Barbara Paterson’s moving operatic portrayal of love in crisis in Poulenc’s monodrama

The Human Voice (La voix humaine) by Françis Poulenc based on the play by Jean Cocteau. Translated by Johana Arnold and Barbara Paterson

Barbara Paterson (soprano) with Gabriela Glapska (piano)
Tabitha Arthur – director; Meredith Dooley – costumier; Isadora Lao – lighting designer and operator

Gallery of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, Queen’s Wharf

Friday 27 February 6 pm

My colleague Peter Mechen reviewed what might have been considered the preview performance of Poulenc’s monodrama La voix humaine, on 31 January.

But being a huge fan of Poulenc I felt that Paterson’s performance in the Festival itself deserved attention.

La voix humaine is one of the most remarkable operatic pieces: not merely of the 20th century; not merely on account of the music which is a tremblingly vivid evocation of Elle’s mental fragility; but also in the way it deals so illuminatingly with her behaviour, her dependence on and interaction with a lover who has evidently decided to quit.

Sometimes the substitution of an orchestra by a piano seems to be a serious loss, with its more limited ability to interpret emotions and to provide rewarding support. Here the piano, with the shrill ringing of the telephone right at the beginning, hurled us straight into her emotional turmoil; it seemed just as chilling as the original score’s xylophone.

In addition, I am usually a strong advocate for the use of the original language in song and opera, but here, the singer’s total immersion in Elle’s mind and emotional state overcame any such feelings, even any feeling that English was not the original language. Johana Arnold’s translation was a perfect fit, though I couldn’t prevent a certain curiosity about how a performance in French might have intensified the impact in certain ways. (I have heard it, not live I think, in the original).

The performance opened with what sounded like a rifle shot: I wasn’t sure whether it was an external coincidence or a hint of the ultimate possibility of suicide.

The phone rings chillingly on the piano, and she picks it up but there’s no connection; it rings again, but now it’s a call for someone else, and there are several further rings before finally, it’s her lover. And now Paterson’s virtuosic performance immediately finds expression for her desperation and panic, alternating with attempts to sound rational, with the knowledge or at least fear that he wants to break it up, or even that he has done that.

Not all words were clear, smothered often by her uncontrolled outbursts, but her condition and her behaviour remained so conspicuous to the audience that we didn’t need to catch every word.

She grasps at straws: “You are so sweet … I am calm!” And the piano comments on or reveals the constant, overwhelming state of despair and grief that the break-up inflicts on her. It’s common to remark on the fact that an orchestral or other accompaniment is playing a major role in the drama, but there have been few occasions when I’ve felt as strongly about the vital role of the piano as I did here.

The telephone’s role
The drama continues with a succession of broken connections, whether by her former lover or through an operator’s mistake, we don’t know. The telephone itself and the omnipresent operator are significant players. I can remember in my childhood the sometimes obtrusive operator and the common ‘party line’ (my family had one), shared with three or four other subscribers, all of which the operator could listen to: the operator was thus privy to most of the scandal in the community. But this was a dimension that was not likely to have been in Poulenc’s mind, when local calls were not monitored by the operator, though Cocteau’s original play was written in 1928, 30 years before Poulenc’s setting.

Often it’s intentionally unclear whether the ‘disconnection’ is by the operator or the lover or whether it’s just something in Elle’s mind that brings about panic, a scream or mad laugh.

Paterson’s repertory of voices and screams allowed what was an overwhelming emotional condition to express to her lover her attempts to appear rational and in control, but exposing herself with the almost terrifying laugh, half-way to wild panic.

About half-way, she uttered a particularly wild scream, quickly suppressed, which led to one of the few beautiful lyrical episodes.

Gabriela Glapska’s piano was almost always the perfect partner, but very occasionally it became so passionately involved that it almost got in the way. Though that could well be attributed to the fact that the piano, like the telephone itself, was an important player.

Patterson’s performance was so comprehensively satisfying, so perfectly attuned to the words and the emotions and the music at every point that one could well have imagined that no histrionic direction was needed, But that becomes the crowning achievement of a sensitive director, merely to refine and enhance a singer’s own instincts so that the result seems to flow entirely from the performer’s own impulses. That was Tabitha Arthur’s achievement, that had her climbing one of two step-ladders at various times; symbolic of Elle’s compulsion to achieve security in an essentially insecure world. And in the lighting, Isadora Lao was similarly unobtrusive but, given the entirely natural feel of the atmosphere, was another case or art concealing art. And Meredith Dooley created Peterson’s wispy, pastel-shaded costume that also spoke of her fragility and insecurity.

There was a smallish audience; but here was a moving, very credible performance that deserved a much larger crowd.

 

Jonathan Lemalu and Virtuoso Strings blaze forth in Porirua’s Te Ata Festival

Virtuoso Strings  – O Matou Malaga (Our Voyage), with Jonathan Lemalu

Jonathan Lemalu (bass)
Nina Noble (trumpet) / Elijah Futi (piano) / Martin Riseley (violin)
Kitty Sneyd-Utting/Jillian Tupuse (violin, vocals) /Toloa Faraimo (concertmaster)
Rochelle Pese Akerise (violin) Benjamin Sneyd-Utting (‘cello)
Glenview School Choir and friends
Virtuoso Strings, Sinfonia for Hope
Andrew Atkins (conductor)

Te Rauparaha Arena, Porirua

Saturday, 22nd February 2020

Though the two events weren’t directly related, this heart-warming, youth-driven classical music event in Porirua involving Jonathan Lemalu and the Virtuoso Strings flew in the most appropriate and timely way right in the face of attitudes and rationales voiced by certain forces who had recently proposed the closure of RNZ Concert, the public network’s classical music station. Though on the face of things driven by demographic concerns (RNZ Concert’s replacement station, we were told, represented “a new music “brand” to reach a wider, younger audience”) the proposed change sadly reflects a world-wide trend involving governments in the process of defunding these “creative” activities regarded by official bean-counters as “non-profitable”, with art- music everywhere having to fight to justify its existence. Because a lot of people these days simply aren’t exposed to any classical music the latter is regarded as elitist and the preserve of “old white people”, although the “cheap-shot” by a certain commentator characterising RNZ Concert-listeners as “privileged cardigan-wearers” does seem to have backfired of late! A spirited demonstration in the grounds of Parliament on Monday 24thmade the reactions of the classical station’s loyal listeners to the proposals absolutely clear to the Government  – “Set up your new “Youth Station” by all means, but don’t cannibalise our RNZ Concert in the process!”

