Reviews, News and Commentary

Walters Prize won by Maureen Lander and The Mata Aho Collective

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples


Walters Prize 2021 Winner

Auckland Art Gallery

Until September 5

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The Mata Aho Collective and Maureen Lander were announced last week as the winner of this year’s Walters Prize, by international judge, Kate Fowle, Director of New York’s MoMA PS1,

Their winning work “Atapō” consists of multiple layers of transparent black mesh and dominates the eastern end of the 19th-century Mackelvie Gallery. The word atapo loosely translates as the period before dawn and the work provides a visual equivalent of light beginning to seep through the black  night, heralding the arrival of the new day.

Along with Maureen Lander (Te Hikutu, Te Roroa, Ngāpuhi, Pākehā), the collective consists of Erena Baker, (Te Ātiawa ki Whakarongotai, Ngāti Toa Rangatira), Sarah Hudson, (Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Pūkeko, Ngāi Tūhoe), Bridget Reweti, (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi), and Dr Terri Te Tau, (Ngāti Kahungunu, Rangitāne ki Wairarapa).

They were awarded the Prize of $50,000 for their work which was originally included in  Toi Tū Toi Ora: Contemporary Maori Art at the Auckland Art Gallery which was opened earlier on this year.

In judging the award for which there were four finalists, Fowle said, ‘The installations bring nuanced perspectives on social, cultural and political urgencies of our time that each deserve our attention and engagement. As such, it does not feel appropriate to award the prize based on a personal selection of one work over another, particularly when I cannot physically be present with them.’

‘Instead, I would like to award the Prize to Mata Aho Collective and Maureen Lander as a celebration of the inspiration they bring through their sustained collective practices, as well as for the potential futures they offer in their collaborative thinking and generative processes. For me, these qualities, together with the commitment the artists have to creating proximity, signal the work that needs to be done by all of us in the coming years, regardless of the barriers we encounter.’

Fowle made her selection from exhibited works by artists Fiona Amundsen, Sonya Lacey, Mata Aho Collective and Maureen Lander, and Sriwhana Spong.

‘The eight women that were selected by the jury and the four installations that they have produced reveal incredible sophistication in how to invite us to embrace often fluctuating or contradictory perspectives on a story or a phenomenon that is otherwise somehow out of reach. As different in form and subject as each presentation is, there is a powerful, uniting force in how they each ask us to slow down, listen, be present, think again and be aware of our environment, ourselves, our contexts,’ says Fowle.

In an earlier review of the show this writer noted of, “Atapō” that the multiple layers of transparent black mesh, both obscured  revealed an ethereal light. The  solidity and depth of the work being emphasised by the diamond shapes which are cut into the material and which provides a way through the black mass.

As with many mythologies, death and the afterlife are the realms of gods who are often in conflict or have ambivalent roles.  Mata Aho have developed their work around the story of Hine-Titama, the incestuous  daughter of Tane who journeyed to the Underworld to become Hine-nui-te-po, the Goddess of Death and Darkness.

The ideas around death, transformation and new life are paralleled in various other mythologies and notion such as the Greek myth of human lives being woven by The Fates. In a sense the members of the collective have become  latter day versions of these Fates.

The large Hine-nui-te-po consists of multiple layers of fabric as through on a giant weaving loom with small inserts of colour woven into the fabric marking out the passage of time.

With the brighter Hine-Titama seen through the dark folds of Hine-nui-te-po there is a link between the two works and they become a metaphor for the transition between life and death, between myth and reality, between dream and illusion.

Reviews, News and Commentary

Auckland Philharmonia reveals the drama, insights and revolution of Beethoven’s symphonies

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

The Revolutionary; Beethoven Symphonies No 6 & No 7

Auckland Town Hall

July 29

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

There are probably  a few musical highlights which all concertgoers have on their bucket lists.  They would include Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Operas, and Wagner’s Ring Cycle but the major symphonic experience would be listening to a programme of  the Beethoven symphonies.

Two hundred years on from the time of Beethoven’s creative  period his music and particularly his symphonies remain important. The music itself has multiple dimensions ranging from the monumental and dramatic to the intimate and profound.

