Tag Archives: Auckland

Where is home?

22 Apr

The first Google Image Search result for "home", because every blog post is supposed to have an image because of search engine stuff or Facebook or whatever. Source: moneysmart.gov.au

The first Google Image Search result for “home”, because every blog post is supposed to have an image because of search engine stuff or Facebook or whatever. Source: moneysmart.gov.au

Where is home? I’ve flippantly said “Home is where your stuff is”, but that’s not the whole picture.

When you move countries, when do you actually move? When do you comprehensively separate day-to-day ties with your previous country and properly integrate into the new? This is a thorny question given that I came back to New Zealand for a two-week trip less than three months after settling in Chicago.

I’ve got all sorts of contending dates.
– 27 December 2014: when I entered the United States on an immigrant visa and became a resident alien.
– 5 January 2015: when I reached my new home city of Chicago, and the room in my apartment.
– 7 January 2015: when I bought a bed in Chicago
– 14 January 2015: when I spent $573 at IKEA in Chicago on furniture and pillows and kitchen stuff
– 6 February 2015: when I did my first paid, taxable gig as a US resident
– Today, 22 April 2015: when I fly back to the United States after a short New Zealand return trip, and when I henceforth have no fixed future plans to return to New Zealand.
– 1 June 2015: the date from which I (hopefully) have Affordable Care Act health insurance, as opposed to travel insurance
– (unidentified future date, but probably some time in June): the date from which I’m earning more income from United States sources than New Zealand sources. I’m actually doing alright at this freelance composing malarkey, although I’m aware that may not last when I’m not showing my face at concert venues up and down the country.
– October 2015: when this year’s commissions have all received their first performances in New Zealand: the various Sonatina for alto saxophone and piano people; the Jade String Quartet; and the Westlake Boys High School choir Voicemale performing the full version of Howler Monkey at Prizegiving
– (unidentified future date): when I stop regularly listening to most podcasts from Upbeat and Standing Room Only
– (unidentified future date): when my Facebook algorithms serve me far more US/Chicago content than New Zealand content
– (unidentified future date, TBA when): when I have more Facebook friends in Chicago than in Auckland
– (unidentified future date, heaven knows when): when I intercontinentally relocate all my books from my parents’ house in Auckland
– (unidentified future date, possibly never): when I have more United States Facebook friends than New Zealand friends
– (unidentified future date, possibly never): when I intercontinentally relocate all my stuff currently in storage at my parents’.

Tell you what, it doesn’t feel like it’s today. Five hours ago I finished a concert in Hamilton, and boarding is right now imminent at Auckland International Airport. Less than 24 hours after I land in Chicago, I’m doing a gig in the Chicago Improv Festival.

This week, I have rehearsals or gigs Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There’s a date line separation in there, but it really just feels like a busy week with a couple of flights and an intercity return trip thrown in.

And you know what… that’s pretty awesome.

I’m a jetsetting freelance arts person. Granted, I will probably need to find some form of stable day job once I return to Chicago (at least part-time), but you know those Chicago gigs this week? Most of them I was asked to do while I was out of town. People are remembering me in Chicago and obviously think I’m half-decent at what I do.

That’s pretty baller. International arts freelancer right here. Feels pretty good.

Feels better than Economy Class, anyway.*

* And thanks to the very kindly Air New Zealand check-in lady who let me get away with 23.7kg. You’re baller too.

A quick trip home!

16 Mar

At the first workshop of Relish in Immature Bombast, 24 May 2012, Auckland Town Hall. Photo by Oliver Rosser.

At the first workshop of Relish in Immature Bombast, 24 May 2012, Auckland Town Hall. Photo by Oliver Rosser.

I moved to Chicago on 5 January 2015. Three months on, I’ll be back in New Zealand for a couple of weeks.

To clarify for both Chicagoans and Kiwis: no, I’m not moving back. I still definitely live in Chicago. This trip is to fulfil a long-standing commitment with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra because they’re playing my Relish in Immature Bombast again.

If you’re unfamiliar with this piece, it’s for huge-ass pipe organ, full-on funk/rock/jazz drum kit, and symphony orchestra, take a squiz at this video:

The APO is performing this at Open Orchestra Central, at their home venue of the Auckland Town Hall. Reprising their roles are original soloists Tim Noon (organ) and Jono Sawyer (drum kit) – in fact, it’s ten years since Jono and I first worked together in ska band Jonny Doom & The Forcefields. I’ll be introducing the piece as MC and composer, interviewing some of the performers, and also MCing the rest of the afternoon’s proceedings.

Best of all, this event is totally, 100% free. Come to the Auckland Town Hall at 2pm on Saturday 11 April, and hit “Going” on the Facebook event if that’s your thing.

I also have a fundraiser concert!

Sir James Wallace has been quite generous with both his funds and his home – I’ve got a couple of Wallace Arts Trust-funded compositions in the works, and on Sunday 19 April he’s hosting a house concert for me. Poster:


I’ve invited two other composer-performers to join me:

Corwin Newall isn’t all that well-known outside of Dunedin, but he and I got to work together quite a bit during my Mozart Fellowship year. He’s got a new song cycle called Scientists (with movements about Alfred Nobel, Nikola Tesla, Gertrude Elion and Ernest Rutherford), which I’m singing and he’s playing on piano. He and I are also working on Douglas Lilburn’s Sings Harry (as well as a few other rarer Lilburn songs), and performing them at a few concerts. Also, he’s quite a nifty wordsmith and comedy songwriter… these skills will also be on display.

Grooves Unspoken album coverYvette Audain‘s axes of choice are saxophone and clarinet. She’ll join me for the North Island première of my new Sonatina for alto saxophone and piano (a piece funded by the Wallace Arts Trust). She’s also a great composer who last year released an album of work called Grooves Unspoken, for which I did the design and layout.

This house concert is on Sunday 19 April, and you can book in one of two ways:
Secure your seat with a donation
– Reserve a place and donate on the night: rannoch@wallaceartstrust.org.nz or 027 472 3669

There’s a recommended donation set at $40: this is kinda necessary because I’ve had to pay for my flights back to New Zealand on this trip (long set in advance). I would love to see you there! RSVP on Facebook if you will.

Lunchtime concert at the University of Otago, Wed 15 April.
Pre-concert talk for the APO, Thu 16 April.
Lunchtime concert at the University of Waikato, Wed 22 April.
– I do a concert at 1pm in Hamilton, and fly out of Auckland Airport at 7:30pm. Doable.

PS I’m also in Seattle from 1 to 5 April. Will be nice to visit that city again.

Song Sale Auckland

13 Feb

Song Sale, which started in Wellington and which I brought to Dunedin, is starting in Auckland! Almost seems like we’re franchising this thing proper…

I’ve wanted to start Song Sale Auckland since I settled in the city of my birth in May last year. I’ve held off until now because I only entered Auckland’s stand-up comedy scene a couple of months ago. Now I feel I have the contacts to make it work…

So it’s taking place on Monday 24 February at One 2 One Cafe on Ponsonby Rd. (Facebook event here.) According to the poster below:

Not made by a professional graphic designer.

Not made by a professional graphic designer.

We have Augmented Fourth on MC duties. This is me (cause I’m used to hosting Song Sale), and Sam Smith (because I want us to have plenty of performing experience together before our Comedy Fest show in May).

Becky Crouch is a comedian I’ve never met in person, but many in the scene have told me she’d fit right in. Sam Polwart is a comic I’ve come across a good few times, sometimes working musical audience interaction into his sets. Louise Beuvink studied in Dunedin and finished just before I arrived in 2012… all through that year, fellow performers told me she would have been great in Song Sale Dunedin, had she been around. Well, she’s in the very first Song Sale Auckland. Hoorah!

