10 questions – Helen Philpott
Ten years is a long time to give support for one project – over that time there must have been some special memories?
I was amazed when I was reminded that this project has been going for 10 years – it doesn’t seem like it. For me the first series featuring Czech music was special. It was wonderful to share the music of Smetana, Janacek and Dvorak with New Zealand audiences and the link to my parent’s homeland made the concerts particularly memorable.
Was your support for the Hungarian Rhapsodies tour special for the Trust? If so, in what way?
Given that this is the 10th series is, in itself, special. However, each series is very thoughtfully planned by the Quartet members around a theme, anniversary or event, so really each series is unique and unforgettable in its own way.
The Turnovsky Endowment Trust was established in 1984 by your parents, Fred and Lotte Turnovsky – what did they want to achieve?
While preparing a paper for an Arts Conference in 1970 Fred identified how poorly the arts were supported in New Zealand compared to the United Kingdom, Australia and a number of other countries. (He even had me do some statistical analysis of data to support his argument). This brought home to him the undeniable fact that corporate organisations and philanthropic trusts needed to get behind the arts. You couldn’t rely just on government. He put his money where his mouth was and set up his own philanthropic trust whose main purpose is to support the arts. More specifically, Fred felt the Trust’s sponsorship could be used by organisations to help raise their artistic standards by contracting the best artists. He also wanted to recognise artistic excellence – hence the Turnovsky Prize awarded in the 1980s to such people as Janet Frame, Gillian Weir and Michael Houstoun.
Your father was keen to establish a full-time string quartet well before the New Zealand String Quartet was established. Why?
He believed a string quartet resident in this country would give the New Zealand public much more opportunity to hear the vast string quartet repertoire. In those days you had to wait for infrequent visits from overseas quartets. Furthermore, he hoped it would provide opportunities for New Zealand musicians to collaborate with other musicians to present a wide range of wonderful chamber music.
When did the Turnovsky Endowment Trust first start working with the Quartet?
We have supported the Quartet every year since 1988.
How important has that relationship been to achieving the aims of the Turnovsky Endowment Trust, and, apart from funding, how do you think the Trust has contributed to the Quartet’s success?
There is no doubt in my mind that the Trust’s aim to help raise the artistic standards in New Zealand is exemplified by our wonderful Quartet. Fred’s ambition to see a full-time string quartet domiciled in this country has been amply rewarded – he would be so proud to know they will celebrate 25 years next year. The Trust’s sponsorship of the annual series has provided the Quartet with the opportunity to explore the chamber music repertoire and present more unusual or themed programmes.
What other sorts of projects do you support?
Over the years we have supported projects developed by some of New Zealand’s leading arts organizations. To name a few – NBR New Zealand Opera, Chamber Music New Zealand, the Vector Wellington Orchestra, Nelson Chamber Music Festival, the Adam Art Gallery and the Wellington Sculpture Trust.
The Trust shares offices with the management of the Quartet – how does that work out?
We actually have adjacent offices and share facilities. It works well for both of us I think. Certainly for me, because I work on my own. I enjoy the camaraderie and friendship of the management staff. And we always have our own little Christmas party!
We hear that you are a pianist. What do you like to play?
My preference is to play music by classical composers – Mozart, Schubert, Bach, Haydn Beethoven and others. I love playing Brahms too but my hands are simply too small to be very successful. In the past, I played quite a bit of chamber music purely on an amateur level. I once performed Schubert’s Trout Quintet at a house concert with Douglas Beilman and Gillian Ansell. I was incredibly nervous but they were both very supportive.
What would be your dream chamber music concert?
I would be very happy if I could hear Schubert’s String Quintet in C major, Smetana’s String Quartet No 1 and Dvorak’s Piano Quintet Opus 81 all in one concert! But it’s an unlikely combination…