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:

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.


Rebranding strikes academia: Victoria University victim of corporate-style image-making

Rebranding strikes academia

In a radical break from the knitting pattern that Middle C usually follows, I am driven to raise my voice to protest about the planned rebranding of my alma-mater, Victoria University of Wellington, or simply ‘Vic’ as it has always been universally known. Music in Wellington has its most important educational institution in Victoria University.

This ‘review’ is prompted by the publication of Dave Armstrong’s column in this morning’s Dominion Post drawing attention to the announcement by the Vice Chancellor that the obscene word ‘Victoria’ would be dropped from the name.

In May I became aware of the proposal and wrote to the Vice Chancellor. This is the essence of my letter, slightly modified:

The propensity to change long-standing names has always seemed to have been a characteristic of authoritarian regimes, most conspicuously used by Communist states.

I happen to be a graduate of the university (actually, a pre-1961 graduate of the University of New Zealand). For me, the habit of changing a name other than for an overwhelmingly important reason, has always struck me as a mark of an immature institution, and in particular, one that places greater importance on what might be called ‘political correctness’ or fashion than on tradition, constancy; even integrity.

I am not the least persuaded that there is any merit in the argument that its name is a matter of confusion. Ours in the Victoria University of Wellington; surely that is clear enough: after all this is the capital city.

Two other universities (and I imagine there may well be others) that use the name Victoria, are mentioned; both geographically related. They are perfectly justified, but they too are likely to be subject of confusion by people who take no trouble to identify them. What are they doing?

I suspect that a secondary, unstated reason is the lingering imperialist flavour associated with the name; it may also reflect a pro-republican spirit. I too am in favour of a republican constitution, but it has nothing to do with the anti-Victorian temper that arose in the early decades of last century!

Many universities carry names associated with a founder or a political leader whose reputation, by standards of today, might be dubious. But those universities will have achieved a reputation that obliterates the shortcomings of that individual. My university should likewise be mature and self-respecting enough to withstand such adolescent, ephemeral pressures.

I plead that you take a more academically and politically mature view of this matter, and retain the name which already has more than a century of history behind it.

I had a very courteous and friendly reply from the Vice Chancellor and an update in the last few days about the council’s decision, to press ahead with the change.

He followed up last Friday with a circular letter announcing that: “The University Council today approved in principle a change to ‘University of Wellington’ along with the adoption of a new Māori name of Te Herenga Waka.”

And the letter added that “This is a draft decision and Council will consider further feedback over the next two weeks. This can be emailed to ‘’ or posted to ‘The Chancellor, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140’.  Feedback closes at 5:00pm Monday 13 August 2018.”

And there’s a petition: And in its report on the issue, Stuff has an article on the subject:

Armstrong mentions several other reasons to oppose this senseless move.

They include reference to the university’s not irrelevant behaviour over the Karori campus, the former Wellington Teachers’ College, which should have been held for educational purposes, sold for $28 million to Ryman!!

For me, a curious weakness in the case is the list of other universities (or tertiary institutions) around the world that enjoy the word ‘Victoria’. There are nine. Are any of them embarrassed at having the offensive word attached to them, and planning to change their name, and if not why not? And why, as the one that may well be the oldest and most distinguished, is our Victoria University so lacking in self-confidence, a sense of its own reputation and traditions?

I think it is disgraceful.


Website problems: acknowledgement of Turnovsky Endowment Trust grant

Because we have been unable to carry out certain functions on this website, our mast-head still bears our acknowledgement of sponsorship by the Adam Foundation which gave us greatly appreciated support in the early years. Late last year we were given a generous grant by the Turnovsky Endowment Trust, and that should have been published at once on the home page.

We are very embarrassed about this. The problem arises because we have lost contact with the person who set up our website using WordPress and our failure to find anyone who can manage it technically.

This handicap has also affected other functions.

Readers will no doubt have observed that our ‘Coming Events’ section has been neglected so far this year, as we simply cannot load anything new in that space. Nor is the facility for ‘comments’ operational. None of our efforts so far to manage these difficulties have been successful.

We would welcome offers of assistance from anyone with technical familiarity with WordPress.