Rounding out the team of songwriters are Penny Ashton (I’ve done music for four of her solo shows); Clare Kelso (like Penny, one of the creative directors of ConArtists); Swaren Veygal (producer/DJ, former Music Director of the University of Otago Capping Show, and Song Sale Dunedin veteran); Josh Clark (choir director/accompanist who is wickedly funny); and my flatmate Andrew Grenon, my flatmate and the tenor with whom I make Politics The Opera videos.

By the way, Andrew and I are getting interviewed for the Laugh Track on Standing Room Only this weekend – after the 2pm news, Sunday on Radio New Zealand National. Listen eh. They don’t tend to podcast that segment so I think listening live is your/our only option.

Silly graphics

10 Jan

Actual work I’m doing:
– Being a real composer with three commissions on the go. All of them involve violin and/or piano.
– Preparing the comedy show Augmented Fourth with Sam Smith. An hour of musical comedy, in both Auckland and Wellington for the New Zealand International Comedy Festival.
– Editing and working up a book of poems from the Eketahuna German Literature Society.
– Writing songs for a musical theatre collaboration with Thomas Sainsbury.
– Tidying up other sheet music and recordings here and there.

Procrastination I’m doing:
– An anagram map of the Congestion Free Network.

I’ve been following the Auckland-focused transportblog.co.nz for a long time. Their collaboration with Generation Zero and the Campaign for Better Transport last year was a superbly clear vision for the future that reached a lot of people, and the maps made us reimagine our city. Aucklanders are starting to realise that efficient, modern public transport doesn’t just have to be for overseas cities, and one of the spin-off benefits is playing silly buggers with maps.


Anyway, here’s Anal Duck as you’ve never seen it before. Where possible, I tried to make the anagrams fit the place:
– Silverdale = Avid Resell (full of outlet shops)
– Devonport = Pot Vendor (lots of antiquey places)
– Britomart = Tram Orbit (well, once they extend the line from Wynyard Quarter…)
– Grafton = Fang Rot (there is a hospital there, and I presume dental surgeries too)
– Pt Chevalier = Vehicle Trap (down the end it is)
– Smales Farm = Rams’ Flames (that’s what happens when you hold laser light shows on a farm)
– Ellerslie = Seller Lie (I bought a car from the car fair there, it died 18 months later)
– Redvale = LED Rave (it’s near Snow Planet)
– Greenhithe = Neigh There (I can attest that there are plenty of horsey people in the area)
– Glen Eden = Glendene (they are adjacent suburbs after all)
– Ranui = A Ruin (stink for you)
– Mount Roskill = Tourism Knoll (a slight exaggeration of its purpose)
– Interchange Station = Sanctioning Theatre (I hope they do)
and my favourite:
– Waitakere Hospital = Weak Oral Hepatitis.

General Update

9 Jan

A generic travel-related icon.

A generic travel-related icon.

There are a whole lot of things that I should have written about, but haven’t. It’s been a while since an update.

In the last month I’ve moved cities from Dunedin to Auckland. Over my last week down south (10-17 December), I had a whole lot of stuff to finish off: my last Song Sale, recording the tracks for Promise & Promiscuity, recording further vocals of songs with other Song Salers, and producing a live radio broadcast from Albany Street Studios. And of course there was the simple fact that I was leaving Dunedin after my one year as Mozart Fellow, a damn significant time in my life… maybe I should blog about these things when they come to fruition.

After Christmas with the family in Auckland, I was back down to Wellington to do some work as a presenter for Radio New Zealand Concert, and some development work on At Least We Have Our Jobs, a drama production for Radio New Zealand National. I spent a lot of time in the studio for that.

Tomorrow I fly off to Mexico and I’ll be away from New Zealand for four months. In that time I’m going to Cuba (Cuba!), the Seattle Festival of Improvisational Theater and the Chicago Improv Festival, and I’ll be in Austin during SXSW. I may not answer emails or Facebook quite as regularly.

I’m feeling a bit arse because of vaccines and dental work a couple of days ago. I still have tax and GST to do, not to mention packing for four months away. Eep.

Robbie’s arbitrarily selective list of “new music” in 2013

26 Oct

Many performing arts organisations released their 2013 programmes this month, including APO, CMNZ and NZSO (in chronological order). I have combed their offerings to assemble a list of “new music” you can hear next year, if you’re interested in such things.

Classification of what “new music” is is entirely arbitrary. An asterisk * indicates a world première. Unless noted, all dates are the Auckland performances, because that’s where I’m living next year and this list is primarily for my benefit. My arbitrariness extends to a level of laziness sufficient not to chronicle the entire country.

Also, lots of organisations with smaller budgets are yet to announce their programmes. No, I probably won’t keep updating this list as they do.

(Added 1 November: Auckland Arts Festival.)
(Added 6 November: Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, even though they’re coming nowhere near Auckland.)
(Added 7 November: Michael Hill International Violin Competition, with its NZ test piece.)
(Added 16 November: the Adam Chamber Music Festival in Nelson. Quite a lot of “new” music there.)

New Zealand “New Music” Composers’ Music

What I most want to see: Jack Body’s expansion/reworking of his  Carmen Dances from 2002. Pity I’ll be in the USA in March. (Photo: apo.co.nz)

* Chris Adams: Mahuika (Nicholas Sutcliffe, APO/Hamish McKeich – 23 May)
Christopher Blake: Till Human Voices Wake Us (James Egglestone, NZSO/Tecwyn Evans – 24 April, Wellington only)
Jack Body: Arum Manis (Kronos Quartet – 11-14 March, WN CH & DN only)
* Jack Body: Songs and Dances of Desire (Norio Sato, Xiao Ma, Anna Pierard, APO/Kenneth Young – 8 March)
* Jack Body: [new work for solo violin] (Michael Hill International Violin Competition semi-finalists – 2-3 July, Queenstown)
* Claire Cowan: [new work for piano trio] (NZTrio – 8 May)
Lyell Cresswell: Concerto for piano and orchestra (Stephen De Pledge, CSO/Benjamin Northey – 23 March, CH)
Phil Dadson: MAYA (CSO/Tecwyn Evans – 16 Feb, CH)
* Eve de Castro-Robinson: the glittering hosts of heaven (NZSO/Pietari Inkinen – 21 June)
* Robbie Ellis: Relish in Immature Bombast (Tim Noon, Jono Sawyer, APO/Hamish McKeich – 23 May) THAT’S ME 🙂
David Farquhar: Short Suite from Ring Round the Moon (NZSO/Tecwyn Evans – 12-19 October, Wellington, Otago & Southland only)
* Gao Ping: The Mountain (CSO/Benjamin Northey – 23 March, CH)
Gao Ping: Su Xie Si Ti – Four Sketches (NZTrio – 24 March)
Gareth Farr: Ahi (NZTrio – 8 February, Nelson)
Gareth Farr: The Nor’West Arch (CSO/Tom Woods – 31 August, CH)
* Gareth Farr: [new work for string quartet] (Goldner String Quartet – 3 October)
(*) Gareth Farr/Richard Nunns: Ngā Kete o Toru (Horomona Horo, NZTrio – 24 March)
* David Hamilton: Chimera (John Wells, APO/Hamish McKeich – 23 May)
* Ben Hoadley: Huia (Indra Hughes, APO/Hamish McKeich – 23 May)
* Samuel Holloway: [new work] (some or all of Jack Liebeck, Victoria Sayles, Julia Joyce, Andrew Joyce & Stephen De Pledge – 15-31 July, closest is Hamilton)
Ross Harris: Chaconne for solo viola (Gillian Ansell – 2 February, Nelson)
* Ross Harris: String Quartet No 5, Songs from Childhood (New Zealand String Quartet – 6 February, Nelson)
* Ross Harris: Symphony No 5 (Sally-Anne Russell, APO/Eckehard Stier – 15 August)
* Ross Harris: [new work for flute, saxophone & piano] (Rebecca Steele, Debbie Rawson & Diedre Irons – 2-9 March, closest is Hamilton)
* Martin Jaenecke: Meditation (instrumentation TBA – 8 February, Nelson)
* Victoria Kelly: Toi Huarewa/Suspended Way (Horomona Horo, NZTrio – 24 March)
Douglas Lilburn: Drysdale Overture (APO/Nicholas Altstaedt – 5 September)
* Jenny McLeod: [new song cycle] (Jenny Wollerman & Emma Sayers – 6 February, Nelson)
* Philip Norman: Mahy (Juliet Reynolds, Tainui Kuru, CSO/Kenneth Young – 4 May, CH)
Larry Pruden: Soliloquy for strings (NZSO/Pietari Inkinen – 12 April)
John Psathas: Abisheka (New Zealand String Quartet – 9 February, Nelson)
John Psathas: Helix (NZTrio – 6 February, Nelson)
John Psathas: Orpheus in Rarohenga (Jenny Wollerman, Paul Whelan, Orpheus Choir of Wellington, NZSO/Tecwyn Evans – 25 May)
John Ritchie: String Quartet (Penderecki String Quartet – 6 February, Nelson)
Craig Utting arr. Owen Moriarty: Onslow Suite, 2nd mvt (New Zealand Guitar Quartet – 9 February, Nelson)
* Ed Ware: Duo for saxophone & viola (Martin & Victoria Jaenecke – 8 February, Nelson)
* Ryan Youens: Tiraki (Nicholas Forbes, APO/Hamish McKeich – 23 May)
* Anthony Young: Thirteen – Theme and Variations (Rachael Griffiths-Hughes, APO/Hamish McKeich – 23 May)

