Imagine a 254-year-old musical instrument made of wood. It was built in London and probably had a passing acquaintance with Haydn, among others. It definitely spent several years in a garage in Whangarei after one of its players passed on.

That's where Ashley Brown comes into the story. The accomplished cellist is a founding member of the NZTrio, which begins its fifth season at the Q Loft early tomorrow evening.

Brown credits Michael Hill, the jeweller, entrepreneur, philanthropist and keen violinist, with finding the ancient cello. Hill knew of its existence from his days playing with string quartets in the northern town.

The pair visited the cellist's widow and found the instrument suffering an infestation of woodworm. Hill funded a complete restoration with Brown overseeing the work and it's his main axe to this day. He describes the instrument as "fragile and light feeling, perhaps feminine". Brown also hears "wood in the sound" as well as "age, and perhaps wisdom".


The Q Loft suits the ensemble as they can play acoustically on the floor, which is often the best place for a chamber group.

"They have this willingness to help and adapt at Q," says Brown. Zoom is the first concert of this year's Loft Series and features NZTrio playing its preferred range of repertoire.

"It's a mash-up of contemporary classical music and old masters, as well as some older music that people may have not have heard so much. It's music that makes sense in a space like Q Loft.

"It's a nice location for people to find, and the guys in the bar at the Loft have made up some cocktails to go with each evening. Zoom they connected with bees and honey," says Brown who loves the intimacy of the venue. "Even the people in the back row are right there and they can feel the vibe."

Brown plays alongside violinist Justine Cormack and pianist Sarah Watkins. The Zoom set-list ranges from a series of tiny miniatures from local composer Chris Watson to a big lush romantic piano trio by Anton Zenlimsky, but Brown is particularly looking forward to playing a series of 12 very brief pieces by the late Elliot Carter.

"The cool thing about the Carter Epigrams is he was 103 when he wrote them.

"It's full of humour and whimsy and it ends with a delicate major third."

You can hear that cadence unfold from 5pm tomorrow and again at 6.30pm on Tuesday at Q Loft on Queen St.