While composers before him such as  Mozart and Haydn had made great advances in developing the symphony the works of that early classical period were entertaining and not necessarily challenging. It was  Beethoven who reshaped both the form and the scope of the symphony with works which could be cerebral, playful  and enigmatic.

Like the other Romantic artists of the period (Wordsworth Keats and Shelley) Beethoven was interested in Nature, passions and the inner human struggles, emphasizing the intense emotions such as fear, horror, terror, and awe, especially  the sublime and beauty of nature  Where works such as Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” described Nature Beethoven’s ”Pastoral”  described the feelings of the observer

The Pastoral Symphony  is a prime example of the encounter with Nature with Beethoven  subtitled the work “Recollections of Country Life,” and each of the movements is given a  title related to an experience nature such as the first movement which he called “Awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the countryside”.

The orchestra under the direction of Giordano Bellincampi brought out all the descriptions and emotions brilliantly. He achieved this  through very close attention to the finer points of phrasing and dynamics, bringing out all the nuances of the work with refined staccatos and beguiling moments of calm. From the very first movement  it is as though we are encountering a  landscape that changes through the day, the vistas, the light and the sounds captured, the imagery conveyed by the sparkling woodwinds. In  the second movement the delightfully sinuous strings created the image of the gently flowing brook

Then in the third movement the orchestra shifted into the visions of a storm led by the vigorous timpani and lower strings,

Beethoven was also one of the foremost avant-garde artists of his time and his music is in many respects the musical accompaniment to the revolutionary era of literary, scientific political and social experiment and change.

Just as Napoleon had changed the political and social landscape of Europe Beethoven with his early symphonies, he had demonstrated how his music celebrated that new era and the importance of the heroic figure and the human spirit and this was reaffirmed with his eighth symphony.

Conductor Bellincampi’s vigorous gestures and the way in which the orchestra seemed to be driven suggested the sweep of the dramatic times of the early nineteenth century. The orchestra’s sense of  momentum and unstoppable energy giving the work a real sense of purpose and revolution .

The various  movements were given structure and shape which attested to the skill of the composer with his clever  repetitions of melody and harmony. Under Bellincampi the  orchestra maintained a sense of drama by ensuring that individual instruments shone, allowing for delightful contrasts between the smooth lines of the wind instruments and the vigorous  strings. There were passages of escalating drama, snatches of dance and then moments of  an  almost euphotic lightness.

The finale was charged with energy, the orchestra focussed on the main theme with its  obsessional repeats imitating a military march as well  mimicking the lively sounds  of a group  of  peasant fiddlers.

Listening to the concert one was taken on a journey through musical landscapes both literal and metaphorical and even though the two symphonies are familiar the APO  and Bellincampi gave them a freshness which allowed for new insights into the music.

So far this year the Beethoven concerts have been sell out performances and the forthcoming “The Radical” featuring the composers Eighth and iconic Ninth ‘Choral’ Symphony, will now take place on Thursday November 25th with a repeat of the concert on November 26th

Reviews, News and Commentary

Two great works and two great musicians in APO’s “The Greats” concert

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Benjamin Morrison

Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

The Greats

Brahms Violin Concerto
Schubert Symphony No 9 ‘The Great’

Auckland Town Hall

Reviewed by John daly-Peoples

July 22

The APO’s latest concert “The Greats” featured a number of “greats” notably Schubert’s Symphony No 9 which was one of longest symphonic works of the time along with Brahms’ only Violin Concerto.. The other two greats of the concert were Vienna based violinist Benjamin Morrison and the flamboyant  conductor, Giordano Bellincampi.

The Brahms Violin Concerto is the most impressive violin concerto of the nineteenth century along with Beethoven’s written seventy years before.

In part it is notable in that while written by Brahms he had relied for much of his  technical support on Joseph Joachim, one of the great violinists of the day. This combination of two great musicians has ensured its place in the canon of great works.

The orchestra opened the concerto with a long passage which featured both tumult and lyricism before the violinist made his spirited entry on the back of the energetic playing of the orchestra

Throughout the first movement there are great displays by the violinist but there are also superb moments taken up by the oboe, clarinet, bassoon and flute

A lot of the time it felt as though Morrison was putting the concerto together, drawing out new themes from the  violin rich with  tension and passion. He seems to be constantly  searching for a way forward with a constant interchange between violinist and orchestra.

