An Eastern European smorgasbord at St.Andrew’s

St. Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace Lunchtime Concert Series presents:

Music for Cello & Piano from Eastern Europe

Josef Suk: Ballade & Serenade Op 3 for Cello & Piano  (1898)

Witold Lutoslawski Grave Metamorphoses for Cello & Piano (1981)

Bohuslav Martinů Sonata No 2 for Cello & Piano.  (1941)

Robert Ibell (cello) and Rachel Thomson (piano)

St. Andrew on the Terrace

Wednesday, 22 June 2022

We are very fortunate in Wellington to have artists of the calibre of Robert Ibell and Rachel Thomson. They are both very versatile musicians. Ibell is the cellist of the Aroha Quartet, a past member of the NZSO, and now he plays with a number of different ensembles. Rachel Thomson is an accompanist, associated with many local artists. They presented a program of largely unfamiliar works from Eastern Europe. I am giving here a brief account of this, their recent cello-and-piano recital  for the historical record.

Josef Suk: Ballade & Serenade Op 3 for Cello & Piano

This is an early work of Suk. Ibell and Thomson gave the opening sombre Ballade plenty of emotion and intensity, following this with a playful Serenade. Both movements required soulful playing by cellist and pianist alike. They brought out the melodious, approachable character of the work most successfully.

Witold Lutoslawski:i Grave Metamorphoses for Cello & Piano

This was written more than eighty years after the previous piece. A lot had happened to the world and music in those intervening years – two world wars, and the disintegration of the received ideas of what music should sound like. Lutoslawski uses the first four notes of Debussy’s opera, Pelléas and Mélisande which then becomes the metamorphoses, the transformation, the breakup of the notes into different rhythmic configurations. At the end of the piece the four-note configuration from Pelléas returns.  Ibell’s and Thomson’s playing rose splendidly to meet both the technical and musical challenges posed by this work.

Bohuslav Martinů: Sonata No 2 for Cello & Piano

It’s good to hear Martinu’s music being played more frequently in concerts. This substantial sonata was written in 1941. The war was at its most brutal early stages, and Martinů’s Czechoslovakia was no more, causing him to seek refuge in the United States. He wrote this major work, which is essentially in the traditional three movements. The first movement is vigorous and energetic, the second is full of passionate longing with a gorgeous lyrical cello line, and the finale makes use of strong rhythms suggesting Bohemian peasant dances.

This, in tandem with the other works, made for a stimulating concert, and brought to us seldom performed music that was well worth hearing. I thought there was a real sense of fine partnership between Robert Ibell and Rachel Thomson throughout. Their playing was thoroughly convincing demonstrating what sounded like real affinity with this repertoire. For their committed efforts these two musicians deserve our gratitude.





“Rockin’ On” with the Lockdown Quartet at St.Andrew’s on-The-Terrace

Family Lockdown Quartet

Lucy Maurice and Rupa Maitra, violins: Donald Maurice, viola; and Gemma Maurice, cello

St Andrew’s on The Terrace, Wellington

Wednesday 20 October 2021

From 26 March to 27 May 2020, when New Zealand was locked down in Alert Level 4 and many of us were watching Netflix in our pyjamas until it was time for the 1 pm press briefing, the Maurice-Maitra family were putting in some useful quartet practice. Soon they were giving concerts on Zoom ‘to audiences all over the world’. In this charming lunchtime concert at St Andrew’s, they performed some of their lockdown repertoire.

To say the programme was eclectic doesn’t quite cover it. The pieces in the concert ranged across 200 years, from Mozart to Guns N’ Roses. The concert was in two parts: three short works from more standard repertoire, plus five interesting arrangements of great rock n’ roll songs.

Parents Rupa Maitra (violin) and Donald Maurice (viola) have had the good sense to produce two daughters, cellist Gemma and violinist Lucy. But still, a successful quartet is more than a matter of having the requisite instruments. Chamber music requires technical skill and communication. These they demonstrated – along with a sense of fun.

The first piece was an arrangement for string quartet of a famous tango song by Carlos Gardel, ‘Por Una Cabeza’, stylishly played. The adults’ more polished and powerful playing could have taken over, but with Lucy on first violin the girls held their own and the balance was surprisingly good. In the Presto from Mozart’s Divertimento in D major Lucy showed herself to be an able leader and a good communicator.  Then the parents left the stage while the girls played a charming Air and Variations by Jean-Baptiste Bréval, a contemporary of Mozart. A cellist, Bréval wrote mostly for his own instrument, but this piece gave both cello and violin plenty to do. So far a well-chosen programme, presented with confidence and polish.

