Tag Archives: Wellington

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.


9 Dec

This afternoon, Buz Bryant-Greene gives the première performance of my solo piano piece #llamadrama. That’s right, I’m so social media my composition is a hashtag.

Buz first played my music in May 2009, specifically the Sonatina for clarinet and piano with Anna McGregor. Before long, he followed it with Seven Banana Songs for soprano & piano, Maeve for piano & tape, and a silly little microscore called Drying Music.

However, still by then I had written no substantial solo piano piece for anybody, so Buz applied to Creative New Zealand in August 2010 for funds to commission me for a 10-12 minuter. Six weeks later we were granted success. I even got paid up-front!

This was momentous for me: it was my first fully-funded CNZ commission (link is a .doc). I was suddenly a “real” composer! Some years previously I had made a resolution that I would stop attending the Nelson Composers Workshop as a participant once I received my first professional commission. The day had arrived.

I got feverishly down to work… if I recall, this was when the cast of Austen Found: The Undiscovered Musicals of Jane Austen was supposed to go to Sydney to perform at World’s Funniest Island, before that festival was cancelled nine days before opening. That would have been my first getting-flown-overseas-to-do-a-show moment… ah well. Just the one major career milestone per month then.

Progress stalled when my girlfriend and I broke up the following month – we’d been living together, it was a less than straightforward separation, it sent me pretty down. I well and truly lost compositional momentum – in fact, it took me a further eight months to finish the work in fits and starts, writing the last note on 18 July 2011.

But nothing’s ever simple. By the time I finished #llamadrama, Buz had developed some pretty serious musicianly injuries in his shoulders and back. He wasn’t going to be doing any much playing for a while, especially the 12-13 minutes of physically demanding piano pounding and fine motoric gestures that I’d composed for him. We thought there’d be the première in April this year, in fact, I even arranged a whole trip from Dunedin to Wellington around it, but Buz wasn’t yet up to it.

However, the time is now. Nearly two and a half years after Buz applied for the commission funding, he’s giving the première. He’s the accompanist for The Glamaphones, the choir of Wellington’s GLBTQ community, so it’s part of their end-of-year concert at St Andrew’s on The Terrace at 4pm today. He’ll be giving subsequent performances in Nelson, Auckland, and many other places, I hope.

It’s a programmatic piece, and the narrative is… uhh… long. It’s below!


On the afternoon of 27 August 2010, an escaped llama made its way onto the Western Ring Road in Melbourne, one of that city’s busiest freeways. The story became a minor sensation on Twitter with this tweet from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s @abcnews feed:

Drama: Police are trying to capture a llama on Melbourne’s western ring road
12:54:07 Aug 27th 2010 (UTC +10) via Tweetdeck
Retweeted by 100+ people

Within two minutes, this message had been re-tweeted 15 times, spreading the news quickly throughout Melbourne and to the wider world. The news story generated a flash of amused responses and commentary, often under the hashtag #llamadrama. I’ve identified some factors which contributed to its sudden popularity: the simple linguistic device of rhyme; the involvement of an animal; the potential for Benny Hill-like chase scenes between police and said animal; the heightened attention to Twitter for breaking political news following the inconclusive result of the Australian federal election six days earlier; the inherent funniness of the word ‘llama’; and the fact that bored office-workers will tweet and/or retweet nearly anything for shits’n’giggles on a Friday afternoon.

Humorous comments came thick and fast. One was a tweet by @silencewedge parodying a 1961 Barry Mann pop song:

Who put the drama in the drama llama ring road?

Guitarist and music journalist Peter Hodgson, a.k.a. @iheartguitar, provided another rhyme for consideration:

Llama drama or Alpaca Fracas?

