The future for classical music in New Zealand looks bright if these young composers, instrumentalists, conductors and educators are anything to go by:
Somi Kim, collaborative pianist
South Korean-born New Zealand pianist Somi Kim is a highly accomplished collaborative pianist working in the UK. Among her long string of accolades is 2017 winner of the Royal Over-Seas League Accompanist Prize, and the Gerald Moore Award for Accompanists.
Somi works with singers and instrumentalists in all sorts of contexts: coaching and competitions, masterclasses, chamber music, opera and has been a guest performer with NZTrio.
"We have to remember that New Zealand has such a great education system and I really couldn’t be doing what I’m doing now without people like Rae de Lisle, Stephen de Pledge, Sarah Watkins, Byran Sayer. You know they’ve all helped push me in the right direction. And I really think deciding to move to the UK .... that’s really the best decision I ever made. And for anyone that wants to take a risk and go overseas, I would just say follow your dreams and go for it."
Anna Pierard, mezzo soprano, Creative Director of Festival Opera and Project Prima Volta
Anna, who founded these initiatives was named as a finalist in the 2016 Women of Influence Awards (Arts and Culture) for her inspiring work with young people.
After a career in the UK, Anna realised that she would not have been where she was, nor have had the confidence to embark on a singing career, if she’d had to deal with the challenges some young people face every day. She decided that those of us who enjoy advantages must place ourselves in the service of those who do not. Festival Opera is Anna’s chance to realise this ambition.
Recently Anna delivered a presentation in London to the chair of the Commonwealth Education Trust about opera as empowerment.
"What we've discovered throughout this journey is that we're delivering against social outcome, educational outcome, health and mental health outcomes and the point of this trip was to help us understand how we need to proceed to be the most effective in giving kids the best opportunities."
Salina Fisher, violinist and composer
Salina has won New Zealand’s premier composition prize - the SOUNZ Contemporary Award, twice. In 2017 she was selected by The Arts Foundation as a recipient of their New Generation Award.
In 2018 The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra premiered her new work Tupaia, commissioned for their 'Landfall Commissions' marking the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s voyage of discovery. And the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra performed a new work of hers in their 2019 season.
Salina studied for an MA in Composition at New York's Manhattan School of Music while also making time to learn Te Reo Māori.
“It’s really challenged me in terms of my cultural identity, my perspective on what it means to be a New Zealander. I have felt every single day I’ve been there... I’ve felt so lucky to be from New Zealand. I really feel like it’s a special place to call home.
As an artist, in terms of the influences I have here, but also the opportunities and the support for New Zealand music is something really special. I think it's something that people over there envy, actually. And the fact that I’ve had multiple pieces performed by orchestras is really not very common for composers my age.
So I feel just absolutely lucky every day over there (in New York) to be from New Zealand as much as I am enjoying the amazing opportunities that are there as well."
Hannah Darroch, flute player
Hannah is a former Dame Malvina Major Foundation Arts Excellence Award winner. She's already an accomplished and experienced professional flutist having played with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra among other prestigious ensembles.
Hannah has played under international conductors (Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Simone Young, Sir Andrew Davis to name a few) and with many famous artists including Renée Fleming, Håkan Hardenberger, and Diana Krall. These days she's based in Montreal, Canada where she is completing a Doctor of Music in performance flute.
Hannah participated in the Global Leaders Program, an intensive 9-month program that focuses on teaching artistry and social entrepreneurship in music. In early 2018 she traveled with the program to Chile and Honduras to implement teaching initiatives.
“It can feel like a constant battle justifying how valuable the arts are, and why music education is so important in New Zealand. When I was in Chile, and teaching here in Canada, you can see so many reasons why – learning music, children can’t help but learn how to communicate, adapt, and get along with one another, they have focus and discipline, attention to detail, creativity and imagination, and they strive to constantly try and be better – all the good things that we want as New Zealanders. I love that today’s classical musicians are being forced to think outside the box and make music relevant to everyone.”
- Explore: More female composers, conductors, performers and teachers who have contributed to NZ musical life
Gemma New, conductor
One of the most exciting young conductors in the world today, Gemma has assisted Gustavo Dudamel and studied the music of Mendelssohn in Leipzig with Kurt Masur.
She is music director of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra in Canada, and Resident Conductor of the St. Louis Symphony in the USA and has been a guest conductor of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.
“I played the violin from a young age and played in as many orchestras as I could in Wellington. And I loved orchestral music and being part of that magnificent sound and that kind of teamwork. I always became fascinated about the conductor and what kind of influence and leadership they had with the orchestra and had the first kind of opportunity to conduct when I was 15 at high school.
It felt that it was something that I really wanted to delve into more. I felt quite good, like I fit in well with this kind of collaboration as a musician and so I gently started to explore options. I wanted to keep my options open so I did do physics and then a violin degree. Of course if you want to become a conductor you need to be able to play an instrument proficiently and so you have to be able to play on the piano the scores to realise the harmonies and analyse the scores. So it was kind of a long road but I went down to Christchurch and it really opened up some doors for me."
Leila Adu, singer / composer / collaborative artist
Leila defies genres. She was Orchestra Wellington's Emerging-Composer-In-Residence in 2014 but she also tours the world performing everything from avant-garde pop to chamber music. She lives to collaborate.