When the parents returned to the stage, they had changed their appearance. Rupa was barefoot and wearing a spiky black and white wig, while Donald wore a hippy headband. No one was going to take themselves too seriously.

Donald told us that when he first heard ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ on the car radio one day, he had to pull over. That’s when he found out that he had missed out on ‘about 30 years of rock music’. ‘I had no idea what came after the Beatles.’  It was good, he observed, to be introduced to it now by his children, and to play it together.

Introducing ‘Back in Black’ by AC/DC, Rupa commented that screamed lyrics were hard to reproduce by a quartet but a guitar riff was probably manageable.  And so it turned out. Violin 1 took the lead guitar part, with percussion from violin 2. There was some gutsy playing from viola and cello standing in for bass guitar.

I thought the most successful arrangement was Rupa’s own of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Paint it Black’. Gemma helpfully explained the colour imagery in the lyrics, and played a plangent cello introduction. Her mother took up the tune in the style of a lead guitar, and then passed it on to the viola. If the piece ended a bit abruptly, it’s because that’s what the song does.

I had no expectations of Aerosmith’s ‘Dream On’, but it worked particularly well for quartet, with an improvisatory quality, wisps of melody floating from voice to voice.

Surprisingly I found the arrangement of Queen’s prog rock classic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ the least successful of the bunch. The arrangement for quartet was by UK violinist and arranger Mark Lansom, who has arranged Iron Maiden and Cold Play for string quartet, as well several other Queen songs. The remarkable harmonic shifts of the original were there, but the operatic effects had lost their edge when transferred to strings. Roger Taylor’s falsetto ‘Galileo’s were markedly less thrilling when played on the violin, where they are well within the instrument’s range. But it was undeniably interesting.

All in all, an unexpectedly off-beat concert, delivered with confidence and a shared delight.


Sonata and Revolution – pianist Liam Furey at St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace


Ludwig van Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-flat major, Op. 110
Alban Berg Piano Sonata in B minor Op. 1
Pierre Boulez Sonata no. 1 (1946 (movement 1), “Lent – Beaucoup plus allant”
Frederic Chopin Ballade no 1. in G minor, Op. 23

Liam Furey (piano)

St. Andrews on the Terrace, Wellington

Wednesday, 28th July 2021

Liam Furey is an Honours student of Classical Piano and Composition at the NZ School of Music. This ambitious program was a journey of exploration  by a young musician. He invested an incredible effort into memorizing this wide ranging music, which he considered essential to the understanding of these pieces as the theme of “Sonata and Revolution”.

Ludwig van Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-flat major, Op. 110

This is the middle of the last three sonatas of Beethoven and in some ways the most difficult of them with its huge double fugue in its last movement. It is a profound piece that may require a lifetime of contemplation, but you have to start somewhere and challenging as it might have been, Liam Furey took the trouble to master it. He called on his audience to get behind the notes, to consider the pauses, the phrases, the contrasts, the riotous levity of the second movement and the dark undertone of the final movement.

Alban Berg Piano Sonata in B minor Op. 1

Berg, under the influence of Schoenberg, explored new harmonies, chromaticism, yet he intended this piece to be in traditional sonata form in B minor. To understand music that preceded it it was instructive to view it in light of what followed. Berg’s beautiful sonata shed light on Beethoven.

Pierre Boulez Sonata no. 1 (1946 (movement 1), “Lent – Beaucoup plus allant”

This is the first of Boulez’s three piano sonatas. He wrote it when he was 21, while studying with Messiaen and under the influence of the music of Schoenberg and René Leibowitz. He experimented with sounds and effects that can be produced on the piano. He sought the rhythmic element of perfect atonality.  This short work is in two movements, with no thematic material, but contrasting sound effects. By 1946 the world moved on a long way from Beethoven and the soundscape of the great composers of the previous century. Boulez, like some of his contemporaries, asked questions about the nature of music. It is these questions that Liam Furey set out to investigate.