The perfect answer to the spurious claim of lack of significant youth involvement in classical music was provided by both performers and their audience at the Te Rauparaha Arena, Porirua’s “O Matou Malaga – Our Voyage” event, a concert featuring the artists listed above in the opening presentation of Te Ata, an “interactive cultural festival for young people in Porirua”, one sponsored by the 2020 New Zealand Festival of the Arts. Virtuoso Strings, based in Cannons Creek, Porirua, is a charitable trust which provides free music tuition and instruments to students at low decile schools in Porirua East, involving over 300 Porirua East students over the past year alone, and establishing a youth and community orchestra which has performed in many community events. Last year the orchestra toured Northland giving concerts in various centres; and a String Octet from the group  performed in Auckland during August at the National Chamber Music finals in the Town Hall, capturing the People’s Cholce Award in doing so (playing the “Goodnight Kiwi” piece by composer Craig Utting referred to below).

Grammy Award-winning bass Jonathan Lemalu is the Patron of the Virtuoso Strings Orchestra, intent on fostering the talents of the young performers, and helping individuals learn from the skills of making music, and in doing so, enrich their own lives and that of their families and community. The orchestra’s founders, Elizabeth Sneyd and Craig Utting, began the group in 2013, and have, with the help of the Virtuoso Strings Charitable Trust, former Board member Siang Lim and current members James Faraimo, Paul Setefano and Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban built a successful and flourishing music scheme which today is an integral part of the Porirua Community. The centrepiece of the concert’s first half on this occasion was in fact a work originally written (and arranged especially for this ensemble) by Craig Utting, a beautiful piece called “Goodnight Kiwi”, which I’d heard performed before, and here was presented as an orchestral work, with the original Octet “wrapped” in extra orchestral ambience, an attractive and atmospheric “variant” on what I’d encountered and enjoyed so much last year.

Before the concert Sir Roderick Deane welcomed us and introduced the performers, after which Jonathan Lemalu took the stage, announcing, after a few introductory remarks, that “In the beginning there was just one piano” – which was the signal for the pianist Elijah Futi to hurl forth, firstly, a keyboard version of the well-known 20thCentury-Fox signature-tune, and then gradually morph through some Gershwin-type rhythm-‘n-blues impulses (apparently excerpts from the theme music to the TV show “The Simpsons”!) and into the Grieg Piano Concerto’s first movement, accompanied gorgeously by the strings! From this grew a sequence devised and composed by Craig Utting, running the entire length of the concert’s first half, and whose sounds were accompanied by images assembled and presented by Moses Viliamu and Kitty Sneyd-Utting.  Jonathan Lemalu’s commentary  words stressing “solace” and “companionship” accompanied some Vaughan Williams-like “Greensleeves” fragments, the poignantly-phrased solo cello (Benjamin Sneyd-Utting) joined by violins sweetly descanting a counterpoint.

Then, at the announcement “Virtuoso Strings was born”, it seemed almost as if Shostakovich had come amongst the tumult, and gone “pasifika”,  with drums excitedly roaring forth as first, but the strings then underpinned the rhythm with swaying single notes, and calmed the excitement, allowing an ethereal atmosphere to settle over the ambience, with Kitty Sneyd-Utting’s wordless voice a stratospheric strand in the mix. It led seamlessly to an invocation of “Travelling” together and on individual journeys, characterising the players’ both touring with the orchestra and developing their individual skills, Lemalu singing a text written by Adrienne Jansen, asking the question “What shall I give you to take on this journey?”

Te Rangirua o Toiri was a forceful outpouring from acoustic and electric strings, piano and percussuion, in accordance with Lemalu’s words: – Te galu afi mua vaka! Oi Aue! Te lakilua! (“The first wave of fire!”), the music originally written by Utting for the Black Grace Dance Company to perform accompanied by inexperienced orchestra players needing plenty of electric and percussive support!  After this, the song Lota Nu’u, referred to by various people as Samoa’s second Nationa Anthem, was lullabic in effect, well chosen in this case by Gillian Deane, the music’s mood heightened by the singer’s suddenly raising the song’s emotional temperature with a single-toned upward modulation – a place where the request at the concert’s beginning for no applause before the interval was severely tested!

“Moving “with confidence to their own beat”, the players took Lemalu’s enjoiner to heart, the string-players augmenting the percussive outpourings with energetic angularity, the tumult assuming a kind of “thorn between two roses” character as it turned out, the speaker signalling the final homecoming with the words “The sound of our kiwis were heard”, and the leading strings standing to play Utting’s haunting “Goodnight Kiwi” set of variations. This was most engaging – we relished a remarkably free-ranging exploration by the players of tone, texture and rhythm, setting cosy nostalgia against zany humour, and rhythmic abandonment against semi-macabre disintegrations, the lump-in-throat “Hine e hine” melody flitting between the gaps at first, then sustained by the haunting voice of Jillian Tupuse, allowing her tones a variety of colourings and giving the music a “sliding”, Salvador Dali-like “do I wake or sleep?” aspect! –  all backdropped most poignantly by the original “Goodnight Kiwi “footage from TV One’s original close-down ritual – so very moving!

The programme’s second half was just as rich in a more variegated way, consisting of instrumental, orchestral, vocal and choral pieces designed to sound and celebrate the skills, both technical and musical, of players connected with the Virtuoso Strings. Introduced by the Trust’s chairman, James Faraimo,  the music of the half began with Handel’s The Trumpet Shall Sound, sung, of course by Lemalu (in excellent voice), and featuring the trumpet-playing of Nina Noble from Christchurch, a Deane Endowment scholar who will be attending the NZSM this year in Wellington – splendid playing from her, and a great and giving partnership between trumpet and voice, given that the  two are not normally positioned close together when the piece is performed as part of “Messiah”. Singers from Glenview School in Porirua East then performed a work by Christopher Tin, Kia Hora Te Marino, (Let Peace be widespread) with the added assistance from Isaac Stone and Tawa College’s Blue Notes Choir, making up a group of all ages, a full-blooded affirmation of positive feeling, the message punched out in no uncertain terms by an enthusiastic percussion section.

Came the Sinfonia for Hope’s appearance, the group consisting of musicians from various Wellington groups coming together to make music to raise funds for various humanitarian causes, and appearing on this occasion to support the Te Ata Festival’s celebration of youthful creativity. They firstly accompanied Lemalu in two characterful operatic arias, the subversive “La Calumnia” from Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia”, and the boastful “O wie will ich Triumphiren” sung by the odious Osmin in Mozart’s “Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail”, each one allowing the singer ample scope for vivid characterisation, which was achieved here with considerable elan. Then the group’s concertmaster, Martin Riseley, gave us a virtuoso performance of the last movement of Vivaldi’s “Summer” Concerto from “The Four Seasons”  with stirring support from the Sinfonia’s players.

