18 Apr 2024

From Belgium to Samoa via Aotearoa

From Three to Seven, 4:00 pm on 18 April 2024
Pianist Daniel Verstappen

Pianist Daniel Verstappen Photo: Supplied / Daniel Verstappen

When the Belgian crossover classical pianist Daniel Verstappen tours the world, he likes to make music with the locals.

Verstappen is part of a growing number of classically-trained musicians with a pop sensibility, making a pretty good living from playing music around the world.

But while Verstappen likes to travel globally, he likes to give each of his concerts a local flavour.

His latest tour Reconnection comes with the theme "bridge between cultures". For the fourth and final gig of the New Zealand leg of the tour in Auckland, that means making music with the Samoan-Aotearoa composer Dr Matamamua Opeloge Ah Sam.

Samoan conductor and composer Opeloge Ah Sam

Photo: Supplied

Speaking with RNZ Concert host Bryan Crump, Verstappen says it's in his nature to connect different cultures.

"I love to explore the world, to travel, and of course doing that with my music is a wonderful gift."

Joining Crump and Verstappen in the RNZ studio was a local light of New Zealand's own classical crossover scene, the violinist Joe Harrop. He's one of the members of the genre bending string ensemble The Black Quartet.

It's been Harrop's task to help set up this Sunday's Auckland gig, with will include Dr Ah Sam's Polynesian 'Musika Collective' along with a string quartet and some local emerging musical artists.

Verstappen initially got in touch with Harrop via the Belgium Consulate in Auckland which then (in a nice example of how music and diplomacy can sometimes mix) contacted Harrop himself.

Joe Harrop.

Joe Harrop: the go-to man for behind the scenes logistics. Photo: Supplied / Peter Rees

Armed with a brief of providing Verstappen with some South Pacific flavour, Harrop knew exactly who to contact.

"I've known Opeloge since we were ten years old. We grew up playing in the Aotearoa Youth Symphony and it's just neat to be able to reconnect with him ... The Musika Collective, his group, is a beautiful thing in that it's both an educational and professional environment."

Dr Ah Sam started the ensemble with some of his secondary school students (he's Head of Music at Marcellin College in Auckland) but it continues to support them as their talents develop and they move into professional playing.

Harrop says the Collective is both a choir and a band.

"So on Sunday [April 21st] we're going to have a 12-piece choir, we're going to have some traditional Samoan percussion, and we're going to have some Siva, we're going to have dancing in the Town Hall Concert Chamber."

All that, and Verstappen's touring partner, the violinist Beth Georgiou.

So who's done the music arranging?

That's still Verstappen's role. Turns out he's a multi-instrumentalist as well as a pretty sharp pianist.

Ahead of their final multi-cultural gig in Auckland on Sunday evening, Verstappen and Georgiou are also performing on Saturday afternoon in Hamilton, in a lower key concert where they'll be joined by some of the musicians currently studying performance at Waikato University.

Local talent also featured in his first two New Zealand gigs in Queenstown and Christchurch.

In terms of logistics, he likes to mix it up. With the smaller concerts, he likes the intimacy; with the big shows, it's the adrenaline rush.

Whether it's showcasing artists or culture, Verstappen reckons going local will continue to be key to the future success of his global career.