16 Apr 2024

To the World's Edge and beyond

From Three to Seven, 4:00 pm on 16 April 2024
Pianist Madeleine Xiao (left) and violinist Lorna Zhang

Pianist Madeleine Xiao (left) and violinist Lorna Zhang Photo: Supplied / Madeleine Xiao

Aucklanders Lorna Zhang and Madeleine Xiao will soon be musical globetrotters - thanks to a music festival at the bottom of the world.

Violinist Zhang and pianist Xiao are this year's winners of the 2024 Royal Overseas League Pettman Scholarships - which provide them with $15,000 each to help pay for further musical study beyond Aotearoa.

The pair were part of a group of three emerging artists who took part in last year's At the World's Edge music festival in the Otago Lakes and Central Otago districts.

It's from that group that the 2024 ROSL Pettman scholarship winners were chosen.

"It's basically a testing ground," says Xiao of the Festival. "They see how well we do and if we are ready to go overseas."

All three of this year's candidates knew each other. The third candidate was the cellist Damon Herlihy-O’Brien, and they regularly perform together as the Kaha Trio.

The stage in Rippon Hall, overlooking Lake Wanaka.

Wanaka, a great backdrop for young musicians to test their skills. Photo: MIKE DAWSON

Speaking with RNZ Concert host Bryan Crump, Zhang and Xiao say they're still to decide where they'll go overseas. Xiao has narrowed it down to Europe or North America, Zhang is pretty certain she will study in Europe - maybe Germany.

Crump is curious to know what the pair can learn overseas they can't learn in New Zealand.

"Honestly speaking, I think New Zealand music is so great," says Xiao. "The teachers here are wonderful. I guess overseas, [the music scene] is a lot bigger."

Zhang agrees.

"You get to experience more things than you can in New Zealand."

For both, the next step along the way will be less about mastering the technical side of their instruments, more about the artistry of their playing.

"Being more creative," says Zhang. "Not being limited by a set of boundaries."

Xiao adds, "Understanding what real music is, not just playing notes."

And at the end of their overseas study, what are their plans? Will they stay overseas?

They're pretty sure home is back near the bottom of the world.

"It's who we are," says Xiao.

"It's where we found our musical selves, so [being from New Zealand] does mean a lot," says Zhang.

Wherever they go, we hope Xiao and Zhang find time for a joint recital before they leave Aotearoa.

Meanwhile, applications are open for this year's At the World's Edge Festival emerging artists programme. Zhang and Xiao say if you have the talent and you're under 23, you'd be a fool not to apply.