Aotearoa Plus, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's annual concert of local and overseas contemporary music, deserved a much bigger audience.

Past international offerings have sometimes disappointed, but they were premier class on Saturday.

The opulent soundworld of Pierre Boulez's Notations 1-4 would have been an overture to end all overtures, but budgetary considerations replaced it with his modestly scored Memoriale.

Flautist Bridget Douglas, with eight colleagues, set this sonic butterfly gloriously aloft, evoking the spirits of Debussy and Webern in its fluttering, tremulous flight.

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Gareth Farr's new cello concerto, Chemin des Dames, drew powerful inspiration from the horrors of World War I, movingly conveyed by the persistent passion and poetry of soloist Sebastien Hurtaud. In a work of impeccable atmosphere, welcoming for both players and audience, the weeping beauties of its central section stayed with me long into the evening.

John Adams' Naive and Sentimental Music, a great sprawling beast of a symphony, gave conductor Hamish McKeich a mighty challenge and he emerged victorious. Here, set loose with an almost palpable physicality, was the great engine of the new American Empire, subtly concealing a host of ironies and delicacies within its compulsive rhythms.

This was thrilling stuff, and a strong argument to hear more of today's music in our concert halls, and perhaps for orchestras to address the issues of marketing it.

What: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Where: Auckland Town Hall
When: Saturday