Happy New Zealand Music Month, Aotearoa!

Here’s a selection of our favourite kiwi music – one posted on our Facebook page every day throughout the month of May.

Some are pieces we’ve commissioned from our friends in the composing community. Some are our favourite tracks from the broader musical landscape of our home. These creators are all totally worth supporting! If you like them as much as we do, please track down more of their work and stream, buy, listen, watch, enjoy!

May 1 – Gillian Whitehead: Te Waka o te Rangi 
Of all the commissions we have premiered, this is our most recent. For us, Gillian Whitehead is the matriarch of NZ art music. This piece was for a special project celebrating Matariki called ToruWha which explores the relationship between Māori and Pākehā, and involves calls from the Taonga Puoro offered by their most revered proponent Horomona Horo, and responses from the European instruments. This work looks to the stars where the spirits of the departed shine on.

May 2 – Mahinaarangi Tocker and David Downes: I’ll Breathe For You
Dear Mahinaarangi was a super-talented singer songwriter who we lost suddenly in 2008. For this song she joined forces with an amazing audiovisual artist David Downes (who might just feature here later this month in a confronting audiovisual work he wrote for us). Together, Mahinaarangi and David created a track of exquisite, ethereal beauty.
As a side note, in a past life, Ashley (our cellist) played in a band called The Mongrels alongside these two wonderful musicians.

May 3 – Jeremy Mayall: Ahakoa he iti he pounamu
We first came across Jeremy’s music in our inaugural tertiary composing competition. We were so impressed back then that last year we asked him to write a work for us, including Horomona Horo playing Taonga Pūoro, for our project Toru Wha, Ka Rewa a Matariki which pulls no punches while exploring the relationship between Māori and Pakeha. The title of Jeremy’s work refers to a delicate and precious gift.

May 4 – SJD: I Wrote This Song For You
Sean James Donnelly is a masterful songwriter. His character-filled performances capture a sweet melancholy with typical kiwi humility, and understatement. Past and present members of the NZTrio might be heard in the string arrangements here 🙂

May 5 – Juliet Palmer: Vermillion Songs
In 2016 NZTrio joined forces with international opera superstar, Wagnerian tenor and kiwi-lad-done-good Simon O’Neill for a touring project called Flare. The repertoire included Bach, Khan, Mahler (are. Young – NZ) and Strauss (are. Taylor – NZ). We approached Juliet to write for this group, and she drew on the works of American poet Emily Dickinson in this evocative tribute.

May 6 – Bic Runga: Honest Goodbyes
All the tracks on Bic Runga’s crystalline album Beautiful Collision glow with the sweet sting of vulnerability. This track is our fave, and you might even hear some past and present trio peeps in the strings here.

May 7 – Phil Dadson: Firestarters
Back in 2008 we were gently introduced to the ineffable world of free improvisation by the remarkable composer, musician and instrument inventor Phil Dadson, of From Scratch fame. The result was this work Firestarters in parts decreed, devised, mapped, and free improv. Among the many creative sound-making devices, it includes stunt stringed instruments with copper rods woven through the strings, and electric fans whipping the instruments with nylon.

May 8 – Teeks: If Only
Such a classic, world-worn soul voice from such a sweet young kiwi talent! Sink into the warm embrace of this transportive track.

May 9 – Gareth Farr/Richard Nunns: Nga Kete e Toru
This piece was commissioned from the incomparable Gareth Farr and further developed in workshop with saviour of Taonga Puoro techniques, Richard Nunns and us NZTrio. It had its first performance in the Auckland Arts Festival in 2010 and found new life as part of the ToruWha project celebrating Matariki. Here’s our 2019 performance at the Christchurch Arts Festival.

May 10 – Mother’s Day Double!
Tami Nielsen: Walk Back To Your Arms
Tami presents a powerful fusion of gospel, R&B, and old-style rock’n’roll. Her voice is as commanding as her stage presence – full of warmth and personality – all in a 50’s glam style of sequins and big hair. Enjoy!

Claire Cowan: Subtle Dances
We commissioned this from Claire in 2013 and it quickly became our most played piece – being based in familiar forms like the tango here, it’s entertaining to a variety of audiences and yet retains its individual compositional integrity. Some instruments were harmed in the making of this!

May 11 – David Hamilton: Faraday Cage
David is a stalwart of the composition scene here in Aotearoa and is perhaps best known for his choral compositions. For this 2015 commission he took inspiration from the Faraday Cage as a protection from potentially-lethal energies. He explores caging and uncaging certain compositional elements. For instance, pitch is sometimes restricted to being kept outside certain bounds, at other times, kept inside the arbitrary limitations.

