8 Feb 2024

Elizabeth Lau: natural-born conductor

From Three to Seven, 4:00 pm on 8 February 2024
Elizabeth Lau conducts Wairua Sinfonietta.

Wairua Sinfonietta Music Director Elizabeth Lau in action. Photo: Supplied

Elizabeth Lau can't remember when she first started conducting, but her mother can.

It was Lau's mother who first noticed her then three-year-old waving her arms along to music on the television, beating time.

It was clear early on Lau was a gifted musical child. She took up the piano, and later the double bass.

But it also clear she wanted something more from the art form: she felt an innate need to conduct.

In 2014, Lau founded the Wairua Sinfonietta, based on Auckland's North Shore.

Music Director Elizabeth Lau conducts Wairua Sinfonietta.

Music Director Elizabeth Lau conducts Wairua Sinfonietta. Photo: Supplied

Later this month, the Sinfonietta will venture over the Auckland Harbour Bridge to perform at St Matthew-in-the-City, its first concert in over a year.

Speaking to RNZ Concert host Bryan Crump, Lau says the hiatus was brought on by the tail-end of the Covid pandemic which lead her to re-evaluate the orchestra's role in the community, and the energy she had to continue directing it.

"The impact of the pandemic situation just facilitated me to think seriously, and made me reassess my vision and mission. Is it still something that is it important?  Does it still have a place? ... And for myself ... can I step up?... Because we rely solely on goodwill, so I really respect everyone's dedication and I don't want to waste it, and so I have to be very honest with myself about it."

Lau came back from that time away from the podium with a renewed sense of purpose and passion.

"There's still a place for us, and it's more important than ever."

For her, music in the community is essential. A community without music is no community at all.

As well as being an entirely voluntary orchestra, the proceeds of every Wairua Sinfonietta concert go to charity. In the case of the ensemble's next gig, Children for Children, that charity will be Auckland's Starship Children's Hospital.

St Matthew-in-the-City, Auckland

St Matthew-in-the-City: venue for the Wairua Sinfonietta's comeback gig. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

And the youth focus doesn't end there. For this concert, the orchestra will include child musicians from the North Shore and feature music by child composers, such as Mozart's first symphony, written when he was just eight years old.

Crump asks Lau if the Sinfonietta is a stepping-stone for her towards a professional conducting career, given she donates her time to the orchestra. At present, Lau makes a living as a musician through her piano and double bass playing.

For her, conducting is an end in itself.

"I think it's more important to be able to reach as many people, so that they can experience the joy of making music together."

"Just to be a music ambassador through conducting, that's my ambition, my mission for myself."

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