Gao Ping’s winning presentation of Debussy, New Zealand and east Asian piano music

Gao Ping – piano (Wellington Chamber Music)

Debussy: Book II of Images for piano and L’Île joyeuse; Jack Body: Five melodies for piano; Eve de Castro Robinson: And the garden was full of voices; Gao Ping: Outside the window; Takemitsu: Rain Tree Sketch and Rain Tree Sketch II

Ilott Theatre, Town Hall

Sunday 11 September, 3pm

The first thing to remark is the unfortunate clash between this concert and that in the Michael Fowler Centre by the Vector Wellington Orchestra with pianist Diedre Irons. But in addition to that, there was a concert by the Wellington Community Choir next door, in the Town Hall main auditorium.

Though there were only two pieces, both by Debussy, that could be regarded as standard repertoire, the audience was nearly as large as at most other recent recitals, though that is rather fewer than was usual a few years ago.

There were two works by New Zealand composers.

Gao Ping introduced Jack Body’s Five Melodies for Piano by describing his first contact with the composer in Chengdu, not in person, but through a music tape that he’d left during a visit. He was moved and impressed and spoke warmly about Body, who was in the audience; it was an engaging way of putting the audience in a positive, receptive state of mind. Working the inside of the piano was novel forty years ago; now, there should be reason other than the novelty of a sound that’s distorted from its normal character. Happily, Gao Ping’s manner and his clear enjoyment of the music, its memorable riffs and motifs and drones, the muted strings produced by his left hand helped to make the pieces sound almost standard repertoire, familiar, even congenial. And, in the third piece, the stopping of partials on the piano strings to produce harmonics, and the plain comfortableness of his demeanor at the piano, as awkward as it often looks to be leaning sideways across the keyboard to do things that the instrument’s inventors never dreamed of (they might have said – why not use a harp? or lute? or theorbo? or guitar?)

Eve de Castro Robinson’s And the Garden was full of Voices is a three-part work evoking, with success, the sounds of birds in a garden inspired by a line in a Bill Manhire poem (with contribution from pianist Barry Margan). The composer still finds the need to manipulate the strings of the piano with the hands, but she also uses techniques that have become fashionable a generation after the body-contorting, piano-interior fashion: the integration of the pianist’s voice in the texture. In the second section, ‘Moon darkened by song’, the pianist resumed his seat and treated the instrument conventionally, with a prayerful gesture and two sharp claps from raised hands, bringing it to an end. Especially dramatic in the third section, ‘The ancient chants are echoes of death’, was the dark throbbing, the heavy beat, and the echoes of death evoked from the extreme ends of the keyboard. It made music that expressed both visual and unusual emotional perceptions.

Gao Ping, who seems at least a fairly permanent New Zealand resident, introduced his own piece Outside the window engagingly, recalling the childhood sense of a different – more real or more distant – world outside, and the music was now speaking in a language that offered more familiar resonances.

The first movement (of four, ‘On the way’) suggested a certain Janáček flavour (am I subject to suggestion, partly by the similar subject/title On an overgrown path?), at times touches of jazz, in its rhythms and melodic finger-prints. ‘Chorus of Fire Worms’ was a surprising avian evocation; Debussy was inevitably nearby in ‘Clouds’ (Nuages?), though I was not really reminded of clouds, unless they were of the fast-forward kind. The girls dancing on rubber bands (iv) was a flight of the imagination which Jack Body’s sound-world might have had some influence on.

Gao Ping again diverted us with a story related by Takemitsu: after the devastation and deprivation of the post-war, he had no piano and wandered the streets knocking on doors where he heard a piano, to ask whether he could play for 15 minutes; 40 years later he was greeted, at a concert, by one of his piano benefactors. The two Rain Tree Sketches are among his more popular pieces, not reflecting a particularly Japanese character but impressing with their coherent and confident musical substance and Gao’s playing seemed somehow to incarnate the composer himself, who has always seemed to me a man of warmth and deep humanity – like Gao Ping.

The three pieces of Debussy’s Images Book II, not the best known of his piano pieces, was a clever way to induct the audience into the climate and landscape of the New Zealand and East Asian music in the rest of the concert. The bells of No 1 were sounded in disembodied abstraction; another essential quality of Debussy’s piano music lay in the black-and-whiteness character that’s suggested by the second part – ‘Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut’ – the coldness of the moon, static harmonies, stillness. ‘Poissons d’or’ is the most familiar of the three, quite formidable in its spirit in spite of the shimmering dance rhythm that portrays the golden fishes whose flashing movements became quite corporeal and substantial; yet all the time, firmly rooted in the black and white piano keys. Gao Ping’s unobtrusive virtuosity illuminated them all.