Frederic Chopin Ballade no 1. in G minor, Op. 23

With this, one of Chopin’s most popular pieces, we returned to the main stream repertoire. Somehow, after listening to Boulez and Berg, we listened more attentively, and the work proved to be the appropriate climax of the concert. This old warhorse sounded fresh. There were a lot of notes in this piece and lots of Polish passion. Liam Furey played it with feeling, had the music well under control. It was a beautiful way to end a concert of exploration which involved a journey from the first quarter of the nineteenth century to middle of the twentieth, from rules of harmony and form to atonality.

One of the great features of these Wednesday lunchtime recitals is that it gives a platform to young, emerging musicians, who need such opportunities, and for the audience the opportunity to explore, discover and celebrate.

RNZAF Wind Quintet plus piano, in diverting programme closes Marjan van Waartenberg’s era at St Andrew’s

St Andrew’s Lunchtime concert
RNZAF Wind Quintet: Rebecca Steel – flute, Calvin Scott – oboe, Moira Hurst – clarinet, Vivien Reid – horn), Oscar Lavën – bassoon; with David Codd – piano

Giulio Briccialdi: Wind Quintet, Op 124 (the Allegro marziale)
Poulenc: Sextet for piano and winds, Op 100
Bizet: Jeux d’enfants, arranged by Gordon Davies: 1. Trompette et tambour, marche; 2. Petit mari, petite femme; 3. La toupie
Zequinha de Abreu: Tico-tico (‘Bird in the cornmeal’)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 9 December, 12:15 pm

Not only was this the last in the 2020 St Andrew’s lunchtime concert series (not counting the church’s Christmas carol service next Wednesday, 16 December); but the last concert organised by Marjan van Waardenberg at St Andrew’s: a voluntary job she has done since 2005. The concerts have been transformed dramatically during the time she has led them, from short series of concerts through the year to an unbroken series usually starting in February, sometimes twice in a week, apart from their disturbance in the face of pandemics. The church’s generous role in allowing free use by musicians, without fees, dependent solely on donations, has also been singular. Such is their support by musicians that there’s often a waiting list for performance dates. Free concerts are a valued benefit for many audience members who might be unable to afford to pay for weekly concerts.

There is no comparable series of free, weekly concerts anywhere else in the country. They have become a very significant concert series in the city, enhancing the Wellington’s reputation as a leading musical centre; in particular, providing excellent opportunities for students from Victoria University School of Music to be heard in a down-town venue.

Marjan’s organisational role will be taken by Kristina Zuelicka while actual hosting of each concert will be done by other individuals; the programme encouraged ‘concert host’ volunteers to approach Jillene Everett in the church office;

The concert 
The last appearance by the RNZAF Wind Quintet at St Andrew’s was reviewed in July 2019 by Steven Sedley. This, led again by flutist Rebecca Steel, with the same colleagues, elegantly dressed in formal air force uniforms attracted a bigger-than-average audience to this memorable recital.

There were two rather unfamiliar names among the composers represented at this week’s concert: the mid-19th century Italian, Giulio Briccialdi and the Brazilian composer, Zequinha de Abreu (really known solely for the popular Tico-tico), who lived in the early 20th century.

Briccialdi was a distinguished flutist and composer, and the melodious piece with which the recital began makes his popularity during his life very credible. Though the flute was prominent, it was far from the dominant instrument in the piece, which, apart from the repetitive bassoon motif, offered attractive passages for the other three instruments.

Poulenc’s Sextet
The main work was Poulenc’s Sextet for piano and winds, probably written in 1932. Its most distinctive feature is its variety in the treatment of musical ideas as well as the variety offered each instrument at various times. The first such case was a dreamy solo from the bassoon, more than compensating for its treatment in the earlier piece, and the horn enjoyed occasional solo episodes. The music typified Poulenc with its almost rude dissonances, but which actually delight, not merely because they shift suddenly into a reflective mood but because it’s wit that characterises them.

No movement remained consistent. Though the second movement starts quietly, its title Divertissement soon took over with the reappearance of first-movement liveliness. Unfortunately, the church’s teasing acoustic occasionally interfered with clarity, blurring the amusing character of both individual instruments and ensembles. So the most satisfactory parts were those in which only one or two instruments led the way. Though the third movement, Finale, is marked ‘Prestissimo’ it is only partly accurate as there’s a sudden slowing of speed halfway through, allowing the three treble clef instruments to be heard with closer, more rewarding attention.