However, my favourite remark of the whole affair was a pun from market researcher and consultant Stephen Downes, a.k.a. @downesy on Twitter:

A loose llama on the Western Ring Road? It must have been trying to get to the Tu-llama-rine Freeway #llamadrama
13:25:17 Aug 27th 2010 (UTC +10) via Tweetdeck
Retweeted by 21 people

Some 80 minutes after the affair started on Twitter, @abcnews reported:

Breaking news: Police have captured the llama that was on the loose in Melbourne #llamadrama
14:16:40 Aug 27th 2010 (UTC +10) via web
Retweeted by 100+ people

From there, instances of the hashtag #llamadrama tailed off. For half an afternoon it had captured the imagination of a localised section of the “Twitterverse”, and as the story died a natural death it was quickly forgotten. (The sheer volume of traffic on Twitter with the lack of an effective archive search function means events more or less disappear after a week or so.)

Even in this world where cameras in mobile phones are ubiquitous, nobody took photos or video of the escaped animal – or at least no such images made it to the internet, despite appeals from news media. After the event, the websites of ABC News and The Age newspaper carried brief text stories, light on details and specifics and probably based entirely on police communications (i.e. second-hand information). While there is no apparent reason to doubt the basics of the event or to call it a hoax, I felt a bemused unreality (or surreality) in following reports as they developed, best summed up by @cfsmtb:

Pics or it didn’t happen

This piece of news was arguably perfect for Twitter. The limited concrete information available was only slightly more than what can be contained in a tweet of 140 characters, and its bemusing nature and temporary news value meant the “Twitterverse”, including me as a composer, could imagine the zany and the fantastical. After all, who cares if it’s true or not, as long as it’s funny?


Starting in a field close to the Western Ring Road, a llama lives a placid and slightly bored existence. Absent-mindedly picking at a chain-link fence, a gap appears: the animal can fit itself through and escape its confines. After a few cautious steps, it lurches forward and runs in sudden jerks. Making its way down a grassy hillside, it reaches the freeway crash barrier. Occupants of moving vehicles begin to notice the animal: “there’s a llama!” After a few tries, it successfully vaults the crash barrier and makes it onto the road itself. Vehicles whizz by and drivers honk their horns, but the llama is enjoying its freedom too much to be affected by them. Reports begin to reach news services: we hear a radio news theme and the growing noise of the Twitterverse.

The din of chatter around Melbourne becomes overwhelming and little more than indistinguishable noise, so the llama retreats into its head and to its elated thoughts: “I’m free! I’m my own animal! This is my dream, I’m no longer bound by a chain-link fence! It’s a whole new world! There’s a smile on my face for the whole…”

SQUEAL!! Its reverie is interrupted by an SUV with an absent-minded yet aggressive driver: the vehicle has to brake extremely suddenly to avoid hitting the llama, and misses it only by inches. Police have arrived on the scene and have begun to divert traffic. The llama becomes outnumbered to a greater and greater degree: there’s one last chance for escape, one tricky path to freedom, one last high-stakes roll of the “OOH TASTY TASTY LLAMA TREAT ON THE GRASSY BANK!! I LIKE TASTY LL… oh damn.”

Thirty minutes later, in the same field close to the Western Ring Road, the llama is once again bored. Picking at the chain-link fence, there’s no chance of escape. The fence has been repaired, the gap closed, the llama’s life restored to its former boredom.

Written 15 October 2010 to 18 July 2011 in Auckland and Wellington.
Commissioned by Buz Bryant-Greene with funding from Creative New Zealand.

Duration: 12-13 minutes.
Pronunciation note: The title should be said “hash-tag llama drama”.

First performed by Buz Bryant-Greene, 9 December 2012, St Andrew’s on The Terrace, Wellington.

The red piano.

26 Sep

Last week I was in Wellington and I had the opportunity to play He Kōrero Pūrākau mo te Awanui o Te Motu, that bright red piano ornately carved by Michael Parekowhai. I had a friend video some of the performances at Te Papa.

Here’s the YouTube playlist. It contains attempted Maori strum in Tūtira Mai Ngā Iwi (yes, bajingajink on piano), a singalong on Poi E, a New Zealand music lesson on Pōkarekare Ana, the Split Enz classic Message to My Girl, and Beyoncé’s Single Ladies.