And so it was fitting to return to Debussy at the end with his brilliant hail of notes that bespangle the glittering and very difficult L’Ile joyeuse; Gao Ping gave it strong pulse and danced excitedly through it with an almost visceral joyousness.

The encore was what Gao Ping called a vocalizing-pianist piece, written by him to a poem, “perhaps-song of burial”, by Wen Yi-duo. Again, the role of the pianist’s voice complemented his piano-playing; it lamented the death of the poet’s daughter, sustained by a steady rhythm throughout in rolling motifs in the left hand. Whether the words expressed profound grief or a more metaphysical emotion one knew not, but the music seemed to express a calm stoicism rather than unrestrained distress; it was no doubt all the more impressive and moving as a result.

With each of these various composers, Gao Ping, demonstrated an intuitive awareness of the music’s essence, and a refinement, enlivened by virtuosity that was always at the service of the music.

Composer/pianist Frederic Rzewski (who was a guest at Victoria University a few years ago) said: “Gao Ping is one of a new generation that is breathing new life into the classical tradition. An evening with Gao Ping’s music is a true adventure!”

I couldn’t put it better. It was his music, in particular, this afternoon that seemed to me to point in a most fruitful, human, and optimistic direction for the future of ‘classical’ music that will again succeed in reaching out to the large audiences it enjoyed a century ago.

Another snippet.

He was asked in an interview posted on his website how he would define ‘interpreting’. His answer: “In terms of performing? Well, it is a vague word. I prefer ‘recreating’. Playing a Beethoven sonata is to recreate something, not really an interpretation because interpretation seems to suggest ‘explaining’, which is not what one can do with Beethoven sonatas performing it.”

Just one of many tendentious, pretentious words beloved of critics that have always made me uneasy, even though I’ve been guilty occasionally.

Four fine musicians compete for NZSM Concerto Competition

New Zealand School of Music Concerto Competition

Competitors: Nick Price (guitar) – Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez; Reuben Chin (alto saxophone) – Pierre Dubois’s Concerto for alto saxophone and string orchestra; Kate Oswin (violin) – Mozart’s Violin Concerto No 5 in A; Sunny Cheng (piano) – Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G
Adjudicator: Vyvyan Yendoll

Adam Concert Room, Victoria University

Wednesday 25 May, 7.30pm

This was the final round of the School of Music’s annual concerto competition, reduced now to four finalists. Each is accompanied by piano – a pianist of their choice.

First, I was impressed by the musicianship and accomplishment of all four contestants, and the way in which the finalists had emerged produced a concert of good variety.

The first contestant was guitarist Nick Price who played the obvious concerto by Rodrigo. Though I found his demeanour a little less than engaging – he made no eye contact with the audience, his head turned down most of the time towards his left hand – the music was there in a most attractive way. He played from memory.

He opened with bold, clean chords, paced resolutely: it established at once an expectation of an interesting journey through the music (which ended after the second movement). The gorgeous Adagio was played beautifully, easily paced, in a relaxed manner, as if every note had to be savoured to the full: dynamics sensitively handled, with discreet rubato that let the music breathe. He was fortunate in his accompanist, Douglas Mews, who managed to re-create the score with remarkable quasi-orchestral colouring.

Saxophonist Reuben Chin’s contest piece was Pierre Dubois’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone and String Orchestra which he played with the music in front of him, not that it detracted from an air of spontaneity and total mastery of the score. Though he opened with a slightly imperfect, breathy note, articulation thereafter was pretty flawless, shown strikingly in the big cadenza where his breath control was impressive, through some very fast, virtuosic passages. A contrasting tone of melancholy coloured the slow movement, where his highest register was admirable. The last movement revealed the composition’s French descent most conspicuously and l’esprit français was accurately captured.

Chin was very capably accompanied by Claire Harris at the piano. He was the winner: one of the two contestants I had guessed as most likely.

Kate Oswin, who had her early training and competition awards in Christchurch, as well as playing in the Christchurch Symphony and now in the Wellington Orchestra, played Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto. She played without the score and was accompanied by Matthew Oswin. There was a slightly casual air about her playing, and at least in the first movement I thought her phrasing was not very interesting. Technically her playing was excellent however, and she certainly showed a high level of accomplishment, including effortless double stopping, in the cadenza of the second movement. She played only the first two movements.