Leila was awarded a doctoral fellowship in composition at Princeton in 2011 — the same year she was voted MTV Iggy’s artist of the week.
Her work as a teacher in Sing Sing Correctional Facility in NY caused her to reflect on the idea of music and community -
“I keep saying this thing but I think it’s really important so I’ll say it again. It really taught me the value of music, which is community – totally. Community is just the most beautiful thing about music and another thing about music is the joy of playing music and I think even though I’m saying it to you and it seems obvious - like, I’m a musician – a lot of musicians including myself kind of forget that and you get caught up in all the other bits and bobs.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that, oh my goodness, playing an instrument is just a really beautiful thing to do and when you are teaching that to people who are ‘inside’, it really shows you that joy of somebody learning an instrument for the first time and they’re just in love with it, you know…it’s really beautiful to see that.”
Claire Cowan, composer / performer
Claire is an award winning composer and multi-instrumentalist based in Auckland. You may have heard her group The Blackbird Ensemble, which often reinterprets her favourite modern artists (including Björk) for a modern chamber orchestra.
“It’s important to have the backbone to tackle the music as well as the guts to change it a bit and present it in a way that’s natural for our group. Some of her (Björk's) music has been created in a natural, by-chance way and if we were to completely transcribe it, we’d lose its essence.”
Claire is an experienced orchestrator and symphonic writer, having worked with all of New Zealand’s leading orchestras and for TV and film projects. Recently she arranged some of The Phoenix Foundation's music for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.
Cowan's 2017 violin concerto: Stark, takes its inspiration from the iconic NZ dancer Freda Stark. Claire has also prepared music to soundtrack the World of Wearable Art 2018 and composed a new ballet score based on Hansel & Gretel for the Royal New Zealand Ballet in 2019.
Madeleine Pierard, soprano and change-maker
Madeleine was a the winner of the Lexus Song Quest in 2005. She moved to London and after studying at the Royal College of Music and the National Opera Studio became a Jette Parker Young Artist with The Royal Opera, Covent Garden where she has sung numerous roles and recitals.
Madeleine is now a mother of two but has always been passionate about championing women and parents in the music industry. Recently she co-founded SWAP'ra to build a supportive community with the aim of effecting positive change for women and parents in opera. She has spoken candidly about her experience as a working mother in opera.
"Being a parent creates perspective and a new sense of meaning to absolutely everything. It is, without question, the hardest and most rewarding job in the world, but it is easy to lose your sense of self, especially in the early years."
"(But) I do feel, having heard the experiences of many of my colleagues, that there are improvements that should be made and voices that still need to be heard, that’s why I am part of the the SWAP’ra team. But it is so important to acknowledge and celebrate the inclusiveness of many companies who are trailblazing. SWAP’ra is dedicated to making sure this becomes the norm."
Amalia Hall, violinist / concertmaster
At the age of 10 Amalia was the youngest ever member to be accepted into the NZSO National Youth Orchestra, and later became its concertmaster.
In 2016 the multi award-winning violinist was named as concertmaster of Orchestra Wellington becoming New Zealand's youngest concertmaster.
Amalia is a regular guest soloist with NZ orchestras and also travels the globe giving solo performances in places as diverse as South Africa, Italy and Uzbekistan.
NZ composer Claire Cowan wrote Stark: A Violin Concerto especially for Amalia who premiered it with Orchestra Wellington in 2016.
In 2019 Amalia was featured as a soloist with Orchestra Wellington and perform Saint-Säens’ Violin Concerto No.3 with Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.
"I was incredibly fortunate to receive so many and such varied opportunities growing up in New Zealand. The CMNZ chamber music competition, National Youth Orchestra and all of the solo concerto appearances I had from a young age - they all really helped to shape me as a musician, and to prepare me for both the international stage and my position as Concertmaster at Orchestra Wellington.
Also I couldn't have completed my studies at Curtis without the support in the form of scholarships from NZ. For this reason, I really love to be able to share music in NZ and to give back to the country that gave me so much, while still continuing to travel around the world for solo and chamber music performances, to extend my growth as a musician. People are often really taken by the novelty of my New Zealand background, because they might not have ever come across a violin soloist from NZ before - so it's a real privilege to be flying the NZ flag wherever music takes me."
Holly Mathieson, conductor
Holly is currently Assistant Conductor at the Royal Scottish National Orchestra , Resident Conductor of the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland Junior Orchestra and Artistic Director of Rata Music Collective.
She has assisted Esa-Pekka Salonen and Christoph von Dohnanyi at the Philharmonia Orchestra, Donald Runnicles at the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and Marin Alsop at the BBC Proms.
In 2016, Zonta NZ named her as one of New Zealand's Top 50 Women of Achievement alongside the likes of former Prime Minister Helen Clarke.
“It was a little bit embarrassing really. From my point of view – I mean luckily it was not about people who have achieved themselves. It was about people who are doing things, which achieve and are doing something with work that helps other women and changes the way we think about women in our communities and our families and our law-making, our policy making and improves the situation for the next generation of women. And as a woman conductor that’s a huge part of what I do. Most of the time this question of why are there so few of you is coming up.”