Tui bird calls heard in the Marlborough Sounds were the inspiration behind Gareth Farr’s new string quartet Te Kōanga premiered by the touring Heath Quartet this week.
“As the water taxi pulled in, I could hear the tui calls, and it was the same call I notated when I was 16,” Gareth says.
The work was commissioned by the family of Wellington luthier Ian Lyons. Ian was a well-known figure among many of the country’s leading string players whose instruments he serviced for many years for before passing away unexpectedly in 2015.
Lyons' family was very clear about the type of piece they wanted written in memory of Ian.
Adding some New Zealand fauna matched the description perfectly.
“Ian loved the outdoors. He was a very keen tramper; [he] spent a lot of time in nature,” Gareth says.
The new work is called Te Kōanga, meaning Spring or planting season. It is written for string quartet but Farr turns the strong group into a percussion ensemble by having the players pluck and snap their strings.
He knew it was going to be played for children at schools, so he wanted to surprise them with unique sounds.
While many of his works have been recorded, Gareth encourages fans to step into the concert hall and enjoy the benefits of a live performance.
It enables the audience to get up close and see the “essence of creativity”.
“[People love] the interaction between us and the kind of conversation ... argument and reconciliation between the four characters onstage,” he says
He stresses how the audience receives more visual information, especially with 20th century music.
“You see the hot potato being thrown around on-stage”.
The piece was debuted this week by one of Britain’s most exciting chamber ensembles, the Heath Quartet. The Chamber Music New Zealand concert includes string quartets by Haydn and Britten, and an arrangement of Bach’s sublime Chorale Preludes as well as the new commission by New Zealand composer Gareth Farr.