The Ravel Piano Concerto was the choice of Sunny Cheng who came to Wellington from Beijing aged 15. Accompanied at the piano by Douglas Mews, she played from memory all three movements. This concerto suffered more than the others from the fact of being accompanied by a second piano whish detracted somewhat from the audience’s ability always to distinguish the two, especially when the keyboards were not visible – though the two pianos were distinctive enough in tone. She gave off an air of complete mastery of the work, handling rhythms and phrasing in a comfortable manner, and sounding at home with syncopations and jazz-influenced passages. Her second movement was limpidly beautiful, with just enough emotional feeling to make contact with her listeners. The two pianos created an almost competitive spirit in the last movement; equally in control, generating a sparkling, motoric excitement as it raced to its conclusion.

Reuben Chin, the winner of the competition, will play with the NZSM Orchestra in a concert at St Andrew’s on The Terrace at 7.30pm on Friday 12 August.

Distinguished guests share Nelson concert of masterpieces

Mozart: String Quintet in C minor, K 406, with James Campbell in place of first violin; Shostakovich: String Quartet No 8; Schumann: Kinderszenen, Op 15; Beethoven: Sonata No 32 in C minor, Op 111

Nelson School of Music, Sunday 6 February 2011

The evening concert offered no further obeissance to the national day. Instead, it was given over to two rather contrasting parts, returning the the universal instead of the parochial. In the first part strings were in the spotlight, together with clarinettist James Campbell; in the second British pianist Martin Roscoe played.

Campbell explained his adaptation of Mozart’s String Quintet K 406, for clarinet and strings. Since there were few chamber music pieces involving the clarinet, he said, and the fact that Mozart’s string quintet had started life as one of his wind serenades, the octet K 388, he believed it gave licence for a partial revision of the quintet to include the clarinet in the place of the first violin. In principle, not a bad idea; but in the event, it was unsatisfactory. I have not studied the changes made to Mozart’s allocation of parts as he transformed eight brass parts to five strings, but it seemed to me that slightly more radical rescoring might have been needed to give the clarinet the kind of solo place more akin to a concerto. As it was, it was at once too close, and not sufficiently distinguished from  the violin or the strings as a whole.

The players in the ‘clarinet quintet’ were Campbell, Douglas Beilman playing violin, the viola players from both ensembles, and Leonid Gorokhov on the cello. Perhaps because of the way it had been arranged, the clarinet was sometimes out of balance with the strings; often, Campbell simply played too loudly. The net result was a performance that did not quite meet the expectations of an audience whose appetite had been so whetted by the Gran Partita, for another marvellous Mozart serenade-style piece. The performance as a whole however, left no doubt about Mozart’s achievement in the creation of another masterpiece in the serenade/big ensemble genre.

The second piece in the programme was Shostakovich’s Eighth Quartet. Interestingly, it had been played at a ‘Pro-Am’ concert in the late afternoon in Fairfield House, a charming old mansion set in spacious grounds on the hills south of the city. The Pro-Am tradition exists to give amateur players the chance to be tutored by and ultimately play alongside professionals. This time hardly any of the amateurs were young people, which was the original intent. The professionals were violinists Justine Cormack and Rebecca Struthers, violist Victoria Jaenecke and cellist Euan Murdoch and each played alongside two or three amateurs. It meant playing the quartet with four players to a part, which would not have been inappropriate, for there’s a strong orchestra arrangement of the quartet by Rudolph Barshai as a prototype. Players of limited skill delivered a very different experience but it somehow sharpened my receptivity for the extremely fine performance a couple of hours later by the New Zealand String Quartet. Here was the first chance to hear the New Zealand players on their own, in music that they have thoroughly commanded. It was a powerful, finely nuanced performance doing complete justice to Shostakovich’s biting and angry masterpiece.

The second half of the concert belonged to pianist Martin Roscoe, making his first appearance at the festival. He claimed that he was about to play two of his favourite pieces of music, Schumann’s guileless but challenging Scenes of Childhood and Beethoven’s last, spiritually complex sonata.

Most of the Schumann pieces are familiar though it is rare for them to be played together: I’m sure I’ve never heard all 13 played live before. Roscoe proved a Schumann pianist of both subtlety and strength who succeeded in linking them persuasively into a sequence that enhanced them individually. There was unaffected magic in many of the pieces, burnished with a warm piano tone; his performances were never too retiring or diffident though; occasionally the piano’s heavy bass resonance was overbearing.