After this was the Virtuoso Strings’ turn to accompany their patron, in two items I recalled from the previous year’s “Some Enchanted Evening” concert at the Wellington Opera House – here Lemalu seemed to me in better voice, negotiating the demands of “Ole Man River” from Jerome Kern’s “Showboat” with sonorous ease, and bringing a deep nostalgic feeling to Richard Rogers’ “Some Enchanted Evening from “South Pacific”, the singer again, I thought, freer and more detailed than in that previous performance.

Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban, the current Pasifika Vice-Chancellor at Victoria University of Wellington, and a recently-appointed trustee of Virtuoso Strings Charitable Trust made the most of a brief opportunity to speak to us, conveying her congratulations to the concert’s organisers and performers, before both orchestras came on stage for the final item This was Danzón No.2 by Arturo Márquez, a work from Mexico that has nevertheless gained currency as a “signature tune” for the Venezuelan Simon Bolivar Orchestra – Craig Utting rearranged the work’s scoring to include double string orchestra and piano to make up for the original’s lavish wind-and-brass parts. It all worked brilliantly under the leadership of conductor Andrew Atkins, from the sultry danzón  beginning of the piece, through the interplay between instrumental solos and tutti passages, right to the spirited pay-off at the end. The reception accorded the musicians by the audience at the concert’s conclusion capped off the excitement and enjoyment of the music-making evident throughout – altogether a heart-warming demonstration of youthful skills and energies brought out by the power of music!

NZSO, Gorecki and Ponifasio/MAU share singularly successful juxtaposing of utterly disparate creations, of profound common human vulnerabilities

New Zealand Festival of the Arts

“Chosen and Beloved”: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kristjan Järvi with MAU Wahine
Created by Lemi Ponifasio

Performers: MAU Wāhine
In white: Kahumako Rameka and Ria Te Uira Paki
In black: Rosie Te Rauawhea Belvie, Kasina Campbell, Terri Crawford, Rangipo Ihakara-Wallace, Anitopapa Kopua, Taiahotea Paki-Hill

Gorecki: Symphony No 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs), with soprano Racha Tizk

Michael Fowler Centre

Friday 21 February, 7:30 pm

It might have been slightly unusual to open a festival with a work (two works?) whose subject was the nature of woman, childbirth, even death, and dealing indirectly with one of the most terrible episodes in history.

However, it drew attention to the way in which this festival has been created and conceived. Substantially put together by three leading figures in the performing arts, ‘Guest Curators’, carefully chosen with attention to racial and cultural balance, and sheer imaginative and creative genius.

This concert was the inspiration of Lemi Ponifasio, ‘director and choreographer’. Though not a name very familiar to music audiences in New Zealand, he’s been involved for many years in performance activities that don’t match ordinary categories at international arts festivals, for example, at festivals at Avignon, Marseille, the Theater Der Welt and the Ruhr Triennale in Germany, at the Venice Biennale, for the opening of the Louvre in Abu Dhabi; in Noumea, and Sydney; and even an appearance at the 2012 festival in Wellington (which I didn’t see).

[You may be interested (I was) in the surprising history of MAU’s activities around the world: I copy an article in an appendix at the end.]

The Maori ‘ceremony’ from MAU Wahine
When the audience was allowed into the auditorium at 7:15 it was greeted at once with the performance, though there were no sounds. The stage itself delivered an immediate message: the entire back wall and choir stalls was shrouded by black curtains and a white sheet covered a four metre, or so, width of the stage extending from side to side in front of the empty orchestra seats. An array of rocks was scattered over it.

A woman in white, with long black hair (Kahumako Rameka), was walking very slowly from side to side, and she began to deliver a long lamenting whaikorero (a Karakia – about protection), about her origins, the different stages of birth and re-birth.

Soon two black-clad women appeared at the foot of aisles on either side of the balcony; they intoned first one then the other, though amplification made it difficult to tell who was singing, especially after five others appeared on the stage – that didn’t matter, but amplification removes that important aspect. However, the voices created a transcendent, ethereal effect that sought to avoid literal or precise understanding.

These were MAU Wahine, Ponifasio’s dance theatre company (‘Mau’ is the Samoan word meaning ‘the declaration of the truth’). For some time it bothered me that I could not understand their words, or at least their drift, but eventually I concluded that the women and a child in the arms was simply a reflection, or an anticipation, of the Gorecki composition, perhaps encompassing the experience of the loss of a child in awful circumstances. Gorecki said that his symphony was an evocation of the ties between mother and child, and I sensed that that might also have been the best way of interpreting the Mau ‘ceremony’ that had preceded it.

These were my own surmises, but I found myself taking it all very seriously, and I decided it would be useful to me as well as others if I could elaborate the meaning of what was happening.

So I contacted the Festival, asking whether members of the company could help my understanding (I could do this, not having a tight dead-line to adhere to). Very helpful information reached me later on Monday. I’m indebted to MAU Wahine for responding to my request.

I continue, with the benefit of their help.

When eventually a second white-clad woman appeared (Ria Te Uira Paki) with a baby in her arms, the message, expressed through their lamentations at the suffering and exploitation of women, chimed with the essential message of Gorecki’s music.

Ria Te Uira Paki delivered “a Pātere (chant), specifically Māreikura, perhaps the embodiment of the female essence. The word Māreikura can be translated or described as in all of its forms. The Pātere recites the genealogical connection to seven pro-dominant female entities within Māoridom and how they imbued their qualities within wāhine Māori. It talks of their journeys and connections being interwoven into our own feminine beings. It is a reminder of the feminine essence of Papatuanuku our terrestrial mother and the unbroken connection of the umbilical cord that  bonds us all the cosmic divine. A power, a strength and the beauty that we all hold and can conjure from within.”

My only uncertain criticism might have been of the length of this creation, with its quite protracted expanses of chant that ninety percent of the audience could not understand, even though its likely significance could be guessed at. Was it so different from the wordless 80 minutes of a Bruckner symphony or an extended liturgical work in Latin whose literal text is not understood in detail? In the end I dismissed this thought as a reasonable criticism.

The Gorecki Symphony
The words ‘Chosen and Beloved’ are taken from the first line of the first poem used in the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.

But first, some of Ponifasio’s words:
“In the ceremony of Chosen and Beloved, we greet and embrace those who have gone before us, and prepare to welcome those who are about to join us. We acknowledge the difficulties of the past, share our sufferings and hopes, and with deep empathy begin to construct together the world we wish for ourselves, and for the new generation.”