The second movement brought one of the more sublime moments of the work, not only with by Morrison’ playing but also with a captivating passage  by the oboist.

At times he played aggressively rising above the orchestra while at others time he played with a delicacy as though seranading the orchestra.

Morrison is not a demonstrative violinist and plays with an unruffled style, his energies always focussed on the music allowing the music to convey the emotionnal aspects of the music.

At the end of the first movement he embarked on a brilliant cadenza which saw him exhibit a remarkable degree of enthusiasm and showmanship. His playing was so riveting and spectacular that he should have used it as his encore. Instead, along with a few members of the orchestra playing a lively jig which was a real crowd pleasure, repeating his success of playing pokarekare ana as an encore at his previous outing with the orchestra.

With his Symphony No 9  Schubert  constructed a vast enterprise  which is like a slowly evolving structure, part architectural and part organic. The orchestra under the direction of conductor Bellincampi assembles all these components  creating spaces and volumes with elaborate details along with emerging vistas,

The ever-evolving  work is full of drama and emotion, with a steady stream of musical invention expressing  hope, and optimism 

In the first movement we hear the  warm French horns, introducing a musical theme which then unfolds in a sinuous manner. Then in the  second movement elegant volumes are created by  the oboe and clarinet. The last two movements are among the most relentless pieces in the orchestral repertoire with what seems to be endless repetitions creating a thrilling density of sound. But there are also poignant moments, passages of pure joy and bursts of fierce spectacle.

Epitomizing much of the music’s energy was the conductor. The elegant sweeps of arm, his firm assured indications and his nimble, almost balletic body seemed to express the qualities of the music. He became a master craftsman shaping the music and the orchestra.

At times he seemed genuinely surprised  at what his players were achieving as though they had discovered new depths and meaning to the work.

APO Future Concerts

August 12

James Judd conducts Smetana Má vlast A musical depiction of the Vltava river evoking a grand panorama of history and landscape.

Reviews, News and Commentary

NZ Dance Company to present two major works

John Daly-Peoples

NZ Dance Compnay, Night Light Image John McDermott

Night Life

New Zealand Dance Company

National Tour, Auckland, Whangarei and Christchurch

September 3 – 16

Two major new dance works, The Fibonacci and Uku – Behind the Canvas will be presented  the New Zealand Dance Company’s (NZDC) touring production of  Night Light performed in Auckland, Whangarei and Christchurch, this September after the production was cancelled  last year due to Covid-19 lockdowns.

The Fibonacci, choreographed by Tor Colombus explores energy pathways through dance, sound and place in relationship to the mathematical Fibonacci sequence revealing a tapestry of pattern and form, which provokes a feeling of connection to something deeper than the detail of each individual action.

Fibonacci was a 13th-century Italian mathematician who brought the Indian-Arabic number system to Europe. The Fibonacci sequence begins: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144 and continues from there. Each number in the sequence is the sum of the previous two numbers. As the numbers increase the ratios of two successive Fibonacci numbers keeps increasing getting close to the golden ratio of 1.618.

That ratio has been used in other art forms for centuries in the architecture of the Parthenon and works by Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe artists such  as Da Vinci and Albrecht Dürer and  Mondrian as well as composers  and Bartók and Debussy. 

The world premiere of emerging Māori choreographer Eddie Elliott’s Uku – Behind the Canvas explores the power of vulnerability and the strength within struggle. With inspiration from visual artist Andy Denzler, Eddie draws from the pūrākau (storytelling) held within Te Ao Māori and weaves it with New Zealand Sign Language to reveal the complexity of his own human experience. Anticipation and intensity are at the heart of movement paired with cleansing uku (clay) which symbolises the relationship between Hineahuone and Tāne – where we’ve come from and to where we will return. 

In an earlier review I described NZDC’s work as “operatic in scope … full of inventive and evocative sequences with marvellous sculptural tableaux with a small group of dancers using their bodies to create shapes and patterns which expressed personal and collective turmoil.”