Beethoven’s last sonata was another matter. Roscoe’s playing captured the quietness and repose of the lyrical and legato parts; but subtlety in the forte and fortissimo passages seemed more difficult to achieve, an effect of the piano’s characteristics and the auditorium’s lively acoustic. Nevertheless, the dramatic narrative and feeling for shape and structure emerged powerfully, with great conviction.

Ensembles combine in magnificent Nelson concert

Mozart: Divertimento in E flat, K 563; Brigid Bisley: Unbound for String Quartet; Strauss: Metamorphosen for string septet

Hermitage String Trio, New Zealand String Quartet, Hiroshi Ikematsu (double bass)

Nelson Cathedral, Saturday 5 February, 5pm

At several points during the festival the question what was the essence of chamber music arose through the pieces played. Given thaat the essential ingredient of chamber music is music with one player to a part, the rearranging of music from orchestral to chamber music, and vice-versa, raises interesting questions; and there’s the related question, the effect of arrangements for other instruments or for more or fewer instruments that originally conceived, either by the composer or by another.

The Saturday evening concert presented a case of the latter.

Strauss wrote his Metamorphosen for 23 solo strings, surely one of the largest pieces of genuine chamber music, though we still await the instrumental equivalent of Tallis’s 40-part motet. It was later rescored for string septet by Rudolph Leopold, after Strauss’s sketches were found in 1990 showing that his original intention was for a septet. This could well have been a mistake, an artistic travesty, which is what I feel about some of the contractions of Romantic orchestral music for chamber ensembles by Schoenberg and Webern. But I was delighted by this, by the greater clarity and purity of expression produced by the seven instruments (the three members of the Hermitage Trio, and three of the New Zealand String Quartet – not Helene Pohl – plus Hiroshi Ikematsu, bass). It seemed to be a better vehicle for the expression of emotion, of grief at the destruction of so much of Germany’s cultural substance. Oddly, I have always hoped to feel a more powerful emotion listening to the usual version of the piece, and have felt that it is too dense and thickly textured for that to find its expression.

Here it was however.

Obviously some of its rich harmony has been dispensed with, but what is left struck me as achieving more effectively what I suppose Strauss had wanted. The programme notes recorded that it was Swiss music philanthropist and conductor Paul Sacher who had asked Strauss for the big ensemble.

This was one of two masterpieces played at the 5pm concert in the Cathedral.

The concert had started with another of Mozart’s pieces given names that suggest light, occasional music. Just as the big wind serenade is no doubt the most powerful and delightful piece of music in its genre, so the Divertimento in E flat stands above any formally named String Trio in existence.

Not only did we hear this all-too-rarely played work, but it was played by a trio which had invested it with enormous attention, detailed study and reflection. There are times when excessive layering of nuances and ever-changing colour and dynamics can become ridiculous. It all depends on the musical intelligence and instinct of the players; the Hermitage Trio had done all that and had sacrificed none of its compositional inventiveness, compromised none of its essential greatness. Their leaning into phrases, their subtle tempo changes – rubato, changes of colour and timbre within a note, were a matter of constant delight. It was often cellist Leonid Gorokhov who seemed to lead the most acute dynamic shifts, while violinist Denis Goldfelt relished tensile, high-lying flights; the violist, Alexander Zemtsov, sustained the centre, offering more steady dynamics and contributing to but not extending the cellist’s gestures.

The six-movement work is quite long, but this performance was such that one hoped it will never end.

Lying between these two great works was a new string quartet by New Zealand composer Brigid Ursula Bisley, called Unbound. I am not known for unbounded and uncritical enthusiasm for every new piece by our composers. This one felt like music that might have had a slow gestation, but had nevertheless derived from musical inspiration that came from within. It did not sound as if the composer had sat looking at each bar wondering what to write next. It felt as if it was there and only needed refinement and arranging.

It certainly helped that the composer spoke to us and asked the players to illustrate certain elements. And it was a relief that she concluded by saying “I hope you enjoy the music”, instead of the fatuous injunction “Enjoy!” which has become almost universal. “Thanks, but would you mind if I remain responsible for my own feelings?”

It opened quietly, each instrument contributing intriguingly to a pattern of disharmony till a melody emerged and after a while viola and cello laid down some bass support. Influences? Yes, Bartók quite distinctly, but more important was an impression of music that was beholden to no school or musical ideology, but simply sounded alive to today’s environment, whatever that means, and aimed at engaging with the listener. Lots happened; there was a beguiling, dreamy phase, a yearning spirit as Doug Beilman’s second violin cried while Helene Pohl’s first violin sang a high descant over the cello’s pedal support.