Gorecki is recorded as not wanting to write a symphony ‘about war’, dealing with the horrors of war; and so in no way does he display in this work, bitterness or hatred of the perpetrators of the three events that inspire the symphony’s three movements. He wanted his work to be heard as three independent laments, and not really like a symphony at all.

The famous words of the second movement were found on the wall of a Gestapo prison at Zakopane in southern Poland. The words used in the two other movements also had their origin in poems that touched, not on the horrors of war or the Holocaust, but on mothers’ grief for the loss of a son, probably in the Silesian Uprisings in 1919-21, and for the third movement, words from a folk song in which Mary speaks to Jesus dying on the cross.

Reading about the reactions to its original performances in the late 70s and even after the huge success of the famous Dawn Upshaw recording in 1991, the critical nastiness that was uttered comes as a surprise now, when devotion to the sterility of the avant-garde, dissonance, and serialism has largely disappeared. I recall the anger vented on some of the reviews I wrote at that time, unappreciative as I was of the slavishly disagreeable music composition students were expected to write then.

Gorecki himself had rejected the dictates of the avant-garde Inquisition; and it’s almost a surprise to observe how, in many ways there’s been  a return to the idea that music needs to engage audiences.

There’s much to be fascinated and moved by in the work: first, though the orchestra is quite large, with quadruple flutes, clarinets and bassoons, horns and trombones the range of instruments is limited: no oboes or trumpets, no timpani or percussion. Each string section is in two parts and often operate separately. One’s attention is drawn to that at the beginning as the first almost inaudible sound is from the double basses, taking about 15 minutes to move through all the strings and a sequence of keys each in a different mode. That sequence was followed in reverse before the soprano entered.

Racha Rizk is a Syrian with an attractive, ethereal soprano voice, that was beautifully suited to the lamenting quality of Gorecki’s music which in turn reflected the emotions of each of the verses.

She sang in a sort of isolation from the front of the balconies nearest the stage: first on the right, then on the left, and for the third movement, from a high, obscure platform in the middle of the black curtain that covered the entire wall behind the orchestra. That separation of voice from the orchestra meant that the balance between the two varied with each movement and according to ones’ seat in the auditorium. That is no criticism: merely an observation.

What might have been a bother for some was the array of fluorescent tubes suspended above the front and rear of the stage which probably affected the visibility of the stage for those in the centre of the balcony.

I was interested to read about Rizk’s background: Syrian classical music performers do not flood the concert halls and opera houses. The programme note included this (to me) interesting item:

After her exile in France due to the war in Syria, Racha is continuing her concerts in Europe with orchestras including the Syrian Expat Philharmonic Orchestra and ORNINA Orchestra, performing Syrian symphonic compositions in concert halls including the Berliner Konzerthaus, Bremen’s Die Glucke, Berlin Philharmonie and Athens Megaron.

In the hands of Kristjan Järvi the orchestra was electrifying in the extraordinarily restrained and spiritual passages (and there are really no other kinds of music in it). There’s a full hour of music, and it cast a spell over the audience, so that at the end when the entire back wall turned into a vivid cascade, the audience remained subdued.

The audience, uncertain about the end, clapped before the water ceased to flow and the lights came up, breaking off as they sensed that it was emotionally unfinished. So they clapped again when the real ending was signalled and the conductor rested his baton.

Appendices

Appendix 1

Lemi Ponifasio / ‘MAU Jerusalem Inside Us’

From the programme booklet for the Jerusalem concert on the following evening, which was more complete than the notes for Chosen and Beloved.

Lemi Ponifasio founded MAU in 1995 working with diverse cultures and communities around the world. His collaborators are people from all walks of life, performing in factories, remote villages, opera houses, schools, marae, castles, galleries and stadiums. Mau is the Samoan word meaning the declaration of the truth.

Lemi Ponifasio is acclaimed internationally for his radical work as a choreographer, stage director and designer, and for his collaborations with many communities.

The projects have included fully staged operas, theatre, dance, exhibitions, community forums and festivals in more than 30 countries.

He has presented his creations with MAU in many places including Festival d’Avignon, Lincoln Center New York, BAM New York, Ruhrtriennale, LIFT Festival London, Edinburgh International Festival, Theater der Welt, Festival de Marseille, Theatre de la Ville Paris, Onassis Cultural Centre Athens, Holland Festival, Luminato Festival Toronto, Vienna Festival, Santiago a Mil Chile, the Venice Biennale and in the Pacific region.

His recent works include Love To Death (2020) with MAU Mapuche, Santiago Chile; KANAKA (2019) with Theatre Du Kanaky, New Caledonia; Mausina with MAU Wāhine for 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand (2018) and Standing In Time (2017) with MAU Wāhine; Die Gabe Der Kinder (2017) with children and community of Hamburg; Ceremony of Memories (2016 and 2017) with MAU Mapuche of Chile; Recompose (2016) with MAU Wāhine and Syrian women for Festival Herrenhausen, Hanover; Lagimoana Installation (2015) for the Venice Biennale 56th Visual Arts Exhibition; Apocalypsis, Toronto (2015); I AM: Mapuche, Chile (2015) and I AM for the 100th Anniversary of WW1 (2014), which premiered at Festival d’Avignon.

Other major international performance tours by Lemi Ponifasio and MAU include The Crimson House (2014), Stones In Her Mouth (2013), the opera Prometheus by Carl Orff (2012), Le Savali: Berlin (2011), Birds With Skymirrors (2010), Tempest: Without A Body (2008), Requiem (2006) and Paradise (2005).

 

Appendix 2

From The New Zealand Herald

From an interview with Lemi Ponifasio before the performance at the New Zealand International Arts Festival in 2012

Birds With Skymirrors …..

“Some people think I am God, some people think I am the devil,” says choreographer Lemi Ponifasio, whose Birds With Skymirrors will cast his usual controversial spell, this time over Wellington’s St James Theatre for two nights of the New Zealand International Arts Festival.

Ponifasio and his dance theatre company Mau – which he prefers to speak of in terms of “community”, just as he repels the label of “performance” for his work – are far more feted in Europe than in New Zealand. Mau is a regular highlight of all the great arts festivals, biennales, triennales and “festspieles” of Europe, but it will be his first time at the New Zealand festival.

“Well, well,” he says, with the sly, characteristic smile than might mean amusement, cynicism – or pain.

The title Birds With Skymirrors was inspired by the apocalyptic sight of frigate birds flying over the ocean off Tarawa Island, in the Pacific, carrying glittering pieces of black plastic waste in their beaks, the ripped plastic looking like liquid mirrors.

