A taste of home: New Zealand String Quartet, Melville to give recital

Alyssa Bump
contributing writer

Reminiscent of a five-course meal, chamber programs can evoke multiple different sensations for one’s musical palette. 

The New Zealand String Quartet is confident that their first performance at Chautauqua with Nicola “Nikki” Melville, co-chair of the Chautauqua Piano Program, will be a feast for the senses.

“We really enjoy making programs that are like a menu at dinner, where you don’t want to just eat three pieces of steak — you’d like to have a variety of flavors,” said Helene Pohl, first violin of the New Zealand String Quartet. “Each of these pieces brings its own color.”

For the Chautauqua Chamber Music Resident Artist Series, members of the New Zealand String Quartet will perform at 4:15 p.m. Saturday in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall with a program that offers a taste of their home country.

With Pohl on first violin, the quartet also features Monique Lapins on second violin, Gillian Ansell on viola and Rolf Gjelsten on cello.

Saturday evening’s program will include Gareth Farr’s Te Kōanga (Spring), Franz Joseph Haydn’s Quartet in C major, Op. 76 No. 3 (“Emperor”) and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 57.

“We’re starting the concert with (Te Kōanga, which was) written by a friend of ours in New Zealand, and it is an homage to a deceased mutual friend who loved to walk in the New Zealand bush,” Pohl said. “Some New Zealand birds (are) featured in this piece. We love … bringing an audience into the sound world of the New Zealand bush.”

Te Kōanga means “spring” or “planting season” in Te Reo Māori, which is the native language of New Zealand.

Melville, originally from New Zealand, said Farr “just happens to be one of my dearest friends in the entire world. … It’s lovely for me on a personal level that this piece is by one of my very best friends from back when I was an undergrad in New Zealand.”

Haydn’s Quartet is one of the “most famous string quartets” he’s ever written, according to Pohl. The Quartet, also known as “Emperor,”became the national anthem of Austria in 1797 and later the anthem of Germany in 1922. 

The work is “a very, very beautiful slow movement,” Pohl said, and Melville added it is a “heightened piece with beautiful, gorgeous sets of variations.”

Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet is the final piece of the program, and it is the only work that will feature Melville on piano.

“(Piano Quintet) is a very stark and intense piece,” Melville said. “It’s really lovely and it’s extremely well written.”

As one of Shostakovich’s most popular works, Pohl said the piece is “one of the great masterpieces of chamber music literature” and is an “extremely powerful piece of music.”

The New Zealand String Quartet has performed with Melville on several occasions and Melville said this opportunity to perform with “friends is such a treat.”

Pohl echoed this eagerness to perform with someone who isn’t just a good friend, but a “wonderful musician and a great person,” as well.

The New Zealand String Quartet has been performing since 1987, and the group is the only full-time string quartet in New Zealand. The ensemble performs around 80 concerts per year and all the members teach at the New Zealand School of Music.

“Within New Zealand especially, (the quartet) is definitely the premier chamber music group,” Melville said. “… When they tour, they make a point of always performing New Zealand compositions, which is lovely.”

By bringing “a little bit of home to Chautauqua,” Melville hopes the audience will feel like “they have experienced a very wide range of emotions and interactions with the music.”

As the group’s first-ever performance on the grounds, Pohl said “we cannot wait to play for the audience that is in Chautauqua.”


The author Alyssa Bump

Alyssa Bump is a life-long Western New Yorker, but this is her first season on the grounds of Chautauqua. She is eager to recap the Interfaith Lecture Series while broadening her perspective of the human experience. Alyssa is a senior at SUNY Fredonia, majoring in journalism and public relations with a minor in professional writing. As editor-in-chief of her college newspaper, The Leader, Alyssa focuses on becoming a compelling storyteller and an innovative leader.