NZDC Co-artistic Director and choreographer of The Fibonacci Tor Colombus says, “Night Light is a reflective offering in response to this moment in time that we are collectively living through”.

“We are thrilled to share these two dynamically contrasting yet complimentary works in this double bill originally commissioned by NZDC Founding Artistic Director, Shona McCullagh,” says O’Hara.  

From floating through time and space, observing nature’s mysterious golden spirals in Colombus’ The Fibonacci to grounding down with feeling in Elliott’s Uku – Behind the Canvas where confronting storytelling is at its most raw.

Event Details:


Friday 3 September, 7.30pm

Saturday 4 September, 7.30pm

ASB Waterfront Theatre


Wednesday 8 September, 7.30pm

Forum North


Thursday 16 September, 7.30pm

James Hay Theatre

Reviews, News and Commentary

John Walsh paintings combine landscapes and dreamworlds

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

John Walsh “Dali and Company pass through the Pacific”

John Walsh, The Dark and the Light

Gow Langsford Gallery

Until July 31

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

In his dealings with issues around land and cultural identity John Walsh has often populated his paintings with figures. In his latest exhibition “The Dark and the Light” at the Gow Langsford Gallery as well as human figures there are animals and wraith-like apparitions – spirits or symbols evolving out of the land, bush and water.

His landscapes are generally precolonial views offering not just an example of what the landscapes might have looked like more than two hundred years ago but how a Maori artist from that time might have combined the natural flora, fauna and human figures along with the presence of mythic and ancestral presences.

One of the larger works in the show “Dali and Company pass through the Pacific” ($45,000) depicts a figure nestled in a submarine-like traditional Maori fishing net with a distant Auckland under a purple haze. The work seems pertinent as several of the works of Salvador Dali and his fellow surrealist are on exhibition at Te Papa at the moment.

There is a kinship between the Surrealists and Maori artists in that both acknowledged the importance of the dream for inspiration and as subject matter. The worlds Walsh creates often have a surrealist or dreamlike quality providing the key to an understanding of the way in which past present and future can merge.

His worlds are populated by symbolic figures who are ever watchful as they protect, guard and portend. They exist as real, mythological and metaphorical is a clever entwining of the cultures and personal iconography.

In the panoramic “Ruru” ($18,000) the bird acts as a watchful guardian of the land while in “Marakihua ($12,000) the man-fish is presented as some form of protector of the seas.

John Walsh, “Untitled (Horse)”

With “Untitled (Horse)” ($7750) a white horse stands in the landscape which features an iridescent cluster of light that hovers over the land. While horses have never been part of traditional Maori mythology, they have taken on something of a spiritual or mystical role tied to the Christian notions of the white horse of the Book of Revelations.

That work and “Worship” ($7750) which has a sole figure clutching a large frond while contemplating a brilliant star constellation appear to be recognitions of Matariki and thec oming of the new year – the Earth emerging out of darkness.

With all these works the artist uses a misty dark palette providing a sense of otherworldliness.Hhis intense blues, pounamu greens and volcanic reds help create paintings which are political, metaphorical and meditative, linking history and contemporary events.

Reviews, News and Commentary

What is the next act for New Zealand Opera

John Daly-Peoples

John Daly-Peoples

There has been a crisis looming around New Zealand Opera for some time coming to a head earlier this year when three board members resigned from NZ Opera. Witi Ihimaera, Murray Shaw and Rachael Walkinton stepped down because they believed that the artistic direction the company was headed in the wrong direction and not meeting the expectations of the audience.

There were several flash points in the leadup to their decision including the announcement of an opera based on the unruly tourists of a couple of years ago commissioned by the general director of the New Zealand Opera, Thomas de Mallet Burgess. It was intended as something of a comic opera with one of the writers  Amanda Kennedy saying “It may come across as a musical that is full of comedy, but the show actually brings a lot of integrity, and it is likely to be a bit of a moral compass for those watching. It’s a comedy opera, but it’s about real issues.”

Ihimaera noted that it wasn’t primarily that new performance. “We resigned because one of our jobs as governors was to mitigate risk to the reputation of the company and what I saw, was a huge upswelling of discontent and confusion about the artistic direction of the company”.

