The New Zealand String Quartet is celebrating its 25th season with a mix of classic and contemporary New Zealand, European and American string music at Chamber Music at the Barn.
Although this group of four classically trained musicians hails from several countries, they have made New Zealand their home.
Wichita native Douglas Beilman said immigration is a part of his family tree. His great-great grandparents moved to the U.S. in the 1880s, their ancestors left Germany for Russia in 1764, and Beilman left America for New Zealand in 1989.
After leaving Wichita West High School, Beilman headed east and trained at both The Julliard School and the New England Conservatory. This highly accomplished violinist soon became a member of the New Zealand String Quartet.
“It’s wonderful to come back and touch base in Wichita,” Beilman said. “But I’ve been there long enough that New Zealand feels like home.”
As with the three other group members — Rolf Gjelsten, Helene Pohl and Gillian Ansell — the music of New Zealand has become an integral part of the repertoire. Ansell, a New Zealand native, left her homeland for a brief period and studied at the Royal College of Music in London. Canadian-born Gjelsten, at 21, became the youngest member of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra.
New Zealand’s landscape and music have become an integral part of each quartet member’s life. By touring across Europe and the Americas, the New Zealand String Quartet is able to share a few of New Zealand’s composer’s works.
Their Chamber Music at the Barn concerts will include works by John Psathas, Douglas Lilburn, Samuel Barber and Ludwig van Beethoven. Lilburn’s string trio, written in 1945, was the first New Zealand Chamber work to be published.
“It’s the first New Zealand music that people found identifiably New Zealand,” Beilman said. “It’s a very light and transparent piece. It’s somewhat haunting.”
The youngest of seven, Lilburn, who is known as both the grandfather and elder statesman of New Zealand music, grew up in rural New Zealand. He later studied with Ralph Vaughn Williams at the Royal College of Music in London.
The Chamber Music at the Barn concerts will begin with New Zealand native Psathas’ 2004 piece “Unbridled,” which explores music that combines his New Zealand and Greek roots.
“It’s really mesmerizing. It has gorgeous textures,” Beilman said. “It’s new music, but it’s old folk style-sounding.”
The concerts in this tranquil setting are rounded off by a Barber and Beethoven string quartet. Before the concert and during intermission, guests are able to stroll through lily- and hibiscus-lined stone walkways and meander around ponds and small waterfalls.
“People get to be out in a casual country setting,” Bob Scott, Prairie Pines owner, said. “They are a very famous quartet and such nice people. It’s the positioning of fine music in a rustic setting.”
Scott saw the quartet perform in New Zealand several years ago. He brought them to Chamber Music at the Barn in 2009. They will be in residence for a few days during the Bows at the Barn camp. The New Zealand String Quartet is celebrating its 25th anniversary by playing all of Beethoven’s quartets this season in New Zealand. They will end their concerts in Wichita with one of those famous works: String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 132.
“It’s quite a spirited program,” Beilman said. “The program ends with one of the most amazing Beethoven quartets.”