Highlight of the festival


I’m a completely biased fan of these three musicians. Biased because I’ve had the pleasure of working with them before, and have spent the last month writing a new work for them. But nonetheless, I’m going to spend the next few paragraphs singing their praises for their last concert – Convergence, featuring two NZ works for trio and Taonga Puoro (Maori instruments), and two other works by contemporary composers with distinctly cultural/folk inspired sounds.

The show was performed at the Town Hall Concert Chamber on the last night of the festival, which was theatrically lit with a wash of vibrant color on the back wall. The performers were in semi-darkness and had music stand lamps. I appreciate the effort they made to address visual aspect of their performance, too often overlooked by classical performers. It helped add to the mood and magic of the sounds they created.

As the performers entered the stage, pianist Sarah Watkins helped a frail Richard Nunns (grandaddy and master of Taonga Puoro) onto the stage to loud applause. The program began with Gareth Farr’s re-worked Nga Kete e Toru, featuring an extra Taonga puoro player, Horomona Horo. Spellbinding from start to finish, the mix of western instruments with Maori was beautifully crafted – from delicate overtones and whistled notes from Richard’s flutes, to subtle pitch bending and gentle harmonics to compliment the unearthly tones of bone flutes, contrasted by rhythmical outbursts from the trio in typical Farr manner.

The next two works on the program from Gao Ping Four sketches and Chen Yi Tibetan tunes.  Both of Chinese descent, evoked vivid and lush soundscapes of their native China. Instantly we were transported to the composer’s homeland, where we heard evocations of Chinese folk instruments, busy market places, and ethereal cloudscapes (in a beautiful movement of Gao’s using only harmonics.) I marvel at the subtle changes to technique each player makes to make their western instruments sound more Asian folk than European classical.  It is through their skillful use of articulation, vibrato and bowing that changes the tone completely.

The last work on the program, the world premiere of commissioned Victoria Kelly’s Toi Huawera (Suspended Way) was preceded by an insightful video documentary of the trio rehearsing and collaborating with the composer. We gained an insight into her compositional process and the themes and concept behind the finished work. Based on a myth invented by the composer, the structure of the piece was decided by story rather than any sort of imposed musical structure. The piece began with a sort of Maori jaws harp – the player tapping on a stick half held in the mouth and using the mouth as a resonator to change the pitch. The trio joined in with woody sounds, col legno (using the wood of the bow rather than the hair.) 

Horomona Horo was fascinating to watch and a skillful musician and performer who seemed very comfortable on stage. The trio imitated and blended in with the Maori instruments, whooping cello pizzicato like a bull-roarer, then husky and low like a blown gourd. As Victoria explained in the video documentary, every sound created on every instrument has a meaning associated with a character from the myth she created. And at the core of the myth is a love story, and an appreciation for our Whakapapa which she thinks of as ‘pathways that lead everyone and everything back to the place where we all began.” The title is elaborated on with this description “A way to reach the highest level of heaven – sometimes described as a web that hangs down from the heavens..sometimes described as a whirlwind path.”

Applied musically, this is a rather beautiful metaphor. As the weaver of the web, Victoria created a rich and delicately complicated tapestry of sound. The ethereal piece had a deeply spiritual and profound appreciation for this concept at the heart of traditional Maori belief system – a system which Kelly notes, is found in western culture, but “articulated differently.” Her fascination with this mystery of life and death and ”Te Arai” (the veil that separates us from our ancestors) is an inspiring place for her to source her sound world. The Taonga Puoro themselves each uniquely possess a spiritual guardian and association with various Atua (Gods) of the materials from which they’re made. Being a non-Maori composer, Kelly sought advice and guidance from collaborator and Maori consultant Tim Worrall. It was refreshing to see such a strong, inspiring, and mutually respectful collaboration between all the artists of differing musical and cultural backgrounds. Sonically, it paid off.

The audience would have been spellbound throughout the 20 minute long work, had they not been sitting for an hour by this time, and were starting to get a bit restless.  It would have been nice to experience this piece with the fresh ears it deserved. Nonetheless by the end of the show there was no doubt we had witnessed some of NZ’s greatest composers and performers at the top of their game. The integrity and skill of both composers and performers was highly admirable, the music fresh and original, and for me, the show was the highlight of the festival.


Claire Cowan – The Big Idea, 27 March 2013

Review by:

Subscribe to E-news

Latest from Facebook

NZTrioTuesday, September 19th, 2017 at 3:55pm
Congrats Jeroen - superb piece of music :)
SOUNZ Centre for New Zealand Music
This week we’re featuring SOUNZ Contemporary Award finalist Jeroen Speak, who is nominated with ’Serendipity Fields’. This is the second time Jeroen has been nominated for the Award. “It is very inspiring seeing the high quality of new music being composed by New Zealand's younger generation today. Salina Fisher and Chris Gendall are both remarkable composers, with unique voices, I congratulate them both.” Jeroen introduces 'Serendipity Fields' below and you can read more about him and the work on SOUNZ Online: http://bit.ly/2xhZoOk APRA AMCOS NZ RNZ Concert NZ On Air NZTrio #silverscrolls17
NZTrioWednesday, September 6th, 2017 at 10:20am
Last two outings of Exotica (before heading to Kokomai Festival) are this weekend Sept 9 and 10 at #MairangiBayArtsCentre and Leigh Sawmill Cafe - tickets via Eventfinda NZ. This is a RIPPER of a programme, performed in fantastic venues - don't miss it!
NZTrioFriday, September 1st, 2017 at 5:31pm
Shout out to our fabulous friends at #WORLDBrand, live streaming their show at #NZFW 8.30pm tonight - we'll be watching! Why don't you join us? https://www.facebook.com/WORLDBRAND/photos/a.225832990764414.74363.225828760764837/1810424325638598/?type=1&theater
NZTrioMonday, August 28th, 2017 at 3:26pm
So great when someone who is new to your work says all the right things! Hope you'll join us for EXOTICA with guest violinist #AndrewBeer at Nathan Homestead this weekend (perfect #FathersDay gift!) Sept 3, 5pm. Tickets via #Eventfinda:http://bit.ly/NZTrio0903
NZTrioThursday, August 24th, 2017 at 10:07am
Thanks for a great day #MacleansCollege - lovely kids with awesome ideas!
NZTrioTuesday, August 22nd, 2017 at 3:57pm
So thrilled that another of our commissions is a finalist for this year's SOUNZ Contemporary Award - way to go, Jeroen!! And a big congrats to the other finalists, our friends Chris Gendall and Salina Fisher - the depth and quality of New Zealand music is truly extraordinary, and we couldn't be more proud. Check out the video links of the finalists - stunning stuff!!

Latest from Twitter

© 2015-2017
Made in Tel Aviv, Israel by Virtuti-D