The momentous issue of climate change, and the global discussions and negotiations about the future of the planet, were already on Ponifasio’s mind, and a subject he wanted to work with. “The frigate birds provided the symbolic image,” he says. “Birds have long been attached to our desire to be free.”

The resulting work, a powerful reflection on our connection with our environment, expressed through dance, poetry, ceremony, chant and oratory, premiered in Europe in 2010.

Formerly based at the Corban Estate in West Auckland, where he also regularly held the extraordinary Mau Forums, Ponifasio declares himself a failure in that he no longer has a home in New Zealand, the Pacific heart-spring and source of inspiration for all he does. “I have had to go international to survive,” he says.

Ponifasio is back in New Zealand briefly, between extensive European engagements, to find a new base, probably in South Auckland. The constant travelling between New Zealand and Europe is difficult for his immediate family and for his Mau family. And expensive.

“I am working on it, it will come,” he says. “The nature of current work in New Zealand has been that of a production line that I don’t fit. Europe has a bigger capacity to take on something provocative, something more than just arts and crafts and the entertainment industry.”

Born and raised in Samoa until he was 15, he came to New Zealand to complete his formal education, living in a Catholic priory until he was 21. But it is the experience of living in the natural world far more than human-made cultures and religious ideologies that inform Ponifasio’s unique voice. It is a voice that reflects the primal drama of the rhythms of the earth, the cycles of light and dark, life and death, rain and sun, the moon, the cosmos and mankind’s vulnerability, struggles, rituals, strange ceremonies and surrender within.

“To negotiate this exchange in life, Samoan parents tell their children the most important motto: to teu le va – to tender the space, to reverence the space, to be the space, to beautify the space, to embellish the space,” he says. “This is relational space, consciousness, a cosmological relationship with all existence. We call this ‘va’.”

Mau Forum 2010 took place at Schloss Charlottenberg, a historic palace in Berlin, and illustrates Ponifasio’s va in action.

“Not long ago, not far from this place, the people of Berlin exhibited Samoan people, like animals, in their zoo,” Ponifasio said on that occasion, “and not long ago, the people of Berlin came all the way down to Samoa and dominated and colonised the Samoan people.

“So it is very important that today we welcome and host the people of Berlin with respect, ceremony, theatre and art and share a meal, to allow for the clearing of space and the harmonising of spirit – so the work can begin.”

Ponifasio aims, he says, for “transformation”, which is equal parts prayer and political activism.

His work Tempest: Without a Body featured New Zealand’s own “face of terror” Tama Iti and terrorist suspect (since exonerated) Ahmed Zaoui.

“I make work for those who love this kind of work,” he says, “and for those who don’t like it, it is something to talk about. Art is not enough. I don’t want to make myself an artist. It has to be the path of love, the path of activism and its origins have to be in the community.”

Mau’s most recent work, Le Savali: Berlin, prompted French newspaper Le Figaro to propose Lemi Ponifasio as “the new miracle” on the choreographic landscape.

Ponifasio returns to Germany this year to produce his first opera, Carl Orff’s Prometheus, for the Ruhr Triennial 2012.

 

Is the Government paralysed by timidity? An update on the RNZ Concert crisis and a mass protest concert at Parliament

An update on the RNZ Concert crisis

A protest concert on Parliament’s steps
News website Scoop has published details of a concert involving hundreds of musicians performing in Parliament Grounds to voice their opposition to plans to axe RNZ Concert, the country’s only classical and jazz music station.

A massed choir and orchestra, conducted by Wellington’s Brent Stewart, have chosen RNZ Concert’s 87th birthday, Monday 24th February, to voice their support, with a performance of the classical hit Carmina Burana by Carl Orff.

The protest concert will be on the steps of Parliament at 4 pm on Monday 24 February
See: http://wellington.scoop.co.nz/?p=125655

Government appears paralysed on RNZ crisis 
You won’t be surprised that I am more than a little agitated, dismayed, even angry about this attack on RNZ Concert. While it looks as if they’ve found a spare FM frequency, so allowing them to persist with their misguided intention of creating a new radio channel ‘catering for’ young audiences, many other destructive things could still happen.

Starting from the top, Thompson must be removed along with the board who have been unbelievably complicit in and ignorant in their promoting plans virtually to wipe Concert out.

Bearing in mind that the Government has in the past abolished statutory bodies such as regional councils and school boards, only a little courage is needed to remove a wrong-headed, incompetent CEO of Radio New Zealand, and perhaps its entire board.

The issues are far from resolved, yet they are extremely serious  
Will all existing staff be retained and given secure positions? Or is the unspoken intention still to turn it into an anonymous station, like the present midnight to 6am broadcasts, playing endless, unidentified music, as in some web media?

And will RNZ Concert abandon its tedious practice of endlessly self-promoting various ‘programmes’, promoting personalities and individual announcers’ sessions, in the style of TV presenters? And will the ‘popularising’ policy cease, that seeks to generate an intimacy through the presenters’ language, encouraging them to decorate their words with personal anecdotes, gushings about the rapturous or wonderful music about to be played?

Yes, it’s nice to sound friendly and interested (and all current presenters do that), but we also want them to treat us like grown-ups, and not patronised with adolescent speech and affectations.

Will RNZ Concert be more adequately funded (drastically reduced over the past decade and more) so that more live performances can be recorded for rebroadcast, and their ability restored to commission talks and documentaries about music and the other arts, such as there were up to 20 or so years ago? Being increasingly constrained in the quid-pro-quo of exchanging programmes with European and American networks, I gather we are now being treated as a charity case; a shameful situation that should embarrass the Government.

And will it reverse the shabby practice of playing single movements instead of entire works? About 80% of broadcasts of symphonies, sonatas, chamber and other multi-movement pieces are confined to single movements that leave you hanging, or longing to have heard the earlier movements. It’s very unprofessional.

Thompson must go and board cleaned out
Unless Thompson goes life will continue to be horrible for Concert staff as he will be able to continue to act, in a more obscure, less overt manner perhaps, to dumb down the channel. We must have a chief executive who understands and believes unreservedly in the importance of a classical music channel and energetically restores its essential character; someone who will recover its freedom to use its huge resources of recorded music most of which is locked in the basement.

Somehow, RNZ must be convinced that the success of public radio is not measured by its level of appeal to a particular age or any other group, in the same way as might apply to commercial radio. Very few young people listen to radio, PERIOD! And those that do occasionally, listen to commercial stations that broadcast the sort of music that RNZ plans to broadcast over its new channel.