Living Foreign “New Music” Composers’ Music

What I most want to see: Kalevi Aho’s piano concerto is fifty-odd minutes of childlike play. I can only imagine what his percussion concerto with Colin Currie will be like. (Photo: fennicagehrman.fi)

John Adams: Harmonielehre (NZSO/Tecwyn Evans – 25 May)
Thomas Adès: Three Studies from Couperin (APO/Garry Walker – 30 May)
Kalevi Aho: Sieidi (Colin Currie, NZSO/Osmo Vänskä – 13 July)
Sérgio Assad: Uacarena (New Zealand Guitar Quartet – 9 February, Nelson)
Chen Yi: Tibetan Tunes (NZTrio – 24 March)
Ross Edwards: Symphony No 1, Da pacem Domine (NZSO/Tecwyn Evans – 24 April, Wellington only)
Marc Eychenne: Cantilène et Danse (Rebecca Steele, Debbie Rawson & Diedre Irons – 2-9 March, closest is Hamilton)
Sofia Gubaidulina: Lied ohne Worte (TBA who… probably Martin Jaenecke on saxophone, but it’s a trumpet & piano piece? – 8 February, Nelson)
Christos Hatzis: Quartet (Penderecki String Quartet – 9 February, Nelson)
Ian Krouse: Antique Suite after Neusidler (New Zealand Guitar Quartet – 9 February, Nelson)
Ram Narayan (arr Kronos transc. Ljova): Raga Mishra Bhairavi: Alap (Kronos Quartet – 11-14 March, WN CH & DN only)
Arvo Pärt: Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten (NZSO/Osmo Vänskä – 13 July)
Einojuhani Rautavaara: Cantus Arcticus (APO/Eckehard Stier – 7 November)
Steve Reich: WTC 9/11 (Kronos Quartet – 9 March)
Wolfgang Rihm: String Quartet No 11 (Minguet Quartet – 3 February, Nelson)
Paul Schoenfield: Café Music (NZTrio – 8 February, Nelson)
Bright Sheng: Four Movements for piano trio (NZTrio – 8 May)
Valentyn Silvestrov: String Quartet No 3 (Kronos Quartet – 11-14 March, WN CH & DN only)
Tan Dun: Ghost Opera (Wu Man & Kronos Quartet – 9 March)
Tan Dun: Martial Arts Trilogy (Ryu Goto, Tan Wei, Yingdi Sun, NZSO/Tan Dun – 15 February)
Mark-Anthony Turnage: Scherzoid (APO/Eckehard Stier – 21 February)
Aleksandra Vrebalov: …hold me, neighbor, in this storm… (Kronos Quartet – 11-14 March, WN CH & DN only)
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Piano Trio (NZTrio – 8 May)
Wu Man/David Harrington/Chen Shi-Zheng: A Chinese Home (Wu Man & Kronos Quartet – 9 March)

Dead Foreign “New Music” Composers’ Music

What I most want to see: The Rake’s Progress. How badass is the APO for putting that on? (Picture: wikipedia.org)

Alexander Arutiunian: Trumpet Concerto (Brent Grapes, APO/Eckehard Stier – 28 February)
Béla Bartók: Music for strings, percussion and celesta (APO/Rory Macdonald – 4 July)
Béla Bartók: Rhapsody No 1 for violin & piano (Douglas Beilman & Péter Nágy – 7 February, Nelson)
Béla Bartók: String Quartet No 5 (Penderecki String Quartet – 7 February, Nelson)
Béla Bartók: String Quartet No  6 (Tokyo String Quartet – 14 June)
Leonard Bernstein: West Side Story Symphonic Dances (CSO/Tom Woods – 23 November)
Benjamin Britten: Violin Concerto (Kolja Blacher, NZSO/Lawrence Renes – 28 September)
Benjamin Britten: Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (NZSO/Joana Carneiro – 8 November)
Benjamin Britten: War Requiem (Orla Boylan, Timothy Robinson, Ivan Ludlow, Voices NZCC/Karen Grylls, APO/Eckehard Stier – 23 March)
Paul Hindemith: Cello Concerto (Johannes Moser, APO/Michał Dworzyński – 16 May)
Zoltán Kodály: Dances of Galánta (APO/Nicholas Collon – 20 June)
Erich Korngold: Piano Trio (NZTrio – 2-16 May, closest is Hamilton)
Erich Korngold: Symphony in F# (APO/Eckehard Stier – 1 August)
György Ligeti: Trio for horn, violin & piano (Robert Johnson, Helene Pohl & Péter Nágy – 3 February, Nelson)
Bohuslav Martinů: Julietta Suite (APO/Eckehard Stier – 1 August)
Bohuslav Martinů: Madrigal Stanzas (Jack Liebeck & Stephen De Pledge – 22 July)
Ástor Piazzolla: Four Seasons of Buenos Aires (CSO/Tom Woods – 25 May CH, 26 May TIM)
Francis Poulenc: Flute Sonata (Rebecca Steele & Diedre Irons – 2-9 March, closest is Hamilton)
Francis Poulenc: Les Biches Suite (APO/Eckehard Stier – 24 October)
Arnold Schoenberg: Pelleas und Melisande (APO/Eckehard Stier – 25 July)
Arnold Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht (APO/Eckehard Stier – 14 November)
Alexander Scriabin: Symphony No 4, Poem of Ecstasy (NZSO/Pietari Inkinen – 22 March, Wellington only)
Alexander Scriabin: Twelve Preludes (Péter Nágy – 2 February, Nelson)
Igor Stravinsky: The Firebird, 1919 version (CSO/Benjamin Northey – 23 March, CH)
Igor Stravinsky: The Rake’s Progress (Andrew Goodwin, Madeleine Pierard, Paul Whelan, Liane Keegan, Helen Medlyn, Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus/John Rosser, APO/Eckehard Stier – 9 August)
Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (CSO/Tom Woods – 31 August, CH) START A BLOODY RIOT
Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (APO/Eckehard Stier – 14 November) START A BLOODY RIOT Take 2
Igor Stravinsky: The Soldier’s Tale (Julia Milsom, Emma Johnston, George Parker, CSO/Hamish McKeich & Peter Falkenberg – 18 & 19 September, CH)
Jenő Takács: Two Fantastics (Debbie Rawson & Diedre Irons – 2-9 March, closest is Hamilton)
Heitor Villa-Lobos: Assobio a Jato (Bridget Douglas & Rolf Gjelsten – 2 February, Nelson)
Kurt Weill: Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny Suite (APO/Eckehard Stier – 24 October)
Kurt Weill: The Threepenny Opera Suite (APO/Eckehard Stier – 24 October)