There were so many elements that appeared distinct but ultimately created a coherant musical story; and it ended without flourish or rhetoric.

Crisis in public radio

Most of our readers will be aware of the announcement a week ago by the Minister of Broadcasting, Dr Jonathan Coleman, that Radio New Zealand would have to sustain cuts; and he eyed especially RNZ Concert.

This alert was first posted on 8 March: it is now updated in order to be visible.

In case the message was not clear enough, please write letters to the Minister of Broadcasting, Dr Jonathan Coleman saying whatever you feel about this move to barbarity. There is a splendid blogsite called Savepublicradio with some 20,000 names subscribed to it. That is great, but individual letters, by the thousand, are also needed.

It is also to be noted that the arguments in support of Public radio in general are not entirely congruent with the more particular arguments in defence of Radio NZ Concert.

Look at the way the Government back-tracked on the Goldcard public transport issue when there was a great protest.

We must do the same. Use the thoughts in the article below and/or add your own.

The threat is extremely serious, and urgent.

But the first thing to consider is the legitimacy of the minister’s action. Radio New Zealand is funded through New Zealand on Air which was set up to be an arms-length body that distributes funds to TVNZ and Radio New Zealand. How it allocates its money is not a matter for Government control – that was the reason for establishing an independent authority.

The $38 million that RNZ gets from NZ on Air is divided between the National and the Concert networks, with the great majority going to National. Some $5 million goes to Concert; smaller sums go to Radio New Zealand International and the archiving of programmes.

Because the board of Radio New Zealand is also an independent body, insulated from political interference, it too should not have to base its financial decisions on instructions from above.

So what Dr Coleman is doing is simply attempting to influence the functioning of two independent state authorities; the Radio New Zealand Act specifically forbids the minister’s interference in operational matters.

It is also worth asking why in its effort to cut spending the Government is unable to distinguish between areas where cuts might be tolerable, and would yield significant savings, and areas such as broadcasting where cuts would be crippling and the savings in dollar terms negligible.

Dr Coleman proposes the introduction of advertising and commercial sponsorship. They were the proposals made by his predecessors in the early 1980s which were eventually set aside, mainly by as a result of a change of government. Commercial intrusion into a national radio system at once raises the risk of interference, and of an inexorable pursuit of ratings, pressure to popularize and to dumb-down, pressures that would harass and ultimately sideline the most precious element of Radio New Zealand’s work, the Concert network.

In any case, the additional cost of an advertising department, which would be necessary, would undoubtedly outweigh the revenue it would be able to attract, at least as far as Concert is concerned.

There would hardly be an audience that would respond more negatively to the advertisers during its broadcasts than those of RNZ. Advertisers would know that.

Radio New Zealand is already labouring under severe budget cuts imposed over the past two decades, including staff cuts. It is dishonest to point to slightly increased staff numbers over recent years as bureaucratic growth: a small recovery has been made but numbers are still far below those of two decades ago. Staff simply do a great deal of unpaid, voluntary overtime.

Ratings are not at all relevant (though RNZ Concert’s ratings are remarkably high by international measures; contrary to Michael Law’s remark in his scurrilous Sunday Star Times article, the ratings are published on the RNZ website). The role of RNZ Concert is comparable to that of a national library, a national art museum: a storehouse of material that is available for all, at any time people want or need it.

RNZ Concert offers great music of all ages, that has stood the test of time, and new or neglected music that deserves to be given a hearing. Terms such as ‘elitist’, ‘pointy-headed’, ‘minority interest’ are no doubt applicable also to classic works of art and literature from Botticelli and Michelangelo to Monet, Homer to Shakespeare and Tolstoi…

Just as a national library’s role is not to be measured by the frequency of borrowings or visitors through the doors, the importance of a ‘fine music’ or ‘classical’ broadcaster is not to be measured by ratings.

Civilisation survives through the care taken by those in charge of cultural things to preserve artifacts from the past, and the present.

The Radio New Zealand Charter starts by calling for: ‘Programmes which contribute towards intellectual, scientific, cultural, spiritual and ethical development, promote informed debate, and stimulate critical thought…..programmes which encourage and promote the musical, dramatic, and other performing arts, including programmes featuring New Zealand and international composers, performers and artists.’

