Wednesday 6 Feb – from Korimako
I was really looking forward to the music treasures scheduled for this day, and was in no way disappointed.
1. Taonga Puoro presented by Richard Nunns at The Suter Art Gallery Theatre.
Nunns is a leader in the research and performance of taonga puoro, traditional Māori instruments, or, as he called them ‘singing treasures’.
He talked us through the beauty, creation, history and sound of more than thirty instruments. It was a privilege to hear all his descriptions, but is was also very moving to listen to Nunns talk with such humility about the condition which could circumscribe much of his life, if he let it – he suffers from Parkinson’s Disease.
Some years ago when we were chatting about life in general, he mentioned the irony of his musical powers increasing at the same time as his physical abilities decreasing. However, he certainly hasn’t allowed such annoyances get in the way of his great dedication to preserving and promoting the great heritage of Māori music. He travels widely sharing this heritage and doing continuing research.
He also told us some great anecdotes about this journey – far too many to list here, but one particularly sticks in my mind.
After giving a talk at an all-Māori area school, a young lad shared an amazing fact with him – he said “Hey, that Māori chap up there telling us all about our music is Pakeha!”.
2. Waitangi Wonders at the School of Music – NZ composers John Ritchie, Ross Harris & John Psathas
This concert opened with John Ritchie’s String Quartet, started in 1962, with a finale added in 2006 after the death of his beloved wife Anita. From a reference in an earlier blog entry that I heard my first live Mahler symphony at the 1970 Cambridge Music School, you’ll have gathered that this Korimako is not a young bird. But now I’m going back even further – when this quartet of John Ritchie’s was premiered in 1965, I was a music student at the University of Canterbury – and Ross Harris who wrote the next work in this concert was a class-mate. An old bird indeed!
But back to the Ritchie Quartet which was played today with such perception and beauty by the Penderecki Quartet. The movements are Childhood, Young Love, Life’s Work and Reminiscence. I felt this work gave a universal view of life’s journey, and loved that it was performed today by Polish/Canadian musicians.
Continuing in the life mode, Ross Harris’s String Quartet No 5 is subtitled Songs from Childhood. This World Premiere was given by the New Zealand String Quartet. Harris writes that the work is not literally about childhood songs but “more the faded memory of such songs; … the work has a dreamlike floating quality, both fragile and illusive”. Let’s hope we can hear another superb performance of this new work from the NZSQ.
Finally from relatively restrained images of life we moved to the exuberance of life with a Greek influence. John Psathas’ Helix was commissioned by the NZTrio in 2006 and played by them today with the great enthusiasm demanded by this work. The first movement consists of original melodies heavily inspired by the folk music of Psathas’ Greek background. The second, called The Biggest Nothing of Them All is intense, passionate, and sometimes mournful. The Tarantismo finale is, as the name suggests a tarantella, a fiery, energetic and very dramatic dance.
3. Waitangi Evening Special at the School of Music – Mendelssohn, Jenny McLeod, Schubert
Only a couple of hours later there was another feast. First visiting Hungarian pianist Péter Nagy played six Mendelssohn Songs without Words, all well known pieces, and all the more enjoyable for that. This was a gentle, elegant start to the concert.
Soprano Jenny Wollerman commissioned Jenny McLeod to compose a song cycle for her. He Whakaahua a Maru (A Portrait of Maru) was the second World Premiere of this Waitangi Day.
For text McLeod used fifteen poems – two are Māori songs published in 1853/4, the others she based on events taken from Michael Nicolaidi’s book A Greekish Trinity. The all Māori text leads from an innocent child’s vivid memories to the often harsh reality of later life. This theme was superbly developed and illustrated in the music and in the performance by Jenny Wollerman, supported by Karen Batten (flute) and Emma Sayers (piano).
The finale was Franz Schubert’s Trio No 2 in E flat, played by Péter Nagy (piano), Helene Pohl (violin) and Rolf Gjeltsen (cello). This was Schubert’s favourite piano trio – no wonder! It’s very well known, with some sections having been used in film and tv productions, and it was a beautiful ending to a very satisfying concert. One of the last compositions completed by Schubert, the trio is grand in all senses of the word – brilliant musically, technically dazzling, and given an impeccable performance from these musicians. The players were justly rewarded with a standing ovation. Bravo!
4. Moteatea at the Theatre Royal: Whirimako Black, moteatea, and Richard Nunns, taonga puoro
The day ended as it started, with the haunting sounds of Richard Nunns’ puoro. Whirimako Black sang the moteatea. Stories from her iwi, Nga Tuhoe, told of birth, life and death, both modern and traditional, in a waiata form. “Reihari”, as Black referred to him, supplemented the tales with the whispering sounds of the various puoro, re-created by master bone-carver Brian Flintoff. In Whirimako Black’s opinion the moteatea is a greater “medium” for passing down traditions than knowing one’s whakapapa. The mood of the evening was enhanced by echo added to the PA system, giving it an ethereal sound … like Nga Tuhoe, the children of the mist.