Alumni Reconnect: Bridget Williams, publisher

This year is the 50th Anniversary of the Chamber Music Contest, so CMNZ is spending plenty of time connecting with Contest Alumni members. Our Alumni Correspondent Salina Fisher has been delving deep into the 50-year history of the Contest, and will be sharing many Alumni stories for you in the coming months as we celebrate an important year for the Contest.

Salina Alumni CorrespondentSalina is a composer and violinist who recently finished her Postgraduate Diploma in Composition at the New Zealand School of Music. She was in the winning group of the Contest three times (2007, 2008, 2010) as a violinist and pianist, and is composing a piece for the Mimosa Ensemble’s Encompass Regional tour in July.

Here, Salina blogs about Bridget Williams, director & publisher at Bridget Williams Books, who took part in the Contest in its very first year, 1965.

Bridget Williams bruce foster 2011.2
“Words are my first love”

This week I met with Bridget Williams at her publishing office in Thorndon, Wellington; and she kindly took the time to share some of her fascinating life story & memories of the first ever Contest, 50 years ago!

Before she began her distinguished career in publishing, Bridget was an active flute player who took part in the early days of National Youth Orchestra, the Wellington Youth Orchestra, and of course, the secondary schools Chamber Music Contest. She went on to complete a degree in English before moving to England where she had her first editorial job at none other than Oxford University Press. Upon her return to New Zealand she has spent decades publishing books that have contributed to critical scholarship in New Zealand, particularly in the areas of New Zealand & Maori history, women’s issues, and contemporary topics.


NYO 1966 Player List

NYO 1966 Player List. CLICK TO ENLARGE

Bridget grew up in a family with strong musical interests – her mother and grandmother were good pianists, and many in the family played orchestral instruments. Bridget remembers a camping trip with extended family, and chamber music played on the shores of Lake Tekapo. So it’s no surprise that she jumped at the chance to take part in the very first Chamber Music Contest in her last year of high school, 1965.  Her group, based at Wellington Girls’ College, performed a Haydn Trio in the Wellington District rounds, and she was in the audience at the first ever National Final, held at Victoria University’s Memorial Theatre.

Taught by flautist Richard Giese from the NZSO, Bridget played in the 1966 National Youth Orchestra alongside some notable NZ musicians (the Chief Executive of Chamber Music NZ and a leading NZ composer, to name just a few… see if you can spot them on the player list!). She kept up her playing during her years in England, and even had lessons with the principal flutist of the Lima Symphony Orchestra during a period in Peru!

She remembers clearly an impressive performance from the winners of that first Contest Final, the Bear Trio (see a recent catch-up with the violinist from the Bear Trio here), who also played a Haydn Trio. She also recalls that the competitive environment was new – and stimulating – for young musicians at that time.


Bridget’s first job out of university was to assist Dame Helen Gardner at Oxford University Press, sparking her lifelong love of publishing. Back in Wellington, she produced some major publications for OUP in New Zealand – such as The Oxford History of New Zealand, and Maurice Gee’s Under the Mountain.   She went on to found Port Nicholson Press in 1981, then became managing director of Allen and Unwin New Zealand in 1985, and finally formed Bridget Williams Books in 1990.

Tangata Whenua

Bridget’s interest in Maori history led to the publication of a beautiful new book that she showed me towards the end of our chat: Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History. This is a landmark publication – the first authoritative history of Maori, resulting from years of work by three authors: Atholl Anderson, Judith Binney, and Aroha Harris.

During her remarkable publishing career, Bridget has been awarded a Winston Churchill Fellowship in 1982, and honoured with an MBE in 1996, and ONZM in 2012.  Music is still a large part of her life, and she regularly attends concerts as a Chamber Music NZ subscriber.

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One comment

  1. Also notice in the 2nd violins an original member of Split Enz 🙂

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