It would be an irresponsible waste of money to set up a youth-oriented network, unless there was a clear intention to sue it to awaken interest in good music, classical music, music that has stood the test of time. It is not the job of public radio to attract any of those who do not in effect invite themselves.

RNZ’s job is comparable to that of a national library or art museum that devotes itself to storing and exhibiting and promoting works of art or literature of proven importance. Things that might not be looked at every day but which are a vital element in a civilised country. The success of such bodies is not to be measured solely by listener numbers but rather, by the responses of those whose background or long devotion to good music equips them to assess its qualities and its ability to stimulate interest in all those with any sort of curiosity about classical music. That’s not just popular music, though the best of contemporary popular music certainly finds a place.

Nevertheless, it has also been shown by a survey in the UK that the NZ Concert Program has, in terms of audience percentages, the largest listening numbers of all classical music stations in the world.

Silence and passing time makes Minister look indecisive 
It is becoming increasingly disturbing that no decisive action has yet been taken by the Minister, primarily on the need to terminate Thompson’s employment. The more time that passes, the more the Government will appear indecisive and timid, and it will also be plain for all to see that it either isn’t conscious of or doesn’t care about the implications, both domestic and international, of allowing the neglect and indifference of the previous Government to persist. This is an extremely important aspect of New Zealand’s cultural reputation.

Get to Parliament 4pm on Monday 24 February.
Here are links to relevant websites:

There is a Give a Little campaign set up to raise $10,000 to help with costs of this concert in Parliament Grounds.

https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/savernzconcert?fbclid=IwAR2ockucLc4bswu4LaTe2cyqTCkCpXOkUZ0e2IuxyCm4oKARMBSfPQjWzhQ

SOUNZ (Centre for New Zealand Music) media release on the need to keep full presentation, scheduling and recording:

https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/CU2002/S00089/the-fight-is-not-over-to-save-rnz-concert-securing-fm-frequencies-is-just-the-beginning.htm

 

Revealing background from former Concert manager

A former manager of RNZ Concert, Miles Rogers, contributed an article in The Dominion Post last week, revealing important background information that illuminates the troubles of RNZ Concert, going back many years.

RNZ Concert from the inside

As a former manager of RNZ Concert, I’m aware that this network has been progressively side-lined and marginalised.

Until the late 1990s a defined funding split operated between National and Concert – c.78% to 22%.  A decision was then taken to apply funding where “most needed” and from that point Concert began to lose ground. By 2003, there was no longer a budget to purchase broadcasting rights to the numerous recorded performances from our professional musical bodies and the various international soloists and ensembles that tour – from that time these rights have generously been given gratis. And since an internal restructuring in late 2014, this stream – a whole RNZ network – has had no direct report to the CEO and therefore no appropriate representation.

Further, the vast library of classical CDs was removed from RNZ House, Wellington in 2017.  This repository is Concert’s bread-and-butter for maintaining variety and scope in its daily schedule.  In recent times, presumably in a directive to appeal to and gain greater listenership, and in part through ever decreasing funding and staffing levels, the output has been reduced to something like a “top 500”, with popular classics often occurring every couple of days, alongside a predominance of single movements. Compounding this, continuity music programming is selected by computer, rather than by musical minds. These factors severely limit programmers’ choice and listeners’ experience. The threat of presenters now facing redundancies continues the present trend that Concert is already automated for most of weekend transmissions and was for a period on weekday evenings – ie no warm body behind the microphone at these times.

Though most listeners would value RNZ Concert for its range of classical music, Concert exists and is funded particularly for the nurturing, recording and dissemination of our musicians and composers… think NZSO, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Chamber Music NZ, New Zealand String Quartet, pianists Michael Houstoun and Diedre Irons, Dames Kiri Te Kanawa and Malvina Major, Douglas Lilburn, John Psathas, – names at the peak of our indigenous talent.  Yet Concert’s work for emerging talent extends to secondary schools’ level through annual recordings of such as the NZCT Chamber Music Contest and The Big Sing.  There must surely be listeners too at Epsom Girl’s Grammar, who successfully hijacked 2019’s “Settling the Score”. Decreased funding has made such recording more and more difficult to carry out. I can only applaud the dedication of remaining staff, the lengths they go to in maintaining a professional product that still retains agreed quotas of NZ performance and composition within the overall schedule.

There’s a defined, finite audience for every music brand. That classical music has a smaller audience than popular brands should not diminish its value. RNZ Concert covers the broad range of classical, jazz, popular, film and World musics – much as then Director General, John Schroder envisaged when introducing the original YC stations c.1950. As our country’s population ages, more probably migrate from the commercial radio world for the sanity non-commercial radio affords. In truth, RNZ Concert needs a shot in the arm – increased funding – to enhance and regain its former prestige. Of RNZ’s funding from Government in Year 2018/19 totalling $43.4 million, I wonder what percentage was apportioned to RNZ Concert?  Throughout the 1980s RNZ’s technical and music staffs built a country-wide FM transmission network for fine music. To relegate this stream to much lesser quality AM transmission would be a retrograde step.

Section 175 of the Radiocommunications Act 1989: Conditions of licences relating to the FM Concert Programme and National Radio” includes the following: “that the first priority for the use of the frequency to which the licence relates shall be the broadcasting of (1) in the case of a licence that relates to the service known as the FM Concert Programme”. Does this not guarantee FM transmission for RNZ Concert?

Miles Rogers

And write to Minister of Broadcasting Kris Faafoi  (k.faafoi@ministers.govt.nz) and the Prime Minister (j.ardern@ministers.govt.nz).

Those at work, get an hour off to attend this important concert, and think about making a donation through Give-a-little to the large cost of staging a performance like this.

Send this to your friends.

Lindis Taylor

Michael Houstoun bows out triumphantly at Waikanae in the company of the Amici Ensemble

Waikanae Music Society

Michael Houstoun and the Amici Ensemble (led by Donald Armstrong)
The Amici Ensemble: Emma Barron and Anna van der Zee (violins), Andrew Thomson (viola), Ken Ichinose (cello), Oleksandr Gunchenko (double bass), Bridget Douglas and Kirstin Eade (flutes), Douglas Mews (harpsichord)

J S Bach:
Trio sonata from The Musical Offering
Partita No 4 in D, BWV 898
Brandenburg Concerto No 4 in G, BWV 1049
Keyboard Concerto in D minor, BWV 1052

Waikanae Memorial Hall

Sunday 9 February, 2:30 pm

The first concert in the Waikanae Music Society’s 2020 season welcomed the audience with a ‘Full House’ notice at the door: meaning that around 500 filled the hall. It was a celebration of Michael Houstoun’s long career: his last concert for the society which has hosted him regularly since 1986. He played in the company of Donald Armstrong’s Amici Ensemble which has also been a major and very popular contributor to Waikanae’s concerts. It was an inspiring combination.