Its last few minutes are both surprising and charming, as the mood – the tempo – suddenly changed: enigmatically. In spite of little shortcomings this performance was a delight.

I realise I haven’t mentioned the piano: that’s simply because David Codd’s playing integrated so well with the wind players. Poulenc was in fact a fine pianist and chamber pieces for piano and various solo-string and wind instruments are significant though not numerous.

I’ve been a Poulenc captive since my late teens, when I heard the witty ballet Les biches on the radio. It could still be worth an airing.

Jeux d’enfants  
Three pieces from Bizet’s Jeux d’enfants provided music that is somewhat related to Poulenc, and these twelve purportedly children’s pieces rested interestingly alongside him, making one aware how Bizet’s Mozart-aged death was such a tragedy for far more than simply opera. Though I can’t remember who played them, I can recall quite a while ago hearing the full suite of twelve piano pieces played in Wellington. And of course, apart from piano and chamber music there’s the evidence of a gifted symphonist in Bizet’s now famous, eighteen-year-old Symphony in C, lost for eighty years in the Paris Conservatoire archives.

The quintet played just three of the Jeux d’enfants: La toupie, Trompette et tambour and Petit mari et petite femme (in their published order).

Trompette et Tambour was an appropriate opening: a nice arrangement of this prancing, jaunty piece while Petit mari, petite femme, a dreamy middle movement, featured the horn nicely; and the brief but lively Toupie was a well-chosen conclusion. The quintet justified their appropriation of Bizet’s piano duet original, or its orchestrations by Bizet and others, very persuasively.

Finally, perhaps a time-filler, was Tico-tico, once familiar on radio in all sorts of versions. It proved a lively arrangement for the wind quintet’s closure.

Marjan: “duizendmaal dank”.



A splendid St Andrew’s lunchtime concert from NZSM voice students

St Andrew’s lunchtime concerts

Classical voice students the New Zealand School of Music with David Barnard (piano)

Simon  Harnden: ‘T’was within a furlong of Edinborough Town’ and ‘Sons of the Sea’ by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
Michaela Cadwgan: L’invitation au voyage’ (Duparc)and ‘Donde lieta uscì’ from La Bohème
Grace Burt: ‘Chanson Triste’ (Duparc) and ‘Chacun à son goût’ from Die Fledermaus
Matt Barris; Valentin’s aria from Faust and ‘Silent Noon’ by Vaughan Williams
Ruby McKnight: ‘Signore ascolta’ from Turandot and ‘Nana’ from Falla’s Seven Spanish Popular Songs
Morgan Andrew King: Prince Gremin’s aria from Eugene Onegin and ‘Ol’ Man River’ from Showboat
Lila Junior Crichton: ‘O Columbina’ from Pagliacci and ‘Oh is there not one maiden breast’ from The Pirates of Penzance

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 22 July, 12:15 pm

From a purely musical point of view, this was an interesting recital, with a very wide range of songs and arias, a lot familiar, some not, but very worth being exposed to. One song I didn’t know at all was Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s ‘Sons of the Sea’. Once upon a time those three names together (in a different order) would have meant only the great poet linked with Wordsworth. Now I suspect, as a result of the disappearance of much in the way of English literature from schools (and now even being thrown out of our National Library), the black English composer of the late 19th century may be better known. It was sung by Simon Harnden whose rich bass voice did justice to its dramatic character; as it had expressively to his earlier song, Purcell’s ’T’was within a furlong of Edinborough Town’.

Interesting that we had here four males and three females: the balance is more commonly otherwise. The second male voice was that of Matt Barris. He sang Valentin’s baritone aria from Faust, ‘Avant de quitter ces lieus’, feelingly expressing his anxiety about Marguérite while he’s away. His second song was Vaughan Williams’s Silent Noon which he sang attractively, with careful restraint.

The third male was bass Morgan-Andrew King. He sang Prince Gremin’s wonderful aria from the last act of Eugene Onegin, catching its noble character but delivering it rather too quickly. And later he sang ‘Ol’ man river’ from Showboat, with calm dignity.

