Carla van Zon: The emotional reach of music

By William Dart

Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man. Photo / Supplied
Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man. Photo / Supplied

Carla van Zon, artistic director of next year's Auckland Arts Festival, stresses that, for three weeks in March we will be celebrating the strengths and future of our city.

"The heart of the festival is the Auckland companies," she points out. "That is where you start; from there you can welcome everyone else."

Our musicians will be up-front and visible in the celebrations. And why not, asks van Zon? "Music has a great capacity to convey thoughts, messages and political ideas in an emotional context," she explains. "For me, that's an essential part of art. It also has the ability to make people change their boundaries and barriers.

"Perhaps they might not do so if they were told to do it through words, but music reaches them emotionally and that makes a big difference."

Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra is a key partner, giving us Jack Body's Songs and Dances of Desire in the first weekend and Britten's War Requiem in the last.

This choral classic was van Zon's "stake in the ground".

"Apart from the fact that it's Britten's centenary, his Requiem is one of the most important statements we can make about our world today."

Van Zon was also determined to reflect the city's Chinese community, our largest and oldest immigrant group. The coup here is a multimedia presentation of A Chinese Home, featuring the Kronos Quartet and the brilliant Chinese pipa virtuoso, Wu Man. Van Zon caught the production in Toronto last year and became a total devotee of Wu Man. "When you watch her she's electric, playing this incredibly beautiful music with the intensity of a rock 'n' roll star."

Van Zon talks about interconnected events - A Chinese Home is complemented by Chinese art and theatre events; she also stresses the importance of smaller-scale local concerts as a "toe in the water" for directions she would like to pursue further.

NZTrio's Convergence concert is one, with music by Kiwi composers Gareth Farr and Victoria Kelly using Horomona Horo on taonga puoro.

Coffee with Mr Bach is the festival's one tasting of early music, with James Tibbles and his Age of Discovery team. It's not only Back-to-Baroque, but there is talk of setting Bach's Coffee Cantata firmly in the coffee house.

Tibbles is the organist in another Britten birthday salute. Little Britten also features Karen Grylls with her Voices NZ and the NZ Youth Choir ("the best choirs in the country") in a mix of large and small works by the English composer.

Finally, watch out for Whaka-aria-mai, or Opera in Te Reo. If Whirimako Black can sing the Great American Songbook in Maori, why can't soprano Deborah Wai Kapohe do the same for Verdi and Puccini?

Van Zon points to the two men behind the project, Jonathan Alver and the multi-talented Tama Waipara, currently on stage in Silo Theatre's Brel.

"We've been so lucky to have Tama with his degrees in classical music and jazz as well as his knowledge of things Maori and this is a journey we have to take."

William Dart

- NZ Herald

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