NZSM in on Festival action

The New Zealand School of Music features heavily in this year’s New Zealand Festival, which kicks off today.

Mechanical Ballet image

The idea for Mechanical Ballet—“a brave new world of mechatronic music where self-playing instruments rule”—was first pitched to the New Zealand Festival by New Zealand School of Music Composition Programme Leader Michael Norris. Having seen how much public interest there was in robots making music, Mr Norris says the production is “a way to combine the NZSM’s strength in sonic arts engineering with classical music”. Keen to build a concert around the international level musical mechatronics work of the NZSM’s Dr Jim Murphy and Dr Mo Zareei, Mr Norris says he wants audiences to experience the quality of the music, not just the spectacle.

In Mechanical Ballet the mechatronic loudspeakers and percussion instruments have been created by Wellington-based musicians/engineers including NZSM lecturers Jim Murphy and Mo Zareei and PhD graduate Bridget Johnson.

The concert features Georges Antheil’s epic work Ballet Mécanique (1925) – best described as The Rite of Spring meets heavy metal - along with two seminal works by US minimalist icon Steve Reich, as well as world premieres of works by composers Bridget Johnson, David Downes and Michael Norris, and Mo Zareei's Rasping Music.

Another ground-breaking collaboration by the virtuosic New Zealand String Quartet, NZSM’s ensemble in residence, will take place at the Festival, this time with NZSM Composer in Residence Rob Thorne joining them. Rob Thorne, a master of taonga pūoro, will perform the world premiere of his Tomokanga with the New Zealand String Quartet, along with music by New Zealand composers Gillian Whitehead, Gareth Farr and Salina Fisher. Their concert Te Ao Hou will be held in the beautiful St Mary of the Angels on 6 March.

Described as a “gifted quartet grown from a music students’ busking project into one of the hottest tickets in town,” former NZSM music students Drax Project play the Festival Club on 17 and 18 March. Shaan Singh (saxophone and vocals), Sam Thomson (bass) and Matt Beachen (drums) all graduated with a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Performance from NZSM, and have been making a name for themselves since, playing Auckland City Limits Festival, opening for Lorde in late 2017, and opening for Ed Sheeran at Mt Smart Stadium later in March.