Ihimaera said the strategy of reimagining opera was a fine but the trio felt traditional supporters of opera had not been taken along.

“It’s to do with actually making sure that the opera company and its artistic direction provides what people want. And also, at the same time, it has had a very hard fought for, long-standing, loyal audience£.

“That was why we felt that we had to do what we had to do, was to ask questions, was to ask, is that audience – the audience that would provide the money for something like the unruly tourists – was that being cared for as well? Was it being taken along on this journey?”

Opera companies around the world are facing various problems is sustaining audiences, obtaining funding, and presenting relevant and financially viable programmes.

The five most performed works internationally are  La Traviata, The Magic Flute, La Bohème, Carmen, and The Barber of Seville.

Some of these and other  struggle to find relevance with a modern-day audience especially with some of the racist and misogynistic elements in Puccini’s madame Butterfly and Bizet’s Carmen, the stereotyping on Puccini’s Turandot and Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mikado. Then there is the  touches of  anti-Semitism in Wagner’s Ring Cycle and  the Muslim caricatures in Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio.

Another area of concern is the presentation of contemporary works and themes which “The Unruly Tourists” was seen  as addressing. Over the past few years the opera company has made some attempts with Peter Maxwell Davies’ “Eight Songs for a Mad King” and the short, hotel room-based work The Human Voice (La Voix Humaine) by Francis Poulenc .These were fine productions but had very limited audiences. The only main stage contemporary work the company has staged recently was John Adams’ “Nixon in China” in 2016.

The other major problem facing opera companies is retaining old audiences and acquiring new audiences. They are caught between trying to attract those thousands of newly retired 65-year-olds who are relatively easy to find  or search for a new youth audience who can be fickle and not as keen to spend big sums on entertainment.

Ihimaera and several dozen concerned individuals have now written a joint letter to the Minister of Arts and Culture, the Honourable Carmel Sepuloni outlining their concerns and the needs for action.

Among other things they have requested that the Minister commission an independent comprehensive review into the opera sector in New Zealand which would look at the structure, funding, and governance of the national opera company to ensure the long-term sustainability of opera.

They also asked for a review of the funding model and stewardship of funds to ensure opera’s long-term viability of opera in New Zealand.

While the signatories have not explicitly asked for a different method of funding many people in the arts community winder why the other national arts organizations such as the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, The Royal New Zealand Ballet and Te Matatini are funding directly from the Ministry of Arts and Culture while the opera company must apply to Creative New Zealand.

Many other in the arts community believe there are other issues which need to be addressed such as funding and governance of the regional opera companies and the balance between core repertoire, exposure to new idea as well as New Zealand content.

Reviews, News and Commentary

Bill Culbert creates mysterious and poetic works with light

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Bill Culbert, Small Glass Pouring Light

Bill Culbert | Slow Wonder

Auckland Art Gallery

Until November 21

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Concepts of space, vision and light have  fascinated artists for centuries and one of the crucial turning points in the artists use of light came with Edison’s invention of the incandescent light bulb and later the fluorescent tube. The New Zealand artist Bill Culbert who spent most of his career in Europe focused on light and light producing bulbs is being recognised in the  major exhibition “Slow Wonder” at the Auckland Art Gallery.

Bill Culbert, Central Station

While a presence in New Zealand art for fifty years Culbert was a central figure internationally and while he had regular show in this country he was in demand throughout the world for inclusion in major shows.

One of the high points of his career came  in 2013 when he was selected as the New Zealand representative at the Venice Biennale.

Opening that exhibition Sir Nicholas Serota (Director of the Tate Modern) noted that if New Zealand hadn’t shown Culbert the artist would have been put forward for the British pavilion.

Bill Culbert’s work has been central to a number of areas of contemporary art particularly around the use of light, new approaches to vision and the treatment of space, investigating the almost filmic quality of light operating over time.

His work always seems to be referencing the history of art and artists such as the Renaissance exploration of perspective and the use of the camera obscura as a means of creating the illusion of three-dimensional space. His work also connects with the ideas around  abstraction and the elements of line, form and space without the need for narrative or representation.