Lila Junior Crichton, a tenor, sang two late 19th century arias. The first a familiar aria from Pagliacci: in Act II Beppe (Arlecchino) serenades the ultimate victim Nedda (Columbina), with ‘O Columbina’, capturing its fluctuating rhythms well. Then, from The Pirates of Penzance, ‘Oh, is there not one maiden breast’ from; not terribly familiar but attractively lyrical in Crichton’s hands.

Two of Henri Duparc’s few, precious songs came early in the concert. Michaela Cadwgan sang perhaps his best-known: ‘L’invitation au voyage’, which I have a somewhat personal relationship with. First it drew attention to the piano part, and then to Michaela’s strong, perhaps a bit too strong at the top, voice. But it suggests promise in the opera house, which was evident in her singing of the poignant ‘Donde lieta uscì’ from Act III of La Bohème.

The second Duparc song came from Grace Burt’s mezzoish voice: ‘Chanson triste’ was nicely modulated, her voice dynamically disciplined throughout. Prince Orlovsky’s ‘Chacun à son goût’ from Die Fledermaus is a droll aria from what I consider the greatest of all operettas. It’s a travesti role, a bit of a challenge, needing a conspicuous flamboyance to bring off well, and it got that.

Soprano Ruby McKnight sang Liu’s touching aria ‘Signore ascolta’ in Turandot; it doesn’t really need a voice as large as McKnight’s to deliver it, but with accurate intonation, it was a fine performance. And she later sang ‘Nana’, one of the seven Spanish popular songs (folksongs ere) by Manuel de Falla (good to see the proper translation of ‘Seven Spanish popular songs’: they’re not ’seven popular Spanish songs’ – a significant difference). If she didn’t capture the Spanish flavour perfectly, her performance was distinctive and arresting.

As student recitals go, this was a splendid three-quarter hour; a major part of that success was David Barnard’s unerring piano accompaniments that claimed the orchestra’s role very convincingly.


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.


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.


Diverting St Andrew’s lunchtime concert of Baroque wind music

St Andrew’s Lunchtime Concerts

Eighteenth Century music Vivaldi, JS Bach, Johann David Heinchen, Johann Friedrich Fasch

Konstanze Artmann – violin, Rebecca Steel – flute, Calvin Scott – oboe, Oscar Laven – double bass, Kristine Zuelicke – piano

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 20 November, 12:15 pm

If your local pub quiz threw a question at you: “Can you name a period when more great composers were born than any other?” The period 1835 – 1845 would be a good guess, or 1855 – 1865. But I’d lay the money on 1678 to 1688. Vivaldi, Rameau, JS Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, Zelenka, Weiss, Telemann, Handel, Porpora, Geminiani, just for starters; and that excludes two of the composers featured in this lunchtime recital:  Johann David Heinchen and Johann Friedrich Fasch. (you can actually find more composers born in the decades through the late 19th century, but I’m just drawing attention to the Bach-Handel decade when all four composers represented today were born).

Mid-Baroque chamber pieces written for winds are not often heard today. This recital began with a Vivaldi Sonata in C for flute, oboe, bassoon and basso continuo which meant double bass and piano here. No catalogue number – RV (Ryom-Verzeichnis) – was mentioned in the programme and if you look at the ‘sonata’ category of the huge lists of Vivaldi’s compositions in Wikipedia, it will not help. Consisting of four movements (slow, fast, slow fast), it had all the delightful, melodic characteristics of Vivaldi. Rebecca Steel’s flute led the way, but the other two winds as well as the basso continuo (double bass and piano), created such a delightful musical experience that I allowed myself to remark ‘lovely’ in my compulsive notes. And to speculate that it must surely have been Vivaldi’s sheer melodic fecundity, hardly matched by any other composer of the era, that cost him a reputation equal to Handel and Bach that he should have retained over the following 300 years.

J S Bach
A piece by J S Bach followed: this time easily identifiable: BWV 1020, though that’s a flute sonata (for just flute and keyboard), outside the group of six listed as BWV 1030 – 1035, because, as Rebecca explained in her engaging way, some scholars believe that it’s by Bach’s son C P E Bach. Certainly, there was a touch of the Galant, a sub-class between Baroque and Classical, with charming tunefulness that presaged Haydn and Mozart. The first movement was driven by triplet quavers, with a piano tone that suggested the early fortepiano rather than harpsichord. There were comparable Galant features in the ?Adagio slow movement, particularly the long sustained notes on the flute. It was a delight.