May 12 – Troy Kingi: Aztechknowledgey
Troy Kingi embraces the beauty of humanity’s natural imperfections. His tracks are not overproduced, instead retaining sincerity and directness. This track balances that with a healthy ration of humour too. Side note: Since we scheduled this post, he’s started hauling in the acclaim too. Send him congrats for nailing the 2020 Taite Music Prize.

May 13 – GAO Ping: Feng Szheng
Sometimes we learn the most when playing alongside a completely foreign sound. Xia Jing is a respected virtuoso of the Guzheng, a traditional Chinese plucked-string instrument. For our concerts with her, Chinese-Kiwi composer GAO Ping wrote this work in memory of our mutual friend (and father of contemporary classical music in Aotearoa) dear Jack Body. The title refers to the kite reaching up to the skies in an act of commemorating those we’ve lost.

May 14 – Anika Moa: In the Morning
Despite being swept up in a whirlwind of industry hype at an early age (note the lyrics of her earlier song Youthful), Anika has remained true to her personal sense of artistic integrity and individuality, and has still managed to weave her sound into the fabric of this land’s musical identity. Even our littlest kiwis get to enjoy her: search out her album Songs for Bubbas. The track features here captures her at her sweet, sincere best. One of the trio is chuffed to have shared the stage with her – do you know who?

May 15 – David Downes: Kingdom
In 2009 we approached David to write a work for us incorporating his impressive soundscapes and video elements. What he revealed was doubly breathtaking: in its dynamic extremes (from crystalline beauty to filthy graunches) and in its shockingly dark humour. If you value art that provokes reaction, thoughtful self reflection and sincere examination of the human condition, take a moment to experience this powerful work. Warning: some content may offend!

May 16 – Rob Ruha: Kalega
One of the most recognisable faces in the music industry accompanies some of the most universally enjoyed songs. Rob combines a rich heritage steeped in Kapa Haka and Te Reo Māori, and a musical language that is uniquely Aotearoa in his powerfully stirring performances. Kalega is an uplifting track, buzzing with a simple, sweet joy and features The Witch Dr, an alliance of NZ Music Industry stars.

May 17 – Alex Taylor: burlesques mécaniques
We’re full of admiration for Alex’s prodigious talents. For this 2012 commission Alex presented a series of intricately detailed miniatures, at times skittering and light, at others grungy, industrial punk. They’re multi-layered with complex rhythms and a healthy dose of humour. For example the 4th movement A Spanner (a play on España the homeland of the subject matter) has a Bolero rhythm performed at three different speeds close enough to seem argumentative, as if we simply can not play together! Maybe there’s a spanner in the works.

May 18 – Benee: Supalonely
A relatively recent arrival on the NZ music scene, Benee is rocketing in popularity and peer recognition. Her unique sound, attitude, outlook and presentation are set to deliver her to international stardom.

May 19 – Karlo Margetić: Lightbox
Our 2012 commission from Karlo delivers quite a punch. What opens Haydn-esque clarity morphs and devolves into drunken stumbling and graunchy fury. This composer, already so wise, intense and deep-thinking, is one to watch.

May 20 – Finn Andrews: One by the Venom
Finn is fast becoming a bit of legend of the NZ music scene. He first earned fame as the front man of The Veils. Now he’s eking out a new niche with warm wise soulful songs and a sound that’s calling, welcoming you in like an old friend. A beautiful person, a beautiful voice and beautiful songs that speak right to your heart – the complete package. This track is dark in humour but also acerbically poetic. The accompanying video is a cinematic showstopper too. Enjoy!!

May 21 – Mike Nock: Vicissitudes
Iconic jazz pianist and composer Mike Nock is a treasure of the genre. For over half a century he has dominated the jazz scene in New Zealand and Australia, performing, contributing and fostering. On the suggestion of Philip Tremewan, we joined forces with Mike and his band the Mike Nock Trio for a show at the Christchurch Arts Festival. It felt like duelling trios, the cools versus the squares. Mike offered a new piece for the occasion, partly composed by him, partly devised and improvised by us all. (The work’s title hints at a chaotic but ultimately rewarding creative process.) The piece is a tale of differences and settlement: at first the jazz and classical worlds are kept separated and independent, then they’re drawn into the fight, wrestling and trading blows before eventually tumbling into an ebullient togetherness.

May 22 – Tiny Ruins: Me at the Museum, You in the Wintergardens
Popular but still individual, big but still little, Tiny Ruins captures our hearts with intimate lyrics and warm riffs. In this track, songwriter Hollie Fullbrook offers sweetness with a tinge of melancholy, like the sting of a fraught love.

