The New Zealand String Quartet has a unique appearance on stage: the three upper strings stand, and the cellist, Rolf Gjelsten, sits in a chair on a small platform. (You can see it in the photo above.) It’s a portable, folding contraption that looks a like a small parade float, and its purpose is to bring the cellist to eye-level with the other three players.
I heard the New Zealanders play a couple of Beethoven quartets – very refined performances, to be sure, but I must confess that it wasn’t apparent to me that standing (and the platform) made any difference to anything. However, when they turned to Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 9, it all suddenly made sense: the New Zealanders played with an intensity that left me feeling nailed to the back wall of the hall.
If standing helped them achieve this, then I’m all for it.
A little Googling revealed an article on standing string quartets that originally appeared in Strings magazine in 2007. (You can read it here.) The article mentions the Emerson Quartet and a few others, but not the New Zealanders. Yet according to Gjelsten, it was the NZSQ that first gave the idea to the Emersons.
© Colin Eatock 2011