Johann David Heinichen was two years older than JS Bach and at one time was employed beside him at the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. But before that he had, like Handel, worked in Italy to acquire familiarity with Italian opera which he put to good use when Prince Augustus, Elector of Saxony in Dresden, hired him; Dresden had a rich opera company and one of the best orchestras in Europe.

Heinichen’s piece was a duet in C minor for Calvin Scott’s oboe and Oscar Laven’s bassoon. It seemed to relish the comic potential of the bassoon in the long opening passage, rejoicing in the stark contrast between the two double reed instruments. The composition was fluent and seemed to reflect a highly gifted and fertile composer. The third, Andante, movement produced limpid, unusual sounds, that exhibited the fluency and eloquence of the two players. But a highly entertaining piece.

Heinichen is just one of the many 18th century composers who disappeared without trace for nearly 300 years; he was significantly resurrected by Reinhard Goebel, director of Musica Antiqua Köln which came to Wellington for the 1990 International Festival of the Arts (though they didn’t play Heinichen here).

The last of the four composers was a bit more familiar: Johann Friedrich Fasch, born three years after Bach. He too was from the same central German region (Thuringia and Sachsen-Anhalt) as the other two German composers, a small town a little north of Weimar, and he spent some years in Leipzig.

The quartet in B flat was for flute, oboe, violin and basso continuo (piano and double bass). This piece too proved delightful, seeming to suggest an environment that was particularly congenial, peaceful, providing fertile ground for the arts, especially music.

This piece , like the others in this recital, aroused admiration for the composer; the second movement (an Andante?) suggested something symphonic, a complexity and instrumental richness that seemed to go beyond the existence of a mere five instruments. And the last movement was a tumbling Allegro vivace (I’m just guessing about the titles of each movement), with a certain boisterous playing by bassoon and double bass.

So it was a very interesting, diverting recital that exposed unfamiliar music by famous composers and impressive compositions by two less well-known composers whose time might finally have come.

Diverting recital by senior NZSM tutors Inbal Megiddo and Jian Liu at St Andrew’s lunchtime

St Andrew’s lunchtime concerts

Inbal Megiddo (cello) and Jian Liu (piano)

Music by Boccherini, Manuel de Falla, Mendelssohn  and David Popper

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 30 October, 12:15 pm

A larger than usual audience came in from the sun to hear these two members of the music faculty of Victoria University (known as the New Zealand School of Music).

They began with one of Boccherini’s cello sonatas: one on A major. A look at the Boccherini catalogue shows 29 cello ‘sonatas, for cello solo (and basso)’, which is believed to mean probably a second cello; most were written when he was young. Of those, two are in A major, the second of which (No 13) was one of the few published in his life-time (unauthorised by the composer according to the programme notes).  However, there’s one in A major that is played by several cellists on YouTube: listed as G. 4 or No 6. Coming across these a few days after the recital, I doubt that this is what Megiddo played.

In any case it was clear at the start why this one has been found worthy of attention today. The music was distinctive and satisfyingly varied through its two movements, and Megiddo played authoritatively, nimbly and with a keen ear to its style and musical substance; this was an interesting, melodious piece that whets the appetite to hear more. As several writers have remarked, though Boccherini has attracted much more attention in the past couple of decades, his very large body of worthwhile music including a dozen cello concertos, is still seriously neglected.

De Falla
That was followed by Manuel de Falla’s Suite populaire espagnole which is an arrangement of Siete canciones populares españolas (‘seven Spanish popular songs’ – the second song, ‘Seguidilla murciana’, was left out of the arrangements that have been made for various instruments). They are widely different in character, a factor in their wide popularity; but they also offer very rewarding opportunity for other musicians, and Megiddo and Liu made flamboyant, colourful yet sensitive use of them.  Though my first impression was that the cello didn’t capture all the sparkle and dancing character of pieces like the ‘Jota’ and the ‘Canción’, it created a different, more mature character. Jian Liu’s piano made a bigger contribution in these pieces, particularly distinctive in the ‘Polo’.

A Song Without Words
One of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words was written for cello and piano, not, like all the others, for piano alone. He published eight books of Songs Without Words for solo piano, six in each, plus some others not published in his lifetime: Decca has recorded a ‘complete’ edition totally 56 pieces. Op 109 was written two years before his early death aged 38. I was surprised to find this lovely piece quite familiar, though I had not been aware of its source; typically charming and played most expressively.