May 23 – Jack Body: Fire in the Belly
Jack Body is inarguably the father of contemporary classical music in New Zealand and is similarly revered all around Asia.
He fostered a vibrant composing scene here and now most kiwi composers can trace their connection to Jack by one or two degrees of separation. Many of you will recall that, back when synthesizers were the latest thing, Jack’s experimental electronic music made it into the set-works list for School C!
In 2006 we approached several composers to write brief and edgy concert-openers – we called them our “short’n’funkies”. Jack interpreted the “edgy” element of the brief as an uncomfortable feeling that sparks one into action. You can definitely hear that sense of urgency. This work ended up being one of our most widely-performed pieces and, along with the follow-up piece Pain in the Arse was the beginning of his idea for a confronting series called Body Music, dark subjects approached with his typical cheeky directness.

May 24 – Lawrence Arabia: Everybody wants Something
James Milne aka Lawrence Arabia is a familiar sight around the gig hotspots of Aotearoa but his approachability belies a prodigious intellect and thoughtfulness. Unsettlingly quirky yet moody riffs accompany lyrics laden with wry observations and acerbic wit. This track is a perfect example, with magnified retro-isms that teeter on the edge of silliness but instead strike a rich seam of melancholy.

May 25 – John Psathas: Helix
John is arguably New Zealand’s most famous living composer. His Greek heritage is evident in many of his works including this 2007 commission Helix. There are three movements: Archon, Metron (wandering folk melodies, Aegean harmonies and unsettled pulse); the biggest nothing of them all (uniquely complicated rhythms combining into a sense of free improvisation); and Tarantismo (a long, wild, whirling crescendo of energies).

May 26 – Ladi6: Walk Right Up
Ladi’s Samoan heritage shines through in her beaming smile, rich mellow voice and Pacific-reggae riffs. She and her partner Parks sink into just the right groove in their urban hiphop tracks. These artists have been hit by Covid-19  harder than most, with major tours getting cancelled. They deserve your support. Check out MusicHelps.org for help thinking of ways to show your support for these and other treasured kiwi artists. ♥️

May 27 – Ross Harris: There May Be Light
Ross Harris is a hugely prolific composer who utilises a complex technique to achieve works of profound beauty and gravitas. He first wrote for us in 2006, a work called senryu. For a 2014 NZTrio tour with UK clarinet wunderkind Julian Bliss (that included the incomparible Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time) CMNZ and NZTrio joined forces and commissioned Ross to write a companion piece for the same forces. This video is an interview and performance combined.

May 28 – Chelsea Jade: Superfan
Chelsea is a unique and supremely talented singer-songwriter with impressive producer chops to boot. Her finely-honed humour, super-catchy riffs and deeply affecting lyrics combine with her delightfully quirky presentation in a powerful body of work. This track, her latest release, is a perfect, sharply-bemusing example.

May 29 – Martin Lodge: Nga Whetu Hou
Waikato professor Martin Lodge wrote this piece for our Toru Wha, Ka Rewa a Matariki project with Taonga Pūoro virtuoso Horomona Horo. Horo’s call, performed on three different instruments, inspires Lodge’s response, a freehearted look at the history of the relationship between Māori and Pakeha, especially the trepidation surrounding early interactions.
P.S. Hope you’ve got your NZMM T-shirt on today! (visit www.musichelps.org.nz for details). Donate $3 to all musicians by texting ‘MUSIC’ to 2448.

May 30 – Marlon Williams: Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore (with Aldous Harding)
This track showcases two of the country’s brightest rising stars, Marlon Williams and Aldous Harding, both from Lyttleton and close colleagues over many years. For a while there, they were also romantically entwined. The break up a couple of years ago was motivation for some prolific songwriting for Marlon and the result was his second album Make Room For Love. The fact that he approached Aldous to collaborate on this song is testament to the strength and longevity of their professional relationship. The track is aching with tell-tale tenderness, and hollow melancholy.

May 31 – Victoria Kelly: Toi Huarewa (The Suspended Way)
Victoria is perhaps most famous for her scores in films such as Black Sheep, Lovely Bones and the Hobbit, her string arrangements for artists such as Neil Finn, Shapeshifter and SJD and her music directorship of the Rugby World Cup Opening Ceremony. But she also possesses a prodigious talent in composing for classical soloists and ensembles. For this piece, Victoria consulted with Tim Worrall, and Horomona Horo, to develop a new myth that examines the case moth’s near-inaudible love song and, on another level, considers Te Arai (the veil that separates us from our ancestors). Taonga Pūoro and Piano Trio combine as a single voice, at different times deeply grounded, furious and breathtakingly delicate.