His work has parallels with innovative artists such as Joseph Beuys and light artist Anthony McCall and demonstrates an ability to combine philosophical purism along with the creation of visual jokes. There are also links to writers such as the Argentinian writer Borges around the creation of parallel spaces and realities.

Slow Wonder brings together a selection of work from across the artists career to show how he has developed his approach to light and the creation of three-dimensional works with works connected to his use of  the incandescent bulb and white fluorescent tubes.

The very first work in the exhibition “Outline” (1978) is a metaphor for the way in which he used light. The blacked out square box is both an attempt to contain and control light as well as a way of using it to create a three-dimensional space from light. It also shows the way that he uses projections of light as well as shadows and outlines.

A  couple of other works in the first room of the exhibition are homages to the light bulb with “Reflections” (1971) and “Bulb Box Shadow” (1971)  both of which features single bulbs presented  as small theatrical events.

One of the works “Spacific Plastics” (2001) is similar to a work he produced for his Venice Biennale show entitled “Flotsam”. It consists of dozens of coloured plastic containers and fluorescent tubes. The title and the material was a reference to all the flotsam which bobs the canals of Venice. “Spacific Plastics” is a similar ecological statement about the increased presence of plastics in the Pacific Ocean.

Some of the early works show an interest in combining the fluorescent tube and corrugated iron as in “Black Point” (1978) which hints at his  future collaborations with Ralph Hotere with the large tube and iron in “Black Light” (not in the show) while “Moonlight Creek” (1978) where he has used light to separate two halves of a large stone prefigures the collabortive “Fault” (1994) which slices through the facade of City Gallery, Wellington.

Culbert is also a photographer and his black-and-white images are something of a diary record, documenting his experiments and showing the genesis of many of his ideas. So  “Small Glass Pouring Light” (1997) recording his “discovery” of the light bulb shape cast by a wine glass had other iterations including the  large installation “Small Glass Pouring Light” (1983) featuring two dozen of the glasses.

Bill Culbert, Small Glass Pouring Light

There are several large installations such as “An Explanation” of Light” (1984) where neon tubes pierce some French doors, the reflections both in the doors as well as the large window onto Albert Park giving the work depth and mystery as though entering a new dimension.

Another feature of the artist’s work is his transformation of the everyday object into something both magical and meaningful. It is not just the wine glass which gets changed and transformed he also uses a variety of other objects including plastic containers. “Cascade” features  a set of plastic containers pierced by a tube glowing with a purity, the caps of the containers  providing the only vestiges of colour. His “Easter Island”  (1994) is on of the more explicit political pieces, with the glowing seven little yellow  bottles of “venero” (poison) providing a contrast between purity and toxicity.

Bill Culbert, Stand Still

Among his other larger sculptural works is “Stand Still”  (1987) where he adds various items to dress up florescent tubes – lampshades, a bucket, a bottle and two jugs while with “Central Station” (1996) which becomes a location of transition he adds fluorescent tubes to lampstands having discarded the old incandescent bulbs for the  newer lighting form He also draws attention to the snaking black extension cords and  transformers which are often the disguised or hidden parts of light installations.

This theme of transition can also be seen in works such as “Hokitika Return Journey” (1978) which is both a reference to the artist peripatetic journeys as well as the changing social and political nature of the West Coast. That area is also referenced  in “Reefton Cloud” (1978) where  a florescent tube hovers over a lump of charred wood. This is a reference to Reefton, which  in 1888  became the first place in New Zealand and the Southern Hemisphere to have a public supply of electricity.

Bill Culbert, Reefton Cloud

Throughout the exhibition we witness an artist using the simple material  of lightbulb and fluorescent light tubes along with found materials to create mysterious and poetic works that transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Reviews, News and Commentary

The APO’s delightful Danube journey

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Benjamin Morrison

Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

On The Danube

Auckland Town Hall

July 8

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Vienna was at the heart of classical music  particularly in the nineteenth century with many of the great musicians associated with the city – Mozart, Haydn, Mahler, Strauss and Bruckner were Austrian while  others, such as Beethoven, Gluck and Brahms lived there for part of their lives. The history of classical music is an integral part of the city’s history.

The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra’s “On The Danube” concert featured works by four Viennese  composers written over an 80-year period although Erich Korngold had left the city ten years before he composed his Violin Concerto.