David Popper 
Liszt was not the only composer of Hungarian Rhapsodies; David Popper, Czech cellist, was a prolific composer, mainly for the cello. (I still have a relatively easy piece, Gavotte No 2, Op 23, that I played as a student). His Nocturne No 4 (Op 47) and Hungarian Rhapsody, Op 68 made a nice pair. The Nocturne was quite long with a prominent, interesting piano part, showing Popper as much more than merely a cello virtuoso. The Hungarian Rhapsody prompted the word ‘expostulation’ in my notes, and was a pretty spectacular piece, quite as bravura in style as Liszt’s pieces with the same name, and as startling to watch as to listen to.


Intelligent programming of piano duets from markedly contrasted pianists at St Andrew’s

St. Andrews lunchtime concert

Piano Duets by Debussy, Brahms and Rachmaninoff

Sunny Cheng and Kris Zuelicke, piano

St. Andrews on the Terrace.,Wellington

Wednesday 23 October 2019, 12:15 pm

Outside it is a bleak, stormy day, but step inside St. Andrews, get warm and listen to some beautiful music and you feel better. Sunny Cheng and Kris Zuelicke are both experienced, skilled pianists, active performers and piano teachers in Wellington. They make a formidable a piano duet team. Their senses of the piano are different; one hears the piano as more of a percussive, rhythmic instrument, while the other as lyrical and melodic. The two pianists complemented each other, in a conversation, a discussion, rather than a unanimous single voice. They presented a carefully constructed programme, four pieces or movements by three very different composers, Debussy, Brahms and Rachmaninoff.

Claude Debussy: Petite Suite for piano four hands, L.65

This is young Debussy, colourful music, perhaps better known in its orchestral version. It is fragile, meditative, other-worldly. This was a technically impressive performance, but some of the fragility, imaginative resonance was missing. The emphasis was on ‘captivating rhythms’ rather than on the ‘lyrical melodies’ alluded to in the programme notes. Still, it was a pleasure to hear these little works, a gentle boat ride, a parade full of colour, a nostalgic echo of the Menuet of an earlier era, and the final movement, the energetic Ballet.

Johannes Brahms: Souvenir de la Russie for piano four hand. Anh IV/6

Brahms was still a teenager, playing the piano in a Hamburg tavern when he was approached by a music publisher to arrange some of the Russian music he might have played or heard for piano duet. These charming little songs are based on Russian and Bohemian folk songs and some considered them to be misattributed to Brahms, but whoever arranged them they are melodious, easy listening. Sunny Cheng and Kris Zuelicke chose four pieces of the collection of six, Der Zweig (the Branch), In der Morgendämmerung wecke sie nicht (Don’t wake her at dawn), Die Nachtingall (The nightingale), and Ein Grosses Dorf liegt auf dem Weg (There is a big village by the road).

These were selected for their connection to the Russian themed duets of Rachmaninoff that followed. The two pianists changed sides, Zuelicke playing treble and Cheng the bass, and the music had a different feel, not just because young Brahms was different from Debussy, but also because the playing had a more mellow quality.

Sergei Rachmaninoff: Four selections from Six Duets, Op.11

Barcarolle is a theme linked to the opening of the concert, Debussy’s En Bateau. Both suggest gliding of oars over water. Scherzo is an energetic movement of highly contrasting sections, Valse suggests the air of a ball a frequent feature of Russian literature, while Slava (Celebration) is based on an old Russian liturgical chant used in the coronation scene in Boris Godunov. This final work was a rollicking conclusion to a fine recital.

This was intelligent programming and the programme notes were informative.

The St. Andrews Wednesday lunch time concerts provide a wonderful opportunity to hear some of the outstanding local talent. It also gives musicians a chance to shine in a public recital. These two pianists deserved to be heard in this delightful enjoyable concert.

Impressive piano recital of Brahms, Gershwin and Chopin from talented NZSM post-graduate students

St Andrew’s Lunchtime Concert

New Zealand School of Music postgraduate piano students

Tasman Richards: Brahms: Three Intermezzi, Op.117 and Gershwin: Three Preludes
Lixin Zhang: Chopin: Etudes Op 10 no 4 and Op 10 no 5; Four Mazurkas, Op 33 and Piano Sonata No 2, Op.35

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Thursday 3 October at 12:15 pm

Here was a particularly rewarding recital from two of the graduate students of the university school of music’s Jian Liu.