The programme that was devised was particularly thoughtful and appropriate, serving, somewhat incidentally perhaps, to display a range of Bach’s instrumental music not all of which is well known. One solo piano piece and Bach’s best known keyboard concerto, both featured Houstoun at the piano. Giving Houstoun time to catch his breath, the ensemble, including Douglas Mews at the harpsichord, played the Trio Sonata from The Musical Offering for flute, violin and continuo and the fourth Brandenburg Concerto.

Attention to the RNZ Concert crisis
But before they began president Germana Nicklin spoke briefly about the crisis that was upper-most in everyone’s thoughts – Radio New Zealand management’s intention to get rid of RNZ Concert, firing almost the entire staff, and giving its FM transmission network to a new programme devoted to what the management thinks are the tastes of young people, let’s say teen-agers. She invited Elizabeth Kerr to the stage, the former manager of Concert FM, as it used to be called (no longer if Thompson and Macalister have their way: it’ll be Concert AM, only some of the year and with no obtrusive human voices). And Elizabeth read a passionate message from Wilma Smith, founding first violin of the New Zealand String Quartet and later, Concertmaster of both the NZSO and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. There was no mistaking her dismay and anger at the barbaric plans.

The Trio Sonata
But to the music at hand. The Trio Sonata played by Armstrong, flautist Bridget Douglas and cellist Ken Ichinose, with Mews with the harpsichord continuo, was one of the many varied pieces of The Musical Offering that Bach sent to Frederick the Great in 1747. It’s entitled Sonata sopr’il Soggetto Reale (‘Sonata on a Royal theme’). The trio sonata form was common enough at the time and Bach wrote a number of others, but this one is unusually technical and makes formidable play with the theme that the King had invited him to use for an elaborate fugue. In fact it matched the gravity of our situation, sombre, in a minor key, in spite of the generally happy character of the flute.

The performance set the benchmark for the concert, as all the pieces were played without the introduction of any unwritten decoration (as far as I could tell), or the imposition of any inappropriate emotional character beyond what is intrinsic to the notes on the page. And this continued to characterise the two following Allegro movements. It offered proof of their ability to sustain the serious character of the King’s theme. Bach’s seriousness pf purpose seemed to be illuminated in the extended Andante movement, spacious and thoughtful.

Keyboard Partita No 4 
Houstoun’s choice of the fourth of the challenging keyboard Partitas was a further mark of the concert’s serious yet deeply satisfying character. Each of the six partitas has three movements in common (Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and a Gigue in all but one case), along with a wide variety of other movements. No 4 is the only one that opens with an ‘Overture’ and it presented Houstoun with a formidable opportunity to express what I suppose can only be discovered in the greatest classical music. And that undoubtedly illustrates what great art can offer to those who have troubled to cultivate and familiarise themselves with the musical material that composers like Bach used to explore the depths of human experience. Nevertheless, the fugal character of the Overture’s second part avoided undue complexity and was the more rewarding for that.

Houstoun seemed to have discovered how to handle the most interesting and revelatory aspects of each subsequent movement. In some ways the second movement, Allemande, is both the longest and the most elaborate, with a subtle change of mood following pauses at the end of each paragraph. Longer pauses occur in the slow Sarabande and though it’s not a slow movement that plumbs the profundities of the Chaconne of the second violin partita, Houstoun managed to suggest a depth that made a singular impression.

The Gigue struck me as a particularly rewarding movement in Houstoun’s hands, with fugal elements and episodes for the left hand alone that led to complex polyphony.

Brandenburg Concerto No 4
All players arrived on stage to play the fourth Brandenburg concerto, with Douglas Mews again on the harpsichord, and others as named above. Each of the six Brandenburgs is different; No 4 has the character of a concerto grosso, featuring a group of three (or so) solo instruments (two flutes and Armstrong’s violin) and the balance (‘ripieno’), a small core of strings and harpsichord.

As with the Trio Sonata, the sound of the harpsichord didn’t project very well. While it was often audible in the earlier piece, among a larger number of modern instruments in the Brandenburg concerto, it failed to make much contribution. Nevertheless, the first and third movements were particularly lively and entertaining. The Andante might have been on the slow side; perhaps better described as careful and studied, ending with slow chords that introduced the last movement. The splendid fugue was particularly effective, shared interestingly among the three solo instruments. Donald Armstrong enjoyed an impressively virtuosic solo passage towards the end.

Piano Concerto in D minor 
Bach’s keyboard concerto, No 1 in D minor, really does demand performance on the piano and I felt that its choice as Houstoun’s last performance for Waikanae again demonstrated his serious and intelligent approach to this occasion and to music generally. In spite of the many great performances of the popular and spectacular piano concertos that comprise part of the symphony orchestral repertoire, Bach’s No 1 in D minor is a singular work that seems to be rarely played, though I remember clearly a performance, my first, unsurprisingly, in the old Concert Chamber of the Town Hall (it shocked me that it was replaced by a smaller space in the shape of the Ilott Theatre). It was, perhaps, in the 1950s (the pianist and the orchestral ensemble I can’t recall). Its seriousness and power impressed me then just as this performance did on Sunday.

All the instruments contributed with distinction, as they had in the Brandenburg, often playing in unison, without a great deal of fugal or contrapuntal writing. It’s widely considered a major preliminary step towards the piano concerto that emerged in the second half of the 18th century, the piano no longer just a polite member of the ensemble but a striking solo contributor. Towards the end there’s a striking dialogue between piano and cello and a virtuosic cadenza.

As with the performances of the three previous works, the most striking characteristic was the sense of integrity and honesty with which all players handled the music: no straining for ‘Romantic’ colours and emotions: just the notes in the score played with honesty and faithfulness.

This was a distinguished and momentous concert in which every aspect had been carefully studied and prepared. I hope that Michael Houstoun will be able to reflect on the occasion with as much gratitude and pleasure as the audience which, at the end, rose in its entirety to its feet.

 

Save Radio NZ Concert: sign a petition and write letters

We gather there are several petitions out there that seek to protect Radio New Zealand Concert, its integrity, even its survival to all intents and purposes.

Here is the one that’s recommended:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/community_petitions/paul_thompson_and_willy_macalister_at_radio_new_ze_keep_rnz_concert_on_fm_and_retain_their_presenters/

This of course covers the bare bones of the issue.

Of even more importance is the writing of letters that deal trenchantly with other associated issues.

