Published: 14:45, April 19, 2024
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A fantastic foursome of strings to sing in New Zealand
By Chen Nan
Amber Quartet performing in the small theater of the National Centre for the Performing Arts in May 2023. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Amber Quartet, one of China's most celebrated string quartets, will make their debut tour in New Zealand, with activities including three concerts from April 23 to 27 in Picton, Blenheim and Christchurch.

Their tour also marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the China-New Zealand comprehensive strategic partnership. The event is being co-hosted by the Network of International Culturalink Entities and the China Cultural Center in Wellington.

"There is a large fan base for classical music in New Zealand, and it's a great pleasure to embark on our first tour there, which will include not only well-known classical music but also Chinese music, as well as collaborations with local musicians," says Yang Yichen, the quartet's cellist, who is also a teacher at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing.

Amber Quartet will play music by Mozart and Mendelssohn, chosen from their previous recordings.

"Mozart and Mendelssohn, undoubtedly, are enjoyed by people around the world," Yang says.

"We have been researching these composers, and playing and making recordings of their music."

In 2022, Amber Quartet announced their album, Felix Mendelssohn String Quartets, which was released by the classical music label Naxos. In 2023, they released the album, Mozart and Zhang Zhao, featuring music by Mozart and composer Zhang Zhao.

During their upcoming tour in New Zealand, they will play Mendelssohn's String Quartet No 6 in F Minor, Op 80, and Mozart's String Quartet No 19 in C Major, K 465.

Chinese Folk Song Suite for String Quartet, a new piece by composer Guo Wenjing, will also be performed, which Yang says will take the local audience on a journey to China through Chinese folk music.

The group presenting a show at the NCPA on Dec 9, 2023. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The piece, consisting of four parts — Daybreak, Wooden Drum and the Forest, Grassland, and Eagle and Horse — was inspired by folk songs from different parts of the country, such as Sichuan province, and the Xizang and Inner Mongolia autonomous regions.

"The diversity of China's 56 ethnic groups is well reflected in their folk music, which has been passed down through generations. Some have only been recorded orally, without being written down," says Yang. "In Guo's piece, audiences will experience depictions of China's mountains, grasslands, skies and rivers."

On Dec 19, 2023, Amber Quartet staged a concert at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing, where they premiered Guo's Chinese Folk Song Suite for String Quartet. As the composer said, the work was inspired by the country's natural landscapes.

"Chinese folk songs are like flowers growing out of the land. What I have captured and expressed in this piece are only petals and leaves. I hope that the audience will feel the beauty of Chinese folk songs and the harmony of people and nature when listening to it," says Guo.

Amber Quartet's New Zealand tour will take place under the theme of "the art of collaboration".

According to Yang, they will cooperate with New Zealand musician Mark Menzies during the tour by playing his composition, The Hidden Glass Queen's Adorable Illusion.

Founded in 2005 by cellist Yang, first violinist Ning Fangliang and second violinist Ma Weijia when they were studying at the middle school affiliated with the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, Amber Quartet now features Yang, Ning, violist Qi Wang and Su Yajing, who is also a second violinist. Ma also plays with the China NCPA Orchestra, the resident orchestra of the NCPA.

During their upcoming tour, Yang, Ning, Qi and Su, who are all faculty members of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, will perform together.

Amber Quartet was awarded three prizes at the Asia-Pacific Chamber Music Competition in Melbourne, Australia, in 2013: the Grand Prize, the String Quartet Division prize and the prize fo best interpretation of a contemporary work — composer Zhang Zhao's String Quartet No 1, Totem. It was the first time for a Chinese string quartet to win the international competition.