29 Jan 2024

Going for Baroque in the South Island.

From Three to Seven, 4:00 pm on 29 January 2024
Thomas Hurnik poses with his cello

Photo: Supplied

In the early 2000s Tomas Hurnik had a serious problem.

He'd fallen in love with New Zealand, especially the South Island, but the Czech cellist had also fallen in love with Baroque music played on period instruments.

Somehow, he's managed to marry the two. These days you'll find him based in Christchurch where he's set up a trust dedicated not only to playing music on period instruments, but importing those instruments into New Zealand.

Milford Sound. Fiordland national park, New Zealand

New Zealand; plenty of space, but what about the period instrument scene? Photo: 123RF

Hurnik joined the Christchurch Symphony orchestra as an associate principal, but despite the city, and indeed the country, lacking fellow baroque instrument fans his interest didn’t fade.

Instead, he set out to create his own baroque scene, starting in 2010 when he invited former Czech colleague Edita Keglerova (harpsichord) to join him for a tour of the South Island.

Several other South Island tours followed until in 2015 Tomas set up The Baroque Music Community and Educational Trust of New Zealand. The trust remains focused on promoting a love a baroque and period instruments across the South Island. 

In 2021 Tomas left his position with the Christchurch Orchestra, instead deciding to increase his focus on the trust and teach Chamber Music. 

Throughout his interview with Bryan Crump Hurnik’s love of period instruments shines. But what exactly is a period instrument? One major difference are the strings, metal for the modern, horse gut for the Baroque. 

Then there's the frame.

“A period cello is the same shape as a modern instrument, but a baroque cello doesn’t have an end pin [Spike] or as much of an angle on the neck”.


A Baroque cello with its cousin, the bass viol - note absence of spike.  Photo: Wikicommons

This lack of an end pin means the player must balance the instrument on their lap whilst playing, a real test of not just their musical prowess, but also their muscles.

Sounds like a lot of extra work, but Hurnik loves the range and subtle effects he can get on his Baroque model with its horse gut strings.

Baroque instruments are not easy to come by in Aotearoa. Hurnik gives a shout out to the countries only baroque instrument maker Hanna Krause, before revealing that budget constraints require him to use an unlikely source – AliExpress, where he's been able to buy high quality instruments for as little as $800. 

Crump is a little surprised to hear China is now making period Baroque instruments, does Hurnik know who's making them?

Not yet, probably a Chinese manufacturer, he replies, but he's certain of one thing; they're great value for money.

Hurnik and The Baroque Music Community and Educational Trust of New Zealand kick off a ten date South Island tour next week (February 5th ) in Timaru before winding up back in Christchurch on February 17th. Tickets are available now.