And as a bonus, here’s Trubie-Dylan Smith’s Das kraftwerkische Blenderlied performed at the last Song Sale:

Last of all, a quick notice: on Friday, Improsaurus performs their first ever long-form improvised musical. It’s called Improv: The Musical. We’ve been working really hard to get this up and running, I’m looking forward to it.

Book advance tickets here, or passively hit attending on Facebook and risk there being no door sales.

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.

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.

Leaps & Sounds

28 May

The Royal New Zealand Ballet and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra have just announced Leaps & Sounds, and it’s a bloody great idea.

Since 2005, the NZSO has held an annual Young Composers Award, supported by the Todd Corporation. After a call for scores, the orchestra chooses a dozen or so pieces to be rehearsed and recorded. All the composers come to Wellington and get to work with the orchestra and a conductor, and Radio New Zealand Concert makes a programme of them as well.

For many of the composers, it’s the first time their works are played by a professional orchestra. It’s a chance to learn how to maximise limited rehearsal time – an essential skill in working with orchestras.

Now that the Todds have been running for seven years, there are several dozen five-minute pieces languishing on the commemorative CDs, many of which are really quite good. Some bright spark at the NZSO had an idea for some orchestral down-time: send the CDs to the Ballet, get some dances choreographed, and hold some performances.

There are so many awesome elements to this:
– There are two performances in the Michael Fowler Centre.
– Both performances are free! As in, no money needed free. How often does your national orchestra cost nothing to see? Or your national ballet company?
– According to the Ballet’s website, this is the first time the NZSO and the RNZB have performed together in twelve years.
– These are public performances of works that until now have only been heard in workshop and on radio.
– These are nine recent pieces for orchestra that are obviously all very danceable.
– One of the pieces is mine.

Each composer is linked with a choreographer. Mine is Jaered Glavin, who went viral-by-NZ-standards a couple of years ago for choreographing a Lady Gaga song with modified ballet steps. (It got on Campbell Live.) My piece is called Feral, and Jaered tells me he’s been inspired by animal movements – there’ll be some radical, visceral choreography going on to some pretty visceral music. Apparently there will also be fluoro ponytails…

I’ve had very little to do with the dance world – I’ve never composed for choreography and it was only 10 days ago that I did my only gig as a musician for dance. However after a Facebook chat with Jaered, I’ve got really excited about what he’s bringing to the work – I look forward to mid-June!

Leaps & Sounds
Saturday 16 June 2012, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington
Two performances: 4:30pm & 7:30pm
Free, but bookings essential. Book through the NZSO.

EDIT Tue 29 May 11am: The NZSO website is saying it’s booked out. Well, that was quick.

Little India

16 Jan

I arrived in Dunedin just over eight hours ago. Chronology of my week:

  • Tue 10: the last time presenting Sound Lounge.
  • Wed 11: my last day at work for Radio New Zealand Concert; after-work drinks.
  • Thu 12: packed up all my belongings in my flat in Wellington; parents flew into town.
  • Fri 13: movers arrived to take half of the belongings in a truck; big karaoke-filled farewell party at The Fringe Bar (with a superbly varied cross-section of Wellingtonians)
  • Sat 14: tetrised the remainder of my belongings into my car; sailed from Wellington to Picton; stayed overnight in Kaikoura.
  • Sun 15: drove from Kaikoura to Dunedin; stopped in Christchurch to walk the perimeter of the Red Zone (more on that later); unpacked my stuff into my new flat.

I have a lawn.

In true awesome Dunedin fashion, my wall-mate (i.e. I’m in 12A, she’s in 12B) helped me unload a car’s worth of stuff, suggested the best Indian restaurant in town (Little India, 308 Moray Pl, for the record) and gave me a brief tiki-tour of the university campus.

After that, I’ve taken the chance to unpack and find a home for many items. It’s not yet perfect, but it’s coming along. Amusingly, the best place to store my musical instruments is in the kitchen. This beat is cookin’.

Also, I have a lawn.

And I’m missing an office chair. My acquired-from-previous-tenant desk is pretty useless without something to sit on – should have thought of that maybe.

Also, I know it’s supposed to be the middle of summer, but I’m regretting sending my two heaters with the movers instead of packing one in the car. If this is the middle of summer…

Sorry, I meant to see your show – the lyrics!