It needs to be asked how it comes about that the positions of chief executive and the head of music of RNZ  have been filled by people with no evident experience in public broadcasting, and with no knowledge of one of the most important art forms that underpins civilisation: the great music that has stood the test of time and which ranks alongside other great art – literature, painting, sculpture, architecture…

And as I asked in the earlier post, who has been responsible for appointing a board, none of whose members seem remotely interested in or qualified to manage the presentation, promotion and dissemination of great music.

The more letters that reach the Prime Minister (as Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage) and Kris Faafoi (Minister of Broadcasting), the better. Faafoi claims that we, the public, don’t want him to be interfering in the administration of RNZ!). Really? If he doesn’t concern himself with this, the most serious crisis to have arisen since the threat in the 1980s to have advertising on Concert FM, just what does he do to earn his stipend in the portfolio?

Bear in mind the knife-edge situation of the Government as we approach the election: the threat to abandon support for the Labour Party which I’ve heard expressed by a number of people in recent days, should cause the Government pause for thought, if nothing else does.

 

RNZ Chief plans to destroy RNZ Concert

Crisis in our intellectual and cultural life!

We reproduce below a report on Stuff website about the unbelievably barbaric plans of Radio New Zealand to sack all RNZ Concert staff, broadcast music without presenters, either live or recorded, transmit on only AM radio which is virtually defunct in New Zealand and throughout the world.

We know no country in the western world that does not have a classical music broadcaster of the kind New Zealand has had since 1950.

We find it extraordinary that a State-owned enterprise appears to be free to act in this way without the sanction of the relevant controlling body or the Minister.

There were warning signals last year with a report that there were plans to shift half of RNZ staff to Auckland.

That was hard to understand when it’s the State that should be leading the way in encouraging the dispersal of employment and the demand for housing to other parts of the country, from a city that seems unable to cater for the results of uncontrolled population growth.

And the ‘popularisation’ of the presentation in recent months, the incessant use of  ‘trailers’, encouraging presenters to exploit their personalities, and to ‘gush’ over what’s about to be played was prescient. It was a warning that management believed its listeners were either children or people without their own feelings about music, their long-cultivated tastes and generally a knowledge of classical music, just as of major literature and the visual arts.

We must wonder how someone so lacking in an understanding of the importance of maintaining fundamental elements of civilised life and culture. could have been appointed to a position in charge of the the nation’s public radio.

Is there any hope that RNZ’s board will reject this absurdity? Not likely, as there’s no one on the board with any sign of an interest in classical music, or indeed in any of the major arts.

When there were moves in the 1980s to undermine through commercial advertising, what was then the Concert Programme, it led to the formation of Friends of the Concert Programme. There were some 50,000 adherents and they stopped it. Unfortunately the record of those members has been lost.

We need to create immediately a new Friends of RNZ Concert, to raise the roof to show the strength of opinion about these unbelievable plans.

The report on Stuff: 

RNZ says new ‘youth oriented’ music brand will lift whole radio industry

Tom Pullar-Strecker 16:20, Feb 05 2020

RNZ has brushed off concerns that a radical overhaul of its music services will take it into a turf-fight with the country’s commercial radio stations.

The state-owned broadcaster began consulting staff on Wednesday on a proposal that would see it make 18 redundancies and axe almost all jobs at RNZ Concert.

It plans to create 17 new jobs at a new youth-oriented music channel based in Auckland that it plans to launch during the second half of this year.

But sources suggested that only a few existing staff were being given the opportunity to transfer.

“There will be a whole lot of new jobs doing some quite new things,” chief executive Paul Thompson said.

RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson says there will be different views on its new music strategy but it needs to connect with younger audiences.

Public Service Association national secretary Glenn Barclay said RNZ staff were “shocked and upset”.

“They knew change was coming, but nobody expected it would be this far reaching or aggressive in terms of timeframes.”

Concert FM had been part of New Zealand households for generations, and its “skilled and hardworking staff” did exemplary work every day, he said.

“PSA members will meet in the days ahead to discuss this proposal with colleagues, and they will decide on an appropriate response.”

RNZ head of music Willy Macalister said RNZ’s new music service would feature a higher proportion of New Zealand music and “talk content” than commercial radio stations.

But it would also play international hits in order to provide “something that is palatable to a broader audience”, he said.

RNZ’s support of the Rhythm and Vines music festival points to the direction it expects its new music service to take.

“You can’t ‘niche yourself’ out of relevance.”

The new commercial-free service, which has yet to be named, will be carried on FM and made available online, both in a streaming format and “on demand”.

RNZ Concert would lose its FM slot and all its presenters, but would broadcast classical music around the clock on AM, online and on Sky.

Staff whose jobs were on the line have criticised the moves as a step towards replacing RNZ’s music division with “Spotify”, sources said.

But Thompson said it needed to create the new brand and that decision had been signed off by its board.

“While RNZ is doing really well, we just don’t have enough connection with younger New Zealanders.

“The bit we are working with staff on is the impact of the new strategy on them.”

Commercial radio broadcasters NZME and MediaWorks are understood to have had discussions with the Radio Broadcasters Association about RNZ’s new direction.

Its chief executive Jana Rangooni gave a guarded response to RNZ’s plans.

“If the public service media principle of delivering content to New Zealand audiences that are not currently catered for is applied to RNZ’s youth music strategy, this could deliver benefits for all sectors of our industry and for New Zealanders,” she said.

But she said the association would have “serious concerns” if a taxpayer-funded broadcaster launched products and platforms that targeted audiences “already well served by commercial radio broadcasters”.

“We note that there are already many networks operating in New Zealand that service youth music audiences,” she said.

“While it’s true RNZ is non-commercial, the networks it operates with taxpayer funding compete for audiences which has an impact on New Zealand’s commercial networks.”

Macalister downplayed that concern saying a lot of thought had gone into avoiding a clash.

“A rising tide will float all boats. We are going to be offering something that is different.

“There is a section of the audience that is not consuming radio at the moment and we really do hope we can appeal to them.”

That would involve the new service supporting more “grass roots” music, emerging artists and live performances, he said.

Commercial radio businesses might “talk a bit loud at the start, but I think everybody will be okay and we will all get along”, he said.

Thompson said it would be “pointless” for RNZ to launch a service that replicated what the commercial market already did well, and said it would aim to offer any new content it created to other broadcasters.

“We have this strategy of ‘radical sharing’ because that is how we are growing our impact.”

RNZ would do “all it could” to support existing staff through the consultations, Thompson said.

But he said changes of the kind RNZ was considering were “always really difficult”.

“Of course there are going to be different views and opinions of this,” he said.