Opening the programme was Johann Strauss II’ “On the Beautiful Blue Danube” which had many heads swaying along to the breezy waltz music. The orchestra could well have filled up the entire programme with a set of the composers waltzes and the  audience been entirely satisfied. The music seems to sum up the halcyon days of the Austro- Hungarian Empire and  its glamour and artistic renown.

It was a great pity that conductor Giordano Bellincampi did not have a partner on the podium as he seemed ready to launch into a waltz at any moment, carried along by the music.

Also on the programme was the Brahms “Symphony No 3”, a magnificent work which has links back to the grandeur of Beethoven but which also displays  a new energy and vitality.

Much has been made of the symphonies hidden code but it is the images lyrical landscapes and encounters with Nature which are conveyed by the music and can be seen as expressions of the composer’s personal struggles and emotional conflicts.

The short Gustav Mahler work on the programme “Blumine”, was composed only a few years after the Brahms work and illustrates how far music had moved in that time in terms of temperament and scale. The was work  originally part of his first symphony and is filled with passages of the composers’ characteristic sounds and leitmotifs, particularly his use of the solo horn.

The most exciting work on the programme was Erich Korngold’s “Violin Concerto”. Composed in 1945 when he lived in America and which he dedicated to Alma Mahler. The work builds on the late Romanticism of Mahler along with Korngold’s  own film music and is filled with  a sense of remembrance and reflection. It is rich and colourful with a number of lively themes and the opening movement has the qualities of a 1930’s film.

Vienna based soloist Benjamin Morrison who is member of the Vienna Philharmonic played with assurance, dealing effortlessly with the clever technical passages and the elaborate fingering. He was totally in control and at one with the orchestra, at times allowing it to almost overwhelm his playing and then at other times he made dramatic forays as if to dominate the orchestra. There were times when he gave the work an enigmatic reading while he also brought out some of the playful aspects of the music. In the second movement where he played an achingly powerful sequence, his sounds hovered in the auditorium as though remembering  a dream.

Just as the audience had been delighted with the opening Strauss number they were equally rewarded with Morrison’s encore, a wonderful version of  “Pokarekare Ana”.

Future APO Concerts

Light & Shade   July 15

Conductor Giordano Bellincampi
Flute Melanie Lançon

Respighi The Birds
Ibert Flute Concerto
Ravel Pavane
Respighi Church Windows

The Great, July 22

Conductor Giordano Bellincampi
Violin Benjamin Morrison

Brahms Violin Concerto
Schubert Symphony No.9 ‘The Great’

Reviews, News and Commentary

The Outsiders Ball delights in the joy, freedom and exhilaration of dance

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The Outsiders Ball

Black Grace and Neil Ieremia

Auckland Concert Chamber

Until July 9

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

With his latest dance creation, “The Outsiders Ball” Neil Ieremia has gone back to his roots and his first experiences of dance. As he notes in the programme,

“Growing up as a kid in the 70’s various groups would run a siva(dance) as a fundraiser, these were always filled with lots of laughter, friendly rivalries, paper plates of food, undercover romances and sometimes bad behaviour” and “the overwhelming explosion of colour floating on a haze of sweet perfume mixed with cigarette smoke.”

This is going back to the primal roots of dance, an activity which societies have been engaging in for centuries. They are the communal meeting places, often at the core of men and women, boys and girls learning about social interaction under the beady eyes of aunts and uncles.

What he describes is not far from Peter Cape’s 1958 song, “Down at the hall on Saturday night”.

‘Yeah, it’s great being out with the jokers

  When the jokers are sparking and bright,

  And it’s great giving cheek to the shielas

  Down the hall on Saturday night”

Ieremia attempts to recreate one of those Saturday night dances filling the hall with a range of people from young to old and they bring every style of dancing from rock and roll to ballroom with a bit of Samoan slap dance and a trace of chorus line. There are loads of human interaction as individuals try out their best moves while others manage to make fools of themselves. This ball for outsiders  delights in the joy, freedom and exhilaration of dance.