– The Penderecki Quartet in Nelson Lakes National Park (5 February) – includes works by Erwin Schulhoff & Marjan Mozetich
– Richard Nunns at the Adam Chamber Music Festival in the morning, and in the evening with Whirimako Black (6 February)
– Wu Man at the Auckland Arts Festival (10 March) – lots of major composers have written for pipa for her
– NZSO National Youth Orchestra/Richard Gill (31 August) – includes “NZSO Todd Corporation Young Composer Awards Commission”
– APO Sanctuary Series: Percussion & Friends (7 & 9 October) – likely to include “new music”
– The Tallis Scholars (23 October) – performing works by John Tavener & Arvo Pärt.

When plans change.

11 Sep

I'm probably not supposed to do this to the logo.A month ago I was informed that my application for the 2013 University of Otago Mozart Fellowship was unsuccessful.

Given the largely consistent pattern in the last decade of Mozart Fellows having two years on the trot, I was under the illusion that a second term was assured as long as you were doing good work and got your application in on time.

Obviously I was wrong – all applications are assessed against each other fairly and without favouritism. Consequently I offer my congratulations to composer Samuel Holloway and the four other fellows just announced.

I’m grateful one of the selection panel rang me to break the news personally. Extending the courtesy of a phone call sure beats the terse two-sentence letter subsequently posted to me by the university’s HR department.

Still, it hardly lessened the effective kick in the guts. I went into a disbelieving stupor – after all, two years in a row was standard. What the hell had I done wrong? How was my application deficient? Had I made an irrevocable departmental political faux pas at some point? Had I spent too much time outside Dunedin? (..he asked during his fourth trip to Auckland that year.)

Fortunately for me, I had to put all that bullshit aside and project positivity onto two high school music events later that day. At lunchtime, the St Peter’s & St Mary’s Sinfonia rehearsed my piece General Intransigence and I contributed the composer’s opinion. In the evening, I definitely needed an upbeat demeanour to present the monstrously large Westlake Music Gala, part of my high school’s 50th Jubilee: four hours of music from 17 different ensembles over two sessions.

In the intervening month, when I haven’t been wallowing in my own pity and being unproductive, I’ve had time to think about what I could get up to next year. I’ve reached the following conclusions with myself:

  • Shit happens. You had no divine right to a second year.
  • You’ve still got just half of your Fellowship time left. Pull your head in and do some more bloody work – that’s what you’re getting paid for.
  • Sometimes it’s nice to have your plans messed with. As Patti Stiles would say, every offer is a gift.
  • As annoying as it is to move cities twice in one year, Dunedin is not the place for a theatrico-comedic composer to make a freelance living. Without full-time employment, full-time study or any family ties here, I’ve got to move away. The lease on my unit comes up on 31 December, so it’s got to be before then.
  • As much fun as the busy annual summer festival season is (Wellington Fringe, Auckland Fringe, Dunedin Fringe etc), it’s financially a slow start to the year if you’re not in full-time employment. It’s not essential to my livelihood to be around for it.
  • It’s high time I did some sustained overseas travel. Consequently I will go to Central and North America from January to May next year, moving from south to north as the weather improves. First to Mexico to hang out and indulge my once-upon-a-time obsession with all music Latin American, then onto major hubs such as LA, Chicago, Toronto, NYC, etc for improv theatre and sketch comedy. Take some workshops, sit in on some gigs, see what comes.
  • The first commitments I have in 2013 are both in Auckland (reminder: APO Organ Spectacular, 23 May 2013, Auckland Town Hall), so it’s high time I based myself in the city of my birth for a while. Since moving away in 2008, I’ve continually kept up useful professional connections there, so I have enough opportunity to make a freelance living. Let’s do that then.
  • Despite working within in a university department this year, I still have no grand desire to embark on further postgraduate study. But if I change my mind, depending on what I want to pursue, the University of Otago and Dunedin would be quite pleasant places to work indeed. I will keep them in mind.
  • Nobody can hold the Mozart Fellowship for more than two years. Being rejected for 2013 means that I can apply for a second term some years in the future. If I’d retained the Fellowship for next year, I wouldn’t have that opportunity.

On that optimistic note, I leave you with this YouTube embed. Two years ago I went through a relationship break-up. At the same time, I had recently seen the episode of Making Tracks where Nick D visits Trinidad. Sitting at my desk at RNZ, unable to do any work, I played this relentlessly positive Soca hit over and over and over again. Actually, “hit” is an appropriate word – every time I played it, it was like getting a dose of cheeriness morphine.


LEN LYE a review

7 Sep

I’m in Auckland until this afternoon. I came up on Wednesday to see my former composition lecturer’s new piece LEN LYE the opera, and to review it for Theatreview. (Actually there are more like four of my old teachers among the core creative team…)

It’s “a major statement of advocacy for the overlooked genius and forward-thinking artistry of Len Lye”. My review’s here. The NBR and the Herald carry shorter write-ups.

Today I meet with Penny Ashton, Thomas Sainsbury and James Wenley about musicals in various stages of development.

Next week I sing as a “baritone” on the stage of Marama Hall in Dunedin and play with the Court Jesters in Christchurch.

The week after I get to play Michael Parekowhai’s red carved piano at Te Papa in Wellington, and I do my first gig in Invercargill.

Life’s pretty good.

What would you go without, Auckland?

23 Aug

Given that an increase in government funding for orchestras is unlikely ain’t gonna happen, all we can think about is redistributing a fixed amount of money.

In all the hoo-ha about the Ministry for Culture and Heritage’s review of the professional orchestral sector, one idea that has wide popularity is to reduce the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra’s touring obligations outside of Wellington. The costs saved would be passed to the other orchestras to improve quality overall.

Auckland is arguably quite well served for orchestral concerts: the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra delivers a comprehensive yet adventurous subscription programme year on year. On top of that, the NZSO does more in Auckland than any other city except Wellington. But do they need to?

Given that the APO is arguably meeting Auckland’s bread-and-butter orchestral needs quite nicely, perhaps some NZSO gigs are superfluous to requirements. To offer fewer concerts overall is not ideal, but let’s consider the proposition, shall we?

This year the NZSO’s 2012 season brochure (warning: 16MB PDF file) lists 13 performances in Auckland, not including the National Youth Orchestra’s tour. I’m going to go through them one by one, considering the value they add to Auckland’s orchestral calendar.

