String Quartet No.2 was composed in Devonport, Auckland, between November 1994 and February 1995 with financial assistance provided by the New Zealand Composers’ Foundation and the Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa (now Creative New Zealand). The first performance was given at the Watershed Theatre, Auckland on the 10th March 1995 by Simon McLellan and Sarah Hart (violins), Judith Williams (cello) and with the composer as violist. Denys Trussell wrote in a subsequent review (Quote Unquote, April 1995): “Nigel Keay…had his substantial and dramatic Second Quartet given its first performances at these concerts. It is in part a synthesis of the strictly modernist and the freer post-modernist harmonic constructions: Keay is moving away from a music of sustained dissonance in this work towards a music where consonance and dissonance interact. The middle movement, slow and introspective, is a striking instance of this.”
Since then String Quartet No.2 has established itself as one of the composer’s most-performed, and most widely-performed works having been played in New Zealand, Thailand, Japan, France and Germany by several different formations. It was also performed at the 17th Conference and Festival of the Asian Composers League in Bangkok by the Ensemble Contemporary Alpha (Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music), and at the ‘Stella Nova’ Concerts in Tokyo. It has been performed also in NZ by Ensemble Philharmonia (members of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra), and the Nevine String Quartet with recording and broadcast by Radio NZ’s Concert FM. It received performances in 2004 and 2005 by the Quatuor Aphan’s in Paris and Germany.
In three movements, following a fast-slow-fast format, the quartet contains Arabic flavoured melodies over fast syncopations in the first movement, with a slow reflective second movement pointing to the composers love of the medium, particularly as a player having experienced the late quartets of Beethoven. Essentially an abstract work, the quartet ends with a rhythmically driving and brilliant third movement.