One of the areas that would suffer with cuts would be the ability to record concerts for later broadcast from around the country. Already these are severely reduced from the level a few years ago. For many concert promoters, broadcast fees make the difference between viability and no performance at all.

Polls show that 84% of those polled agree that it s important for New Zealand to have a national broadcaster. Over 90% think it provides fair and balanced information. Even more believe that it contributes to the development of an informed society, and nearly 90% think it provides programmes not generally found on other radio stations.

Those figures would suggest that the great majority of New Zealanders would reject the barbaric statements by Michael Laws in the Sunday Star Times on 21 February, claiming, unbelievably, that commercial radio can do the job as well! Laws hosts a talk-back on commercial radio and so his backing of Coleman’s idea of privatizing the national news service is predictable.

One might have criticisms of the range of news gathering and the obsession with crime, violence and sport – even on RNZ Concert, when what is wanted is less tabloid reporting which commercial news services would be bound to provide even more of – pandering to the lowest common denominator, and instead, more solid political, economic, arts news, both domestic and international, which would be highly improbable from a commercial service.

RNZ Concert plays a huge role in enabling classical music to be heard, especially New Zealand music – mainly classical of course (as popular New Zealand music can be expected to find the support it deserves from commercial radio). Its role in making direct broadcasts of major concerts is what the radio service in all civilized nations is expected to do; and it is the recording of concerts for later broadcast that is even more important for the international dissemination of New Zealand music.

Radio has become almost the sole vehicle by which the broad public can become familiar with the entire field of classical music, now that exposure to it has been largely deleted from school syllabuses.

Some of the world’s greatest tragedies have been the loss of great libraries and art collections – such as that of Alexandria in the late Roman era; the rich collections destroyed by conquering religions like Christians at various periods who destroyed huge quantities of classical literature and art; the Nazi’s destroying thousands of works of ‘degenerate’ art; the loss of great libraries and museums in recent decades through insurgency or religious extremism, in Bucharest and Baghdad, and the Taliban’s destruction of Buddhist religious sculpture in Afghanistan; and a few years ago an accidental fire in a princely library in Weimar rich in manuscripts, early printed books and music.

A national radio network might not deal in the same kinds of physical artifacts (apart from the scores and the recordings) but its role is of comparable importance to a country’s level of civilisation and culture.

Let not New Zealand, recently faced with threats to its National Library, and now once more to its public radio system, join Romania, Nazi Germany, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lindis Taylor quits as Dominion Post music critic

Just before the start of the Festival I resigned as music critic for The Dominion Post, with immediate effect.

The main reason for setting up Middle C was to compensate for the steady reduction by The Dominion Post in the number and classes of music reviews it would accept, and readers will be aware of that. It had made my job as a reviewer steadily more difficult and frustrating. The impact of the restrictions has fallen almost entirely on concerts and recitals in smaller venues (even St Paul’s Cathedral falls into that class!), on amateur musicians and performances and thus all student performances, the classes of music that I have mainly been covering.

I was quite prepared to accept reductions, not to be reviewing every concert by every musician or group, but to confine reviews to representative concerts from the performers and ensembles I regarded as most significant. But for a criterion like venue size to be employed in deciding whether a concert  was worthy of review, I considered crass.
It has meant that no choir or chamber music group has been reviewed over the past year, apart from the odd one which has taken place in the Town Hall and in one or two cases where, through strenuous pleading, I was able to get a review published.

Furthermore, music has been treated quite differently from theatre and dance, as quite minor performances, in very small venues, by amateur and student theatre and dance groups, continue to be reviewed – look at what is being covered in the Fringe.  Even regarding opera as in the same category as theatre,  an important opera production like The Cunning Little Vixen was still declined.

I felt that the impact of the paper’s approach on most of Wellington’s strong musical scene with excellent performers in all spheres was very serious;  regardless of how individual reviewers or individual reviews might be regarded by performers and readers, they provide the stuff of history in the future.

It is particularly ironical that the paper continues to echo the city council’s empty boast about Wellington, the cultural capital.

The last straw was the paper’s rejection of both an article about the series of concerts at St Andrew’s on The Terrace during the Festival, and my suggested coverage of those concerts. The paper offered only a wrap-up at the end.

In the light of an article by William Dart in The New Zealand Herald about the concerts, I felt the paper’s refusal to print a similar article or to review the concerts was ill-judged, and exhibiting a serious lack of balance.  I decided to quit at once.

A website is not a substitute for print of course, but better than nothing perhaps.