NB: This is a theoretical exercise treating each concert (mostly) in isolation. I realise there’d be many knock-on effects for scheduling, particularly when it comes to smaller North Island centres.

NB 2: I have my own musical preferences and biases. But this is my turn at playing Fantasy Orchestral Manager, so I get to be arbitrary. You are welcome to disagree in the comments.

NB 3: See my post of 24 July for my declaration of orchestral interests.

Friday 3 February – Chinese New Year Concert
Jenny Wollerman (sop), John Chen (pno), NZSO/Perry So
Ross Harris: The Floating Bride, The Crimson Village
Xian Xinghai: The Yellow River Concerto
Luddy van Beethoven: Symphony No 6, Pastoral

Ross’s song cycle The Floating Bride is bloody gorgeous, and Auckland missed out on the 2010 Made in New Zealand programme which premièred the orchestral version. (The NZSO was supposed to take MiNZ to Auckland that year but Anthony Marwood, soloist in Ross’s Violin Concerto, couldn’t fit the extra gig in his schedule.) As for the rest of the programme, the Yellow River Concerto would be no big loss not to see and Beethoven 6 is, well, Beethoven 6. John Chen’s in Auckland all the time, and the APO does do quite a lot by Ross. Also, scheduling two Asian guest artists does not a truly Chinese concert make. My most conflicted decision of the year is the first.
Verdict: CUT.

Fri 30 March – Carmen Suite
NZSO Soloists/Vesa-Matti Leppänen
Kenneth Young: Portrait (named as “new commission”)
Tōru Takemitsu: Rain Tree (not mentioned in programme)
“This” Arvo Pärt: Fratres (string orchestra + violin solo version, I think)
Rodion Shchedrin: Carmen Suite (credited as “Bizet/Shchedrin”)

This showed off the percussion section with a reduced orchestra playing rep that we don’t see much. Shchedrin is championed heaps by Gergiev, for instance, but NZ hasn’t heard much of him. Fratres gets done all the time, but otherwise this is a worthy addition to Auckland’s calendar.
Verdict: KEEP.

Fri 27 April – La Mer
Measha Brueggergosman (mezzo), NZSO/Pietari Inkinen
NB: Brueggergosman cancelled, Sasha Cooke sang instead.
Benny “Hill” Britten: Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes
Ernest “Rutherford” Chausson: Poème de l’Amour et de la Mer
Jean “Why did Avid fire all the developers of” Sibelius: The Oceanides
Claude “Bussy Galore” Debussy: La Mer

Really, nothing that the APO wouldn’t do in any given year – right down to the world-class singer cancelling a couple of weeks out. The NZSO continues their quest to have Pietari stamp his mark on every note that Sibelius ever penned, and finishes with a work that is played heaps as it is.
Verdict: CUT.

Sat 28 April – L’Oiseau de Feu
Measha Brueggergosman Sasha Cooke (mezzo), NZSO/Pietari Inkinen
Douglas Lilburn: Symphony No 3
Gustavo Dudamel Mahler: Songs of a Wayfarer
“Prince” Igor Stravinsky: Firebird

While Lilburn 3 is often forgotten about (for such a short work it really should be done more), it doesn’t quiiite compensate for the rest of the rep, although Pietari conducting Stravinsky’s Firebird is a reasonably major artistic statement. I reluctantly deliver my…
Verdict: CUT.

Sat 12 May – For the Fallen
Lynn Harrell (cello), NZSO/Andrew Grams
Felix “The Cat” Mendelssohn: Hebrides Overture
Eddie Elgar: Cello Concerto
Bob Schumann: Symphony No 4

Jeez, the Elgar concerto has been like orchestral audience crack since Du Pré nailed it at the Proms bloody fifty years ago or however long. What’s really notable about this programme? Why should the NZSO bring it to Auckland? Well, Lynn Harrell is a big reason, but not big enough. Surely they could have had him do a slightly less overplayed concerto.
Verdict: CUT.

Sat 19 May – Alpine Symphony
NZSO/David Zinman
“Wolfgang West” Mozart: Symphony No 38, Prague
Richard “Not to be confused with Johann” Strauss: Alpine Symphony

Yesss, yes please. The first of the NZSO’s two “name conductor” gigs this year, this is the sort of big event that deserves to tour. Big artistic statement from the orchestra.
Verdict: KEEP.

Fri 8 June – Spellbound
Olivier Latry (org), NZSO/Rossen Milanov
Paul “Duke of Earl” Dukas: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Francis “Funky Chicken” Poulenc: Organ Concerto
Nikolai “Skyrim” Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherezade

None of these works by themselves are really justifiably essential to Auckland. Thomas Trotter did the Poulenc in 2010 on the new organ, but considering there are only about one-and-three-quarters organ concertos in the repertoire, what can ya do? Buuut… it’s Olivier Latry on the new Klais beast, which still has novelty value. And I like the rest of the programme enough for it to stay. Also, it further justifies keeping the following night’s gig.
Verdict: KEEP.

Sat 9 June – Made in New Zealand – Wonderland
Helen Medlyn (sop), NZ String Quartet, NZSO/Hamish McKeich
Chris Cree Brown: Celestial Bodies (NB: programme simply says “Brown”… really?!)
Lyell Cresswell: Concerto for String Quartet
Gillian Whitehead: Alice

It took so long for Made in New Zealand to become more than a Wellington-only affair that for Auckland to lose it would be a tragedy. Shit, it should be going to Christchurch too, but of course a composer would say that. Nice touch that Alice is getting another outing in Auckland, considering it was premièred when Gillian was the APO Composer-in-Residence.
Verdict: KEEP.

Sat 28 July – Die Walküre
Simon O’Neill (ten), Simon’s mates (singers), the Valkiwis (singers), NZSO/Pietari Inkinen
Tricky Dick Wagner: Die Walküre

Considering the rehearsal time that went into this, it’d be a crime to do only one performance in Wellington. Major artistic statement from the NZSO and Pietari. Must not be excluded from the Auckland calendar.
Verdict: KEEP.

Sat 18 August – Cathedral of Sound
NZSO/Simone Young
Wolfpack Mozart: Symphony No 36, Lint
Antonio Banderas Bruckner: Symphony No 5

World-beating antipodean conductor with the repertoire she’s making her own orchestra famous for. Why wouldntcha? Shows what the NZSO’s really capable of.
Verdict: KEEP.

Fri 28 September – Around the World in 80 Minutes
Stephen Hough (pno), NZSO/Andrew Litton
Anthony Ritchie: Diary of a Madman: Dedication to Shostakovich
Chamillionaire Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No 5, Egyptian
Dmitri “Emo Glasses” Shostakovich: Symphony No 5

Not a promising concert title, really – it makes you think that the New World Symphony is just round the corner (ooh cause it’s from North America!!). While the Ritchie would be good to play as widely in NZ as possible, it’s the sort of piece that’ll come around and that the APO would probably end up doing anyway, pairing with Shostakovich. Given Anthony’s prolific CD release schedule lately, it won’t be long until you can buy a copy.
Verdict: CUT.

Fri 19 October – Forbidden Love
Nicola Benedetti (vln), NZSO/Pietari Inkinen (edit: Miguel Harth-Bedoya, I got this wrong)
Ken Young: Dance
Peter and the Wolf Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto
Lenny Bernstein: West Side Story Symphonic Dances
Peter Piper Picked a Pack of Pickled Tchaikovskies: Francesca da Rimini

Hrm… yeah… nothing that wouldn’t come around every few years, even counting this 1997 work from Ken (at a stretch). Leonard Bernstein doesn’t strike me as particularly Pietariesque repertoire either. (Edit: This changes the complexion for me… seeing the APO do the WSS Symphonic Dances in the Harth-Bedoya era was a seminal moment in my high school music education. Buut… overall verdict still doesn’t change.) No big loss to lose the Tchaik concerto this season.
Verdict: CUT.

