NZSM graduate makes it to Lexus Song Quest finals

Bachelor of Music in Classical Performance with Honours graduate Joe Haddow has come third-equal in the 2018 Lexus Song Quest.

Joe Haddow

Running since 1956 (formerly the Mobil Song Quest), the Lexus Song Quest has long been renowned as the most prestigious singing competition in New Zealand, with previous winners including Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Teddy Tahu Rhodes and Madeleine Pierard. Today it is managed by the New Zealand Festival. Entrants to the competition have to prepare six pieces to perform including items in two languages other than English.

One of 40 competitors in 2018, Joe sang his way into the finals with pieces by Mozart, Schumann and Faurés. He says the competition experience had its difficulties but was immensely rewarding. “Everything was quite fast paced, particularly in the finals week. It felt like its own little world. I did have to miss two weeks of university and I got sick a few days before the final, which didn’t provide much calm.”

A highlight of singing in the finals for Joe was sharing the experience with the other finalists. “We had a wonderful sense of comradery; we just wanted the best for each other.” The chance to sing with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in Auckland Town Hall and working with adjudicator Lisa Gasteen was also a highlight for Joe.

“It's so different singing with an orchestra as opposed to piano—it was quite the education. Verdi’s Ella giammai m'amò is such a beautiful piece of music and to literally be leaning against the sound of an orchestra behind me was sensational.”

Joe came to the artform late in high school, auditioning for the New Zealand School of Music – Te Kōkī after only singing for a few months. Starting out completely new to the classical world, he credits his success to the dedication and support of his teachers. “Margaret Medlyn and James Clayton were so brilliant through the years in their teaching, and all input from my other lecturers and tutors was nothing but the hugest blessing.”

Now the competition is over, Joe says he’ll be catching up on his science papers and working towards finishing his Bachelor of Science double major in Ecology and Biodiversity, and Cell and Molecular Bioscience. Singing wise, he’ll be keeping his hand in with a few choir concerts, some NZSM opera scenes and a chorus role in New Zealand Opera’s upcoming production of La Bohème.

Listen to Joe talk to RNZ’s Clarissa Dunn about how he got into classical singing and his personal aspirations, and hear him sing one of his semi-final songs: Madamina, il catalogo è questo from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Joe’s interview starts at 14:59.