23 Jan 2024

Looking after the big picture at the smaller scale

From Three to Seven, 4:00 pm on 23 January 2024
Michelle Walsh

Michelle Walsh Photo: Supplied

When Michelle Walsh returned home to New Zealand after a prolonged OE in the UK, she didn't expect to end up in music marketing, let alone marketing classical music.

She'd made her living in London helping corporate companies update their image and branding. Most jobs lasted a couple of years before she'd move on.

She was expecting the same when she took on a marketing role with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra. A decade later and she was still there.

"I got a bit hooked. I just loved the life of it. I found the whole aspect of bringing something to life and being behind the scenes doing that, really, telling people about it, getting audiences along. And then, that feeling of when you're just listening to live music and there's just nothing that beats it."

Christchurch Symphony Orchestra at the Christchurch Town Hall

The CSO, where Michelle Walsh got hooked on classics. Photo: Duncan Shaw-Brown

Now Walsh is the CEO of Chamber Music New Zealand where she'll get the chance to bring her music marketing talents to a far wider audience, although the performances themselves will be on a smaller scale.

Walsh sat down with RNZ Concert's Bryan Crump to discuss her new job and three of her favourite pieces of music at the moment.

Her first choice was Shostakovich, a movement from the suite he fashioned from his comic opera Cheryomushki which tells the story of a couple's struggle to find a home (sound familiar?) during a housing crisis. Walsh specified  the cellist Matthew Barley and pianist Stephen de Pledge.

Dmitri Shostakovich

Dmitri Shostakovich Photo: Creative Commons

She asked for this version because she heard the duo play the piece as an encore at a Chamber Music NZ concert.

It was one one of the first chamber music gigs she'd been to, and opened her ears to the intimate potential of small classical ensembles.

"I was just blown away. How this music up close just kind of brings you in... To hear the two of them together, these friends... it was like being invited to their party, and I really liked it."

Radiohead's song "House of Cards", one of the more intimate offerings from the band's album Rainbows, was Walsh's second choice. But really, she said, any Radiohead song would have hit the spot.

She ranks band member Thom Yorke up there with Beethoven, and reckons the two would have got on if they'd lived at the same time.

Walsh herself doesn't come from the classical music background, but the Irish Catholic home in Christchurch that she grew up in was full of song and dance.

These days Walsh has made Lyttleton her home, having decided to return to New Zealand to bring up her two children.

So perhaps it's no surprise she chose a bright light from the port settlement's music scene for her final musical moment: Delaney Davidson's "Heaven is Falling", a still-to-be-released song he's recorded with Reb Fountain.

"I might be a little bit biased here," she laughs, "but I just think this is very beautiful and very reflective, and I do a lot of reflection in Lyttleton where I can sit and look out onto the port, and Delaney just sums that up beautifully."

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Delaney Davidson in full Shostakovich mode. Photo: supplied

As for the future direction of Chamber Music NZ, expect Walsh to continue the trend of widening the concept of what constitutes a 'classical chamber artist' (Delaney Davidson is on the bill in 2024) and continue to play to what she believes is the music's greatest strength: its intimacy.

"That's what chamber music is to me. It's that connection between the artists with each other, which you get to see. It's that connection between the artist and the audience, which is palpable. And it's also connection between audiences to each other... and I think that's incredibly special."

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