Sat 17 November – Mahler 7
Pietari Inkinen (cond. & vln), Vesa-Matti Leppänen (vln), NZSO
Johann “Belle and Sebastian” Bach: Double Violin Concerto in D minor
Gustav Eiffel: Symphony No 7

The NZSO’s been on a Mahler kick these last few years and they’re trying to get through the whole repertoire with Pietari. Worthwhile enough to keep this in Auckland, and the Bach double is a nice touch which doesn’t come round quite as often as you’d think.
Verdict: KEEP.


So a quick recap:

Keep 7: Carmen Suite, Alpine Symphony, Olivier Latry, Made in New Zealand, Die Walküre, Bruckner 5, Mahler 7.
Cut 6: Chinese New Year, La Mer, Firebird, For the Fallen, Around the World in 80 Minutes, Forbidden Love.

In reality you’re keeping six trips and cutting five: Olivier Latry & MiNZ are on the same trip, as are La Mer and Firebird. Notably, in previous years, the NZSO has done two programmes on consecutive nights much more frequently.

So cutting five trips and six gigs would save… how much? Well, I wish I could hazard a decent guess, but when it comes to the touring the NZSO, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage’s discussion document goes into very little financial detail indeed.

That’s probably because the NZSO’s 2011 annual report sheds little light on the specific costs. The most relevant figures I can find are for “Direct Expenses from Orchestral activity”. Page 24 says those expenses were $6.31 million to the year ending 30/06/2011, and $3.74 million to the six months ending 31/12/2011. Their target for the year ending 30 June 2012 was $5.60 million (p.33).

It’d be interesting indeed to see a breakdown of that pretty hefty line item. It excludes personnel costs ($10.22 million annually), as well as general operating costs and property rental. I imagine it includes venue hire, as well as the many activities of the education programme. But within that very broad category, there will be a lot of flights, a lot of hotel rooms, buses, truck hires and ferry crossings.

I appreciate that four of my six “cut” programmes are being performed in smaller centres too. I don’t want to deprive Hamilton, Napier and Palmerston North of any of their concerts, and I’m sure that adding Auckland onto an existing tour is more economical than making a single run up from Wellington.

But the question remains: just how much does the average NZSO trip to Auckland cost? While the orchestra remains a Crown Entity and subject to the Official Information Act, an enterprising journalist would do well to find out.

The NZSO ain’t getting axed (ditto APO, VWO, CSO & SS)

24 Jul

Yesterday, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage released a discussion paper as part of their New Zealand Professional Orchestra Sector Review.

The above paragraph is a simple, non-controversial, balanced declarative sentence. That’s more than Stuff and TVNZ can say. However, it’s easy for me to take the moral high ground because I’m neither a newspaper chain that needs to drive eyeballs to my website, nor a faux-public broadcaster that has the same commercial imperative.

The NZSO rehearsing for “Leaps & Sounds” at the Michael Fowler Centre.

These two media outlets reported the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the country’s oldest and best funded orchestra, may be “axed” (Stuff) or “scrapped” (TVNZ). Radio New Zealand National didn’t do much better: Checkpoint’s headline was “Culture and Heritage releases report on the NZSO” (yes, and four other orchestras too). Minister for Arts, Culture & Heritage Chris Finlayson has since said that disestablishment is “unthinkable”.

I’m going to go with the Minister on this one. Nobody’s suggested severing the NZSO to save the government $13.6 million a year. [Edit: Whale Oil has. I’m unsurprised.] Wholesale dismantling of such a thriving artistic and logistical core would be madness. The report does, however, suggest there may be better ways to share resources across all the professional orchestras.

The historical, top-down view is of a “national” orchestra (the NZSO) and four “regional” groups: the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra (APO), Vector Wellington Orchestra (VWO), the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra (CSO), and the Southern Sinfonia (based in Dunedin, not in Southland according to some reports).

In purely monetary and governance terms, the national/regional distinction is accurate – the NZSO is a Crown Entity of the New Zealand government whereas the regionals are generally independent trusts, the NZSO’s budget dwarfs the others’, its players are paid a lot better, and no other orchestra has a remit to tour the entire country. The full picture is more complex.

The centralisation of government funding in one orchestra means that extraordinary events are possible. For instance, the NZSO’s current tour of The Valkyrie has a cast of principals as good as you’ll find in any major opera house around the world, an orchestra at the height of its powers, and a quartet of Wagner tubas.

But despite frequent tours, the players and management of the orchestra have to make their home somewhere, and that place is Wellington. I can confidently say the capital identifies more strongly with the “national” orchestra than the rest of the country – the players do chamber music locally; they teach at the universities in Wellington; and many events like Leaps & Sounds (and until recently, the annual Made in New Zealand programme) take place in just the home city. The cultural life of Wellington benefits considerably having the “national” orchestra based there.

Muddying the water further are the ambitions of the “regional” orchestras. Despite seismic disruption, the CSO is right back up with things, putting on their full complement of 22 concerts, nimbly shifting from venue to venue as acoustics dictate and circumstances allow. It’s not full-time employment for an orchestra and they can’t quite programme to the scale of Mahler 7, but they’re a darn-sight more present in that community than the NZSO is and they’re doing some great stuff, like last month’s gig with The Adults.

The APO low brass performing at Connecting With Music, a concert for high school students at TelstraClear Pacific Events Centre.

Then there’s the APO. The only other group in New Zealand that provides full-time employment to an orchestra-sized core of players, the amalgamation of the Auckland region has meant for a pretty decent funding boost from local government and a good deal more security in day-to-day operation. They also introduce modern masterworks to local audiences, stuff like John Corigliano’s Symphony No 1 this week (the NZSO is pretty unlikely to perform that any time soon), and their education programme has resulted in stunning successes like Remix the Orchestra.

This is the context in which the spectre of “scrapping” the NZSO has come about. The MCH’s discussion paper (PDF) presents four potential scenarios for change:

  • Scenarios One, Two and Three reflect the current model of one national touring orchestra and other city-based/regional orchestras
  • Scenario Four has a configuration of city-based/regional orchestras only.

To crudely simplify, the former three essentially redesign the fiscal plumbing: the dosh would flow from Water Tank MCH via Spigot FAP or Spigot CNZ to Buckets NZSO/APO/VWO/CSO/SS etc.

It’s Scenario Four that the headline writers have leapt on and which has prompted all the nervous hysteria. This is called a “City and Community Orchestra Network”:

Under this model:

  • There is no government-owned, national touring orchestra
  • There is at least one orchestra of international standard

To retain any semblence of an “orchestra of international standard”, you would have to keep intact the core of the NZSO without reducing staff, players, guest artists and how much they all get paid. You simply remove the NZSO’s remit to tour the whole country, which saves a shit-ton of money in flights, hotel rooms and nationwide publicity coverage. This dosh is (presumably) redirected to Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin. For the time being, Wellington has a better resourced orchestra all to itself, but over the medium-to-long term, other cities’ orchestras may catch up to “international standard”. Or for that matter, the NZSO may decline away from it.

It’s pretty clear that MCH considers this the least desirable option. Not only have they placed it last out of four, it’s the only scenario that effectively signs a death warrant for one of the existing pro groups (VWO), which is something they’ve been talking down. Moreover, it would explicitly tell the country that Wellington is more deserving of hearing world-class orchestral playing than the rest of New Zealand, which would not sit well with good old kiwi parochialism.


