Contemporary New Zealand music written in classical styles is in good heart and growing popularity. It offers us new ways to consider our place in the world, as well as entertaining experiences.
Here is some of the most-watched contemporary music performances from the past year, as filmed by SOUNZ Centre for New Zealand Music and featuring sound recordings by RNZ Concert's expert live music team, and a cross-section of top local musicians.
Take some time out of your day to enjoy one of these glorious experiences:
Requiem by Victoria Kelly
A packed Auckland Town Hall rises to its feet at the conclusion of this SOUNZ Film shot at the premiere performance, staged as part of the Auckland Arts Festival and brought to life by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, conductor Vincent Hardaker, with Simon O'Neill (tenor), Jayne Tankersley (soprano), Luminata Voices Women's Chamber Choir and Lux Singers (David Squire - choirmaster).
Composer Victoria Kelly started thinking about writing a requiem around 30 years ago, after her father died. It's shaped around poetry by five New Zealand poets - Bill Manhire, Sam Hunt, Chloe Honum, Ian Wedde and James K Baxter, and inspired by the visual language of photographer Anne Noble.
"...the work itself is just about what it means to be mortal, what it means to be alive, how it feels to have a sense of wonder and terror at the universe that we occupy, and it's a way of thinking about where we sit in it." - Victoria Kelly in conversation with Kim Hill
- ‘Requiem’ wins the 2023 SOUNZ Contemporary Award Te Tohu Auaha Silver Scroll on the SOUNZ website.
- Listen to an RNZ interview about Victoria Kelly's Requiem: "It's entirely about the experience of being alive"
Tai timu, tai pari by Gillian Whitehead
Gillian Whitehead says of her violin concerto Tai timu, tai pari:
“From my studio on the Otago peninsula I can look across the harbour towards the hills opposite, and what I see constantly changes. The tide ebbs and flows — tai timu, tai pari translates from te reo Māori as ‘low tide, high tide’ — light plays on the water, birds forage for food, rest on the water, whirl in flocks. When I was writing, images of the variation in waves lapping on the shore, of distant disputes between birds or sea-creatures and birds in flight, of footprints on the beach came to mind. Not that the piece is primarily a soundscape — more than most of my pieces it harks back to the balance and proportions of the classical era.”
In this SOUNZ Film from the Auckland Town Hall, violinist Andrew Beer is front-and-centre in the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra’s world premiere of ‘Tai timu, tai pari’, with conductor James Feddeck.
- Read an interview with Gillian about ‘Tai timu, tai pari’ on the SOUNZ blog.
- Listen to RNZ Concert's interview with Dame Gillian Whitehead celebrating her 80th year
Symphony Number 2 by Douglas Lilburn
An evergreen piece from the "father" of New Zealand classical composition, Douglas Lilburn's 2nd Symphony was composed in 1951. Here it is performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, conductor Christian Lindberg at the Michael Fowler Centre in 2015.
More to explore:
- Listen to RNZ's podcast series reflecting on Douglas Lilburn (1915-2001) through the eyes and ears of his friends, family and colleagues.
- Read a biography of Douglas Lilburn on the SOUNZ website
Voices at the End by John Psathas
John Psathas’s Voices at the End, captured at the 2021 Auckland Arts Festival. The work, for an imposing line-up of six grand pianos with electronic soundscape, tackles the uncomfortable condition of perpetual growth and its ruinous effect on our shared environment, but offers hope in the form of the mahi being done to ensure the survival of our species. John assembled a veritable dream-team of New Zealand pianists: Stephen De Pledge, Michael Houstoun, Somi Kim, Jian Liu, Sarah Watkins and Liam Wooding.
- Listen to RNZ Concert's ‘Voices at the End’ interview with John Psathas and pianist Liam Wooding
- Read a biography of John Psathas on the SOUNZ website
Quartet for clarinet, violin, viola and cello by Natalie Hunt
Hawkes Bay composer Natalie Hunt's Quartet for clarinet, violin, viola and cello, is a response to the 2016 Kaikoura / Hurunui earthquake, and the 'survivors guilt' she felt as a Wellington resident following the South Island earthquakes. This is the world premiere, performed by Helene Pohl (violin), Monique Lapins (viola), Matthew Barley (cello) and James Campbell (clarinet) in 2017, commissioned by and for Adam Chamber Music Festival.
No ro hunu ake by Joshua Pearson
Joshua Pearson’s No ro hunu ake is essentially “a protest song drawing inspiration from the name which, according to the Moriori people, roughly translates as ‘Sprung from the earth’.”
This premier performance is by the Auckland Chamber Choir, conductor Jono Palmer, with soprano Bianca Davidson (kaikaranga), tenor Jack Doyle and bass Matthew Bennett. The work was presented at the 2022 ISCM World New Music Days, hosted by Te Rōpū Kaitito Puoro o Aotearoa/The Composers Association of New Zealand.
No ro hunu ake was a finalist for the SOUNZ Contemporary Award | Te Tohu Auaha at the 2023 Silver Scrolls.
The SOUNZ Films project
SOUNZ Centre for New Zealand Music and classical music broadcaster RNZ Concert have a long-running partnership to present audio-visual recordings of music written by NZ composers. This growing library of wonderful performances supports New Zealand's unique and evolving music culture, and the composers, performers and audiences who contribute to it. See many more SOUNZ (and RNZ Concert) films on the SOUNZ YouTube channel
Listen to more New Zealand performances of classical music - including by NZ composers - by scrolling down RNZ Concert's Music Alive web page.
Find out more about New Zealand composers and their music on the SOUNZ website.
This work is funded though NZ On Air.