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REVIEW: Mondo Rondo at the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival

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The Aroha String Quartet are Zhongxian Jin, viola; Haihong Liu, violin; Konstanze Artmann, violin; and Robert Ibell, cello.

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The Aroha String Quartet are Zhongxian Jin, viola; Haihong Liu, violin; Konstanze Artmann, violin; and Robert Ibell, cello.

What: Mondo Rondo

Who: Aroha String Quartet

When: Wednesday night

Where: Medici Court for the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival

Players: Haihong Liu, violin; Konstanze Artmann, violin; Zhongxian Jin, viola; and Robert Ibell, cello.

Reviewed by: Sam Edwards

Mea culpa.

Because I speak no Chinese, Mandarin or otherwise, I cannot recognise the speech sounds and so – without a printed programme during the performance – I could only recognise familiar New Zealand names like Gareth Farr, Anthony Ritchie, and David Farquar.

That experience, however, was a salutary reminder that it is the non-verbal qualities of music which come first. Words are merely a musical siding for parking non-essential information – a guide to revisiting parts of an experience, not the experience itself.

Tonight was experience unplugged. Four virtuoso musicians reflected on life for an audience which appreciated the non verbal, which revelled in the atmospherics, and which went along with the sometimes exotic narratives.

Sometimes the works were illuminated by creatively inventive video sequences, like a cubist rendering of a rider on a mule, looking, looking, looking for his beloved; or a minimalist and mysterious figure of a girl constantly buffeted by life’s experiences in selections from an opera, played with exquisite virtuosity by the quartet.

That virtuosity was the lasting memory of the evening. It was the key to doors which opened the way to a remarkable interchange of cultures, but always tonight it was the music itself, the music without artificial enhancements, the music which stirred the toes to dance and the soul to a stirring enlightenment.

It was the music, like the extraordinary purity and power of Haihong Liu’s violin – was that a top f we heard so delicately at the dying, but immortal end of a sequence in Zhu Jian-Er’s  and  Shi Yong-Kang’s The Whitehaired Girl? And what dynamic pizzicato passages and visceral lower register Robert Ibell’s cello brought to Tan Dun’s Eight Colours for String Quartet.

But this was not an evening about individual performance. This was such an organic, interwoven, balanced, outdoor pleasure that when an Air New Zealand plane flew directly overhead, it could only be a fly-past salute, not an unlettered intrusion.

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