This blog barely scratches the surface. This MCH report has been a long time coming, especially given Creative New Zealand’s recent implementation of “investment” programmes and resulting anxiety about long-term support among the regionals (particularly VWO and the Southern Sinfonia). There was also that mini-fiasco of MCH bringing over Israeli orchestra manager Avi Shoshani as a consultant in October last year, flying him up and down the country for meetings, but not arranging for him to hear a single concert. (They brought him back for a second trip in February, listen to his interview from 18:04:)

For further background to the orchestral sector reforms, Janina Nicoll’s Listener article from March 2011 solicits a wide range of views. (NB: written before she started work as a publicist for the NZSO.)

I’m looking forward to further comment and analysis from Upbeat on RNZ Concert, Brian Rudman and perhaps also William Dart in the Herald (see Rudman’s 2008 column for a particularly Auckland perspective on NZSO vs APO), Tom Cardy in the Dom Post, Craig Ranapia on Public Address (I hope), The Arts on Sunday on RNZ National, and somebody in The Listener. Bronwyn Bent has called for Metro to do a piece as well – I hope they do.

I highly recommend reading the full report, which includes Avi Shoshani’s conclusions. It brings up all sorts of possibilities of sharing resources, changes in the way players are contracted, co-commissioning new repertoire, and regional touring responsibilities. It also has wider implications for organisations like the Royal New Zealand Ballet, NBR New Zealand Opera, Radio New Zealand and SOUNZ, Centre for New Zealand Music. It doesn’t say much about orchestras in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty, despite a rapidly increasing population and past efforts to get professional groups off the ground there.

Finally, and most importantly, the report acknowledges that fewer and fewer people are buying tickets to see the orchestras live. With all the talk about governance, management, funding and turf wars, it’s pretty hard to escape that one fact.

MCH is seeking submissions, which close on Monday 20 August.

Long disclaimer: As a composer, I have had pieces performed by both the NZSO and the APO. As a presenter, I have done work on contract for the APO. While employed full-time at Radio New Zealand Concert (2008-2012), I regularly worked alongside the NZSO and occasionally dealt with all the other professional orchestras. As University of Otago Mozart Fellow, I get complimentary tickets to Southern Sinfonia concerts.

Update, Wed 25 July:

Chris Finlayson was on Upbeat yesterday, professing an open mind while defending the necessity of the NZSO as a national touring orchestra:

And consistent with previous remarks, Brian Rudman in this morning’s Herald champions his city’s band, clamouring for parity with the NZSO.

Update, Tue 31 July:

Something I missed from Tuesday last week: an APO media release with the title “Government review overlooks Auckland Philharmonia status”. They’ve also set up an orchestra review info page on their website, which links to the orchestra management’s 15-page formal submission (prepared already!), a shorter submission from the players, and various appendices. Kudos to the APO for making all this information freely available – I encourage all the orchestras to do the same.

Friday’s Waikato Times carried a letter to the editor which predicts an exodus of orchestral talent if the NZSO is messed with.

RNZ’s The Arts on Sunday led with perspectives from Philippa Harris (Southern Sinfonia General Manager) and Dame Roseanne Meo (APO Board Chairman):

In yesterday’s Dom Post, Wellington writer Dave Armstrong waxes lyrical about Die Walküre, speaks out against the disestablishment of the NZSO, doesn’t touch on the other orchestras, and talks of culture and class:

People wrongly dub classical music an elitist art form. Yes, tickets cost a bit, but that doesn’t mean it’s elitist per se. I don’t think the thousands of people who hire classical CDs from our library’s superb selection each year are all snobs and millionaires.

William Dart, music critic for the New Zealand Herald, reviewed the APO’s Thursday night gig (nothing about the MCH discussion document there) and the NZSO’s Auckland Town Hall Valkyrie, where his last paragraph reads:

Die Walkure has coincided with our community having major concerns about the governmental role in the support of our orchestras. With performances like this, democratically relayed through the country on Radio New Zealand Concert, the only change needed is increased funding.

And discussions continue to rage up and down the country – person-to-person, publicly on Twitter, semi-publicly on Facebook, and more privately in Facebook chat. Submissions close three weeks from yesterday.

Update, Sat 4 August:

Geoff Cumming has written a substantial piece for the Weekend Herald. Most of it is devoted to the APO’s case for more funding – I’d go so far to say that it really only presents the APO’s side of the story.

While the writer has spoken to both Barbara Glaser (APO Chief Executive) and Jonathan Baker (APO Principal Tuba and Board Member), I can’t discern any attempt to get comment from the NZSO or MCH, for instance. Still, it’s bringing the APO’s perspective to a wider audience, and when they’re so far the only orchestra to have made their submission public, fair enough.

In the NZSO’s newsletter eNotes, out today, there’s a link to this page about the orchestral review (although good luck finding that page directly from nzso.co.nz). There’s some puff about Die Walküre, and this concrete line: “we are taking time to thoroughly consider the Discussion Paper and create our submission”. Fair enough too.

Their three main points in the meantime: “maintenance of the NZSO…as New Zealand’s international standard orchestra” (implying the word ‘only’?); “We should continue to be owned by the people of New Zealand” (please, Treasury, don’t take us off the books); and “strengthening of coordination, cooperation and planning across the orchestral sector”.

I’m still keeping a look-out for submissions from the other orchestras… two weeks to go.

Update, Mon 6 August:

Checking back at the Ministry’s page on the matter, it appears they have since uploaded Avi Shoshani’s report in full. Keen readers will note that the main discussion document quoted this source as “A. Shoshani, GMH Consultants, 2012 (unpublished)”.

I have to question why the Ministry for Culture and Heritage did not publish Avi Shoshani’s document in full in the first place. The taxpayer of New Zealand footed the bill for his consultancy services and his two trips from Israel; the taxpayer deserves to see all of his conclusions, not only those the Ministry chooses to share.

Geoff Cumming’s Herald article refers to this recommendation from Shoshani:

In the current situation, the NZSO receives the vast part of the government’s money while the rest of the orchestras receive a very little support. I therefore recommend a cut of up to 2 million NZD from the NZSO’s government allocation and rechanneling this money to other orchestras.

The following isn’t a “recommendation”, but he evidently considers it sensible:

Another potential solution can be uniting the Vector Wellington orchestra with the NZSO as I believe there is a way that such a unified orchestra can meet all the needs of music-making in Wellington as well as touring, if necessary

And here’s a line to set the cat among the pigeons:

I must say I see no major differences in quality between the NZSO and the other four orchestras.

While the APO must be very happy with that quote, they’re probably not too happy being called the “Auckland Symphony”.

Update, Thu 9 August:

Nigel Benson in the Otago Daily Times looks at the situation specifically relating to the Southern Sinfonia. General Manager Philippa Harris ain’t wrong when she says:

“In one extreme, the review could result in us getting a large increase and, in another extreme, our funding could be completely discontinued.”

While almost all readings of the tea leaves guarantee the future existence of the NZSO, the APO and the CSO, it’s the VWO and Southern Sinfonia that are most worried. Vector, because many consider the NZSO to be contributing to the Wellington region more than adequately, and the Southern Sinfonia, because they serve the smallest population catchment but the largest territory.

My opinion is that if a city has a university that teaches classical music, the city needs a professional orchestra. It’s teaching and playing together that provide enough work for professionals to make a full-time living in music; the orchestras have education arms to develop students’ skills outside of the university context; students can gain valuable experience (and income!) as casual players; and student composers can hear a real-life professional orchestra play their pieces.