Tasman Richards
First, the three intermezzi of Brahms’s Op 117. Most of the 20 piano pieces of the four opuses from Brahms last years are intermezzi: all three of Op 117 are. They were described by the famous critic, Eduard Hanslick as ‘monologues’… pieces of a ‘thoroughly personal and subjective character’ striking a ‘pensive, graceful, dreamy, resigned, and elegiac note’ (a quote from Wikipedia. Hanslick’s admiration of Brahms was counter-balanced by his cruel contempt for Bruckner and Wagner).

All are marked Andante. Tas Richards played them with careful attention to their character: the first calm and unhurried with a middle section that was darker, more sombre. The second one, marked ‘Andante non troppo e con molto espressione’, he played gently, with a degree of emotional uncertainty as if looking into a dimly lit gothic cathedral. In the latter part of the third intermezzo, in sharp contrast, the mood becomes more complex and ambiguous and so did Richard’s playing.

Richards with Gershwin
Without suggesting that Richards showed greater affinity with Gershwin, his playing of the three Preludes was both confident and idiomatic. The first, which Gershwin instructed to be played Allegro ben ritmato e deciso, was all of that, starting with powerful chords in the bass and great rushes of notes; it’s quickly over. The second is quiet and thoughtful, and longer, and Richards’ left hand moved hypnotically to control the steady beat, leaving the syncopated rhythm to the right hand. The third, Agitato, again driven by fast, virtuosic playing, extravert, and again, fairly quickly disposed of.

Linxin Zhang in Chopin 
The notes in the programme leaflet on both pianists left information gaps that I always like to read. No dates of birth or of beginning and ending of studies. In the case of Lixin Zhang: where born, and brought up? His achievements from the Royal Schools and Trinity College in Britain are mentioned but that doesn’t imply place of residence; the first reference to New Zealand was with a Rattle recording in 2018, but he may well have been born and educated in New Zealand.

However: his playing – all Chopin – was at a remarkable level. The two Opus 10 Etudes (Nos 4 and 5) were evidence of singular flexibility and fluency of style, while still allowing them to breath momentarily and for their dynamic contrasts to show through.

The four mazurkas of Op 33 did form an interestingly contrasted group, showing the far-from limited character of the ‘mazurka’, apart from a basic, fairly quick triple rhythm. The individuality of each piece was actually enhanced by playing them in their published sequence. It’s always interesting for the pedantically minded, like me, to hear groups of pieces that the composer published together, played in that order (which also applies to the deplorable policy, now pursued by RNZ Concert, of playing single movements from extended, many-movement works).

The set includes the well-known No 2 in D (Vivace) with its charming modulation in the middle, which was a delight in Zhang’s hands. But on either side are the more thoughtful ones, No 1 in C sharp minor (Mesto – ‘sad’) and No 3 in C (Semplice) and these were beautifully played. The fourth mazurka is also marked Mesto and left us in a calm, reflective state.

Chopin Sonata in B flat minor 
The major work of the recital of course was the great Sonata No 2, in B flat minor. Once upon a time, when piano recitals by top visiting pianists were frequent, this was very familiar. Zhang’s playing struck me as very mature, not the least stripped of its romantic character. Like the group of mazurkas, its appeal belongs to the rich emotional variety of the four movements. Though famous for the third movement Marche funèbre, which emerged a bit emphatically for my taste, but undeniably thoughtful, secretive, the entire work is generally admired (even by those who parrot the tired opinion that Chopin couldn’t deal with extended forms; and hearing his cello sonata played last weekend in the Martinborough Music Festival consolidated that admiration), the other movements are its essence. It’s got one of the strangest Scherzo movements, as the entire ‘Trio’ section, several minutes long, is so richly meditative. Zhang played it with great skill and feeling. And the whirl-wind finale which always astonishes when played so fast and fluently, did just that.

Though the recital went a bit over the normal length, it was one of the more satisfying and rewarding lunchtime concerts from the wonderful St Andrew’s series. A real pity that, being on a Thursday, it didn’t attract an audience of the usual Wednesday size.