensemble, a second new member joined. Canadian-born Rolf Gjelsten, who had become the first violinist in the Berlin Symphony Orchestra when he was 21, toured with the Laurentian Quartet, taught at Sarah Lawrence College near New York City, played with the New York Piano Trio and earned his doctorate at Rutgers University before debuting with the New Zealand Quartet, in May 1994.

Pohl became a New Zealand citizen in 1997, the same year as Gjelsten – whom she married.

“We represent New Zealand, as musical ambassadors,” she said. “In Daytona Beach, our program is a neat mixture of music – we love the fact that we can be a chameleon, playing music from classical up to what was written yesterday.

“We’re playing Beethoven, Smetana, Hugo Wolf’s ‘Italian Serenade’ and ‘Three Transcriptions’ by Jack Body, a New Zealander who is a colleague and good friend,” said Pohl. “We do a lot of New Zealand music, like Jack’s. He’s like a magician – for ‘Transcriptions,’ he drew on music from China, Madagascar and Bulgaria.”

It’s just that mixture, combined with enthusiasm and musicianship, that makes the Quartet such a fine addition to CFCE’s new season, said Eric Lariviere, its general manager as well as cultural and musical director.

“They are a very, very fine prime contemporary ensemble, and major ambassadors of New Zealand music,” he said. “It’s positive to bring new groups to the area, to discover new artists. And aesthetically, the Quartet’s members are all interesting.”

That’s at least partly because of the widespread perspectives they bring to their music, flavored with a distinctive New Zealand taste, Pohl said.

“We teach at the university, lead master classes, are the resident quartet – and we tour,” she said. “The thing is, when you work it through as you would in a marriage, the ensemble really can be a unit. It’s not easy to do it all, but it can be done.”

New Zealand String Quartet


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 1, 2004) — Central Florida Cultural Endeavors (CFCE) proudly announces the New Zealand String Quartet as the opening concert of the Totally Classical! Winter Season 2004/05. The inaugural concert takes place on Friday, Oct. 15, at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, (201 University Boulevard) in Daytona Beach, beginning at 7:30 p.m.

An evening of marvelous music is in store for listeners, with an exciting program that features “String Quartet No. 18, Op. 6,” by Beethoven; “Italian Serenade,” by Hugo Wolf; “Three Transcriptions,” by Jack Body and Smetana’s “String Quartet No. 1.”

Acclaimed for its powerful communication, dramatic energy and beauty of sound, the New Zealand String Quartet is profoundly committed to the music of its origin, and has premiered more than 20 works by New Zealand composers. The quartet consists of Helene Pohl and Douglas Beilman (first and second violins), Gillian Ansell (viola) and Rolf Gjelsten (cello), all of which are considered superb individual instrumentalists. However, together, the four posses an instinctive ability to deliver every line and phrase of music in a manner that sets them apart from other international quartets.

The group has collaborated with a number of distinguished artists, including Anton Kuerti, Diedre Irons and Hariolf Schlichtig, the Lafayette, Lindsay and Goldner quartets, as well as jazz greats Mike Nock and Jim Hall. The New Zealand String Quartet has also performed with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. They presented more than six performances of Beethoven’s complete cycle of 16 string quartets to both critical and public acclaim.

The New Zealand String Quartet has been Quartet-in-Residence at Victoria University of Wellington since 1991. In North America it has been guest faculty at the Banff Centre, Quartet Fest West, and the Quartet Program at Bucknell in Pennsylvania.

For concert tickets, contact the Box Office at (386) 257-7790 or visit at 210 S. Beach St., Daytona Beach or

Central Florida Cultural Endeavors, Inc. is a non-profit organization that presents a wide variety of cultural events in Volusia and Flagler counties, including a winter season of chamber music. The most prominent CFCE project is the Florida International Festival, featuring the London Symphony Orchestra, which takes place July 15-30, 2005.


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