The University of Waikato Conservatorium of Music seems to do okay without a full-rate professional orchestra in Hamilton, but they’re within commuting distance of Auckland. Dunedin, on the other hand, is ages away from anything. If the Southern Sinfonia can no longer operate as a professional ensemble, over time the University of Otago Department of Music will suffer, particularly in classical performance teaching. Christchurch is too far to go for students to get the experience they need.

Update, Thu 16 August:

John McCrone in the Weekend Press has a big long weekend article about the CSO that contains none of the words “Ministry”, “discussion”, “review” or “funding”. It’s a fascinating read which touches on facilities, the Central City rebuild (including the Town Hall question), and music education organisations (specifically the Christchurch School of Music and the University of Canterbury). It’s nice to read something about a New Zealand orchestra which doesn’t touch on the review. That said, the CSO’s central government funding is probably more stable than most orchestras’ right now.

In yesterday’s Dom Post, an opinion piece by Dame Jenny Gibbs (art philanthropist and APO vice-patron) advocates an even-handed look at how to distribute orchestral funding, recognising that the APO is more than a part-time regional band. This is probably the first time many Wellingtonians became aware that the APO is a full-time orchestra.

Then in this morning’s Dom Post, Tom Cardy leads with VWO fears merger. He seeks comment from three chief executives:

  • Chris Blake (NZSO) ‘did not want to speculate on where policy makers may end up’;
  • Adán Tijerina (VWO) says the APO is ”’acting quite aggressively” in seeking more more funding’;
  • Barbara Glaser (APO) replies ”I certainly don’t think we’ve been aggressive in our approach. I think we’ve been assertive and I wouldn’t expect us to be anything else.”

And since my last update, the remaining three professional orchestras have put MCH review information on their websites:

  • VWO supports the two-tiered model with a national orchestra sitting atop a network of four regional orchestras.”
  • Scenario Three (CNZ as funding and monitoring agency, industry-led body ensuring funding proposals are kosher) “comes closest to the CSO’s vision for the orchestra sector”
  • The main points of this Southern Sinfonia PDF document: integral to the New Zealand orchestral landscape; Vital role in local arts infrastructure; has close ties to its community; “Avi Shoshani [proposes] the Sinfonia’s grant be increased by what is effectively 111%”.

Naturally each orchestra is exhorting its supporters to submit and encouraging them to reflect its own views. My thoughts:

  • Of course Vector supports a two-tiered hierarchy. The more funding the APO gets, the less the NZSO does in Auckland, the more the NZSO does in Wellington, the less VWO has a reason to exist.
  • My comments from 9 August notwithstanding, one must question how vital the Southern Sinfonia is to the local arts infrastructure when they are not at all represented in the region’s major arts festival.

Last of all, MCH has extended the submission deadline to Sunday 26 August, which is good for procrastinators like me.

Update, Wed 22 August:

This’ll probably be my last update to this post before submissions close on Sunday. I’m still yet to write my own submission…

On Monday, Newstalk ZB’s news bulletin said that submissions closed that day. Fact-checking fail.

Then last night, Southern Sinfonia General Manager Philippa Harris was interviewed on Dunedin’s Channel 9. She makes the excellent point that due to central government funding arrangements (MCH vs CNZ), the NZSO’s funding is assessed under different criteria to other orchestras’ funding, and:

“We would hope that we wouldn’t see our funding cut or disestablished. We’d love to have a million dollars, but it’s just too hard to say what the outcome’s going to be.”

According to MCH’s discussion paper, in 2010 the Southern Sinfonia’s received 40% of its revenue ($325,740) from CNZ and 12% ($95,600) from the Dunedin City Council. Harris continues:

“One of the assertions is that audiences are declining. Now from the Sinfonia’s point of view, that’s not really the case. In fact, our audiences have kept particularly steady, which is remarkable considering there’s been a global recession. The loyalty factor though has increased for the Sinfonia’s audiences – our subscribers have increased year after year for nearly twenty years, which is amazing because internationally they’re declining.”

With four days to go, I’m going to write a quickie post looking at the NZSO’s offerings in Auckland – if you had to cut any concerts to redirect money to the APO, which would you?

Update, Thu 23 August:

Did I say something about this being my last update? Well, the New Zealand Herald put paid to that with perspectives from two important Auckland figures.

Sir James Wallace, arguably the most active arts philanthropist in New Zealand, has written an opinion piece. He cites demand for expanding the APO’s education programme, and…:

“I also attend many concerts overseas every year and can confidently say that they are both of an international standard and that there is little or no difference in quality between [the NZSO and the APO]. It is time that this is acknowledged by addressing the grossly unfair difference in funding…”

Also today, David Nalden (retired violin & viola lecturer) had a piece which makes this excellent point:

“To my mind comparing the NZSO and the APO is like choosing between apples and oranges. Both are orchestras of which New Zealand can be proud. And they are as different in musical approach as they are distinctive in character, which is why they tend to attract two different audiences, according to tastes.”

It’s certainly clear that these two orchestras programme quite different things. The APO is known for choosing adventurous repertoire: Corigliano, Rouse, Szymanowski, Franz Schmidt, etc. The NZSO this year has been going for biiig events: Alpine Symphony, Bruckner this week, and of course Die Walküre. Nalden continues:

“It is time for government to fully and financially acknowledge that the APO is the equal of the NZSO. If cultural funding is not increased…then, perhaps, the NZSO touring budget would have to be curtailed (sadly, especially for Auckland), recognising that that role is no longer the vital component it was in 1946.”

And I finally follow through on my promise to look at the NZSO’s 2012 programme and decide what Auckland could do without.

Update, Sat 25 August:

Brian Rudman does another Brian Rudman. Interesting points:

  • He accuses the Ministry of misrepresenting Avi Shoshani’s position in the discussion document: apparently Shoshani never said “the NZSO should differentiate itself by presenting difficult repertoire” and “it should leave community engagement and education activities to the regional orchestras”.
  • Rudman says that it took him “a week of badgering before the bureaucrats finally made [Shoshani’s] report public”. Interesting…

And my final point from the article:

“Aucklanders have until Sunday to convince Mr Finlayson and his advisers here. Admittedly, neither the ministry’s discussion paper nor Mr Finlayson’s comments on it offer much hope of meaningful change.”

I wrote my submission today. I filled out their SurveyMonkey form, and I was surveyed like a monkey. A lot of the questions I rejected as I went, such as this series:

7. Do you agree there are advantages in having more flexible employment arrangements across the sector?
8. Do you agree there are disadvantages in having more flexible employment arrangements across the sector?
9. On balance, do you think the advantages would outweigh the disadvantages?

What a load of nonsense. How can I possibly give an answer to question nine when you’ve used no word more specific than “flexible”? Provide a concrete set of circumstances and I might be able to comment.

The Ministry for Culture and Heritage put out a leading discussion document and designed a leading process of consultation. Can’t help but agree with Brian Rudman on that.

Warning: require_once(/home/robbieellis/robbie.co.nz/wp-content/themes/bueno/footer.php): failed to open stream: Permission denied in /home/robbieellis/robbie.co.nz/wp-includes/template.php on line 684

Fatal error: require_once(): Failed opening required '/home/robbieellis/robbie.co.nz/wp-content/themes/bueno/footer.php' (include_path='.:/usr/local/lib/php:/usr/local/php5/lib/pear') in /home/robbieellis/robbie.co.nz/wp-includes/template.php on line 684