As with much of his previous dance work Ieremia manages to transform everyday simple movements into elegant dance so that what we see is superbly controlled chaos. There are elements of his choreographic practice throughout the various dances with his signature waves of dancers streaming across the stage coupled with abrupt changes of direction.

Some of the music is real dance material such as James Brown’s “Superbad” and Donna Summers’ “Last Dance” but there was also music from Blondie, Shannon and Troy Kingi. The dancers respond with enthusiasm and energy to each of the numbers and generally create the spirit of the local dance. The one work which didn’t seem to really carry the right mood was the dancing to Grace Jones’ version of “La Vie En Rose” which lacked the anguish and sorrow it needed.

This glorious celebration of dance ended with an animated cabaret / drag number complete with disco ball, the hall filled with the lights of Matariki.

While Ieremia is on stage dancing he also takes times to address the audience with a few  discursive monologues talking about own life  as well as social issues which affect Maori and Pacifica, probably not the normal conversation at the dance hall but relevant conversations which need to be had.

Reviews, News and Commentary

New stunning symphonic work celebrates Matariki

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples


New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

Ngā Hihi o Matariki

Composer Gareth Farr

Lyrics by Mere Boynton
Taonga Pūoro composition by Ariana Tikao

Auckland Town Hall, July 2


Wellington Michael Fowler Centre July 9

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The celebration of Matariki has increased over the past couple of decades and is now recognised as part of the New Zealand calendar signalling the time to  plan and prepare for the spring garden.

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra has commissioned a new  work by Gareth Farr to celebrate the event for this year along with various collaborators including  singer Mere Boynton and taonga puora exponent  Ariana Tikao. The resulting work Ngā Hihi o Matariki  is a stunning creation full of spectacular sounds and innovative musical textures.

Matariki (The Pleiades  or Seven Sisters) is  the star cluster which signifies the Maori New Year but in many parts of New Zealand the  Matariki group is precede by Puanga (Rigel in the Orion Constellation) and is recognised by some iwi as the harbinger of the New Year instead of Matariki.

The work is in seven movements with a nod to the “Seven Sisters” and each of the sections can be seen as  a reflection on the history and mythology of the land, expressing images of the changing heavens, the elements of air, water, light, genealogy, acknowledging birth and death.

In the  work  Gareth Farr skilfully combines the  sounds of the traditional symphony orchestra with the sounds of various taonga puora played by Ariana Tikao

Farr is a master of  the dramatic sounds and his use of the percussion, woodwinds and brass is never just as background, they are always to the fore in providing dramatic sounds. The orchestra for this work was bolstered with harp and piano adding to the percussive nature of the work. The addition of taonga puoru augmented the range of sound as well as providing an ethereal sound. Farr’s use of the instruments demonstrates his ability  to conceptualise and illustrate the ideas around the event through music.

So, the work describes the night sky and the appearance of the stars not just as astronomical phenomenon but their impact on the viewer and their connections with the past and the present. In the opening movement the woodwinds convey the clarity of the night sky night sky and then the appearance of the brilliant stars while  a rowdy glockenspiel proclaims the  burst light which comes with the  dawning of a new day and year.

With many of the sequences the orchestra began with a tentative theme which slowly developed or abruptly erupted  with onslaughts of sound, the layers of resonance creating images of  new life and new dimensions.

Mere Boynton and Ariana Tikao appear several times on stage entering and leaving like ethereal soothsayers or Greek oracles, their appearances giving the work a ritualistic feel. Boynton’s powerful voice which ranged from the simple karanga to almost operatic in scope was full of drama and emotion, enhanced by Tikao’s playing various taonga puora.

Unfortunately, the words were not presented as surtitles so the overall impact was diminished, the audience experienced the excitement of the delivery but missed on the subtlety and nuance of the spirit of the words.

Gemma New

Conductor Gemma New was a guiding presence directing the orchestra with an assured poise and at times  her raised arms gave her the appearance  of a sprouting fern frond.

Despite the music being occasionally formulaic and repetitive this was  a remarkable work by Gareth Farr and an outstanding display by  the orchestra with a joyous display of sound including  the full range of sounds from the percussion, strings, woodwind and brass. It is a work which should enter the canon of major New Zealand works, celebrating not just Matariki but the confluence of musical and cultural ideas.