5 Dec

By request, here are the lyrics to my song, commissioned to open the 2011 Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards. I owe a clear debt of gratitude to the superb opening number to this year’s Tony Awards.

I’ve also uploaded the demo I made for the singers:

Sorry, I meant to see your show (demo) by Robbie Ellis

Some lyrics changed in the rehearsal process (and we certainly slowed it down from my speed-demon intentions), but most remained the same. Forgive my falsetto for soprano parts.

“Sorry, I meant to see your show” was performed last night at the Wellington Opera House by MC Emma Kinane and the Shoreline Cab Savs (Carmel McGlone, Bryony Skillington, Jess Robinson, Martyn Wood, Nick Dunbar & Gareth Farr/Lilith La Croix), with me (Robbie Ellis) on piano.

Wellington, you capital of culture!
We love you and we love your theatre scene.
There’s BATS for all the crazies, and Circa for old ladies,
And Downstage, where the finances are lean.
Pōneke, we welcome you this evening (haere mai!)
To a ceremony honouring success. (tino pai!)
With 108 shows eligible, from the tame to the unpalatable,
We’re giving props to just the very best.

It’s the critic’s job to say they’ve seen every blessed play
But I can’t come to everything, you know (bro you know!)
You simply can’t be thorough in Te Whanganui-ā-Tara
So sorry, but I meant to see your show.

I thought that your season was four weeks long,
But it was only three weeks, I got that one wrong.
I missed your presentation cause of my procrastination,
Sorry, I didn’t see your show!

I wanted to see it, don’t think I’m a jerk.
It started at 8:30 but I was at work.
No time for relaxin’, had to meet with Peter Jackson!
Sorry, (sorry!), I meant to see your show!

I’d never lie to you, I truly wish I could have seen it,
But The Hobbit made me sign a Don’t-See-Other-Shows agreement.
I booked my place for Tuesday night, I told you in a tweet,
But I got distracted up the Coast when I met Happy Feet!

The Cap Times, they loved it, Dominion Post too,
But I shouldn’t have logged on to read Theatreview.
My need to see it got away once John Smythe gave the plot away
So sorry (sorry!),
I really truly honestly no-shit sorry-my-cat-was-sick meant to see your show!

Ladies and gentlemen, your MC for the evening, the lovely Emma Kinane!

You scheduled your new play for during the Cup
But I was over rugby and I live in the Hutt.
C’Mon Black! and Nepia, nothing makes me sleepier,
So sorry, I didn’t see your show.

I heard that The Engine Room was awesome for sure,
But I was sick and tired of the ’81 Tour.
I’d beaten you to get a wage when we were on the set of Rage
So sorry (sorry!), I didn’t see your show.

You invited me on Facebook and I hit “Maybe Attending”
But Maybe’s really ‘No’ and that’s the message I was sending.
I’ve blocked your status updates so you might call me a wanker
But I’ve got so sick of theatre spam I’ve also blocked Brianne Kerr! (Sorry Bri…)

So… welcome to theatre’s Christmas work do
Just sit back, relax, as we congratulate you!
We’ll now get off the stage as this song’s lasted fucking (Os-)ages!
(Fuck me that was a long play…)

But… sorry, (sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry)
Sorry (sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry)
I really truly honestly no-shit don’t-you-believe-me dog-ate-my-homework had-to-wash-my-hair-that-night
Meant to see your show!

Sorry, I meant to see your show

5 Dec

I, George Nēpia publicity shot

I, George Nēpia - winner of four awards including Production of the Year, and yet another Wellington theatre success story I didn't end up seeing. (Publicity image thiefed from circa.co.nz.)

Last night the 2011 Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards took place, an annual Wellington institution to recognise awesome. I played continuity music.

I also wrote the opening song called “Sorry, I meant to see your show”, which was performed brilliantly by the Shoreline Cab Savs and MC Emma Kinane. (Edit: Lyrics & demo here.) It’s quite appropriate: out of the nine shows that won awards – the cream of this year’s Wellington theatre crop – I saw only three. At least Nēpia has a return season starting tomorrow (Edit: Thursday) so there’s no excuse there.

