Gillian Whitehead herself provided the key to Auckland Chamber Orchestra's Matariki concert, a selection from 33 years of her composing, when she spoke of putting music into the landscape and bringing landscapes into music.
An evening of connections and contrasts opened with drama; a vibrant a cappella song from Claire Scholes, revealing Whitehead's latterday embracing of simple yet potent lyricism.
The intricate structures underlying her 1986 Manutaki did not intrude on its evocations of sweeping birds, brilliantly caught in the flurries of flautist Anna Cooper, clarinetist Andrew Uren and pianist Emma Sayers.
Personal signatures were everywhere, including hypnotic, oscillating chords in the cool elegance of a 2003 Quintet.
Two extended solos showcased Whitehead's talent for liberating an instrument's innermost voice.
Bassoonist Ben Hoadley has played Nga Ha o Nehera all over the world. His total ownership of this score was undeniable, as he cast fluttering bird calls against flowing waiata, unafraid of engaging eye to eye with the audience, or moving on stage with the music.
Whitehead's 2010 Mata-au is a masterpiece.
If American poet Wallace Stevens found 13 ways of looking at a blackbird, then this clarinet solo does the same, and more, for water. The marvellous Peter Scholes captured it to the last drop, from luminescent shallows to the gnarliest of rapids.
What: Auckland Chamber Orchestra
Where: Raye Freedman Arts Centre