I’m fond of groan-worthy musical puns, so every award winner (all twenty) had one as their walk-on music. Here’s the complete list – up to you to spot the connections.

The Critics’ Wild Card
Johann Nortje for AV design in Wake Less, Hear to See, When the Rain Stops Falling etc
Buggles: Video Killed the Radio Star

Downstage Theatre Award for the Most Promising Male Newcomer of the Year
Simon K Leary – Mates & Lovers
(acid-y jazz version): Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Circa Award donated by TACT for the Most Promising Female Newcomer of the Year
Lauren Gibson – August: Osage County
Afroman: Because I Got High

Toi Whakaari NZ Drama School & Victoria University of Wellington Award for Most Promising Director of the Year
Jason Te Kare – I, George Nēpia
Rod Derrett: Rugby, Racing & Beer

Peter Harcourt Award for Outstanding New Playwright of the Year sponsored by BATS Theatre and Taki Rua Productions
Ralph McCubbin Howell – The Engine Room
Blam Blam Blam: There is No Depression in New Zealand

Grouse Lighting Award for Lighting Designer of the Year
Marcus McShane – When the Rain Stops Falling
Australian Crawl: Boys Light Up

Weta Workshop Award for Set Designer of the Year
Andrew Foster – The Lead Wait
The Foundations: Build Me Up Buttercup

The Brancott Estate Award for Costume Desginer of the Year
Gillie Coxill – The Spy Who Wouldn’t Die Again
Satellite Spies: Destiny in Motion

Park Road Post Production Sound Designer of the Year
Chris Ward – The Lead Wait
Kool and the Gang: Jungle Boogie

Constance Scott Kirkcaldie Award for Outstanding Composer of Music
Richard Nunns – Hear to See
Dudley Benson feat. Richard Nunns: Ruru

The Absolutely Positively Wellington Award for Most Original Production of the Year
Hear to See – Capital E National Theatre for Children
Mi-Sex: Computer Games

The Playmarket / Capital E National Theatre for Children Outstanding New New Zealand Play of the Year
Slouching Toward Bethlehem – Dean Parker
The Knobz: Culture

The Whitireia Performing Arts Chapman Tripp Award for Supporting Actor of the Year
Christopher Brougham – When the Rain Stops Falling
Rihanna: Umbrella

The Orbit Corporate Travel Award for Supporting Actress of the Year
Erin Banks – The Engine Room
The Newmatics: Riot Squad

EAT Wellington Accolade for Outstanding Performance
Michelle Amas – August: Osage County
Madness: Our House

eCaster Accolade for Outstanding Performance
Phil Grieve – Slouching Toward Bethlehem
Kora: Politician

Chapman Tripp Award for Actress of the Year
Jennifer Ludlam – August: Osage County
Amy Winehouse: Rehab

The ProActors and Gail Cowan Management Award for Actor of the Year
Jarod Rawiri – I, George Nēpia
Howard Morrison Quartet: My Old Man’s an All Black

The Museum Hotel Award for Director of the Year
Jason Te Kare – I, George Nēpia
Queen: Radio Ga Ga

Chapman Tripp Award for Production of the Year
I, George Nēpia – Tawata Productions
George Nēpia: Beneath the Māori Moon

Have my job

29 Nov

My desk at Radio New Zealand.

My desk at Radio New Zealand. I promise I'll leave it tidier than this.

I’m leaving Radio New Zealand Concert, finishing up in mid-January. (That said, I’ll stay involved as an external freelance contributor to programmes like Composer of the Week, The Critic’s Chair, Upbeat etc.)

My bosses have advertised my job and you can apply for it. I have reduced the job summary to a haiku:

…unusual blend…and…desire…
…celebrate…to hear…

That’s all you really need to know. I mean, you can send away for an actual full job description if you like but those things are always so full of HR waffle. Trust me, it’s a good job.

Applications close at 5pm on Monday 5 December 2011.

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