William Dart: Demanding, rewarding and downright shoddy

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Sacre: The Dance Project was one of the many quality enterprises the APO was involved in this year.
Photo / Adrian Malloch
Sacre: The Dance Project was one of the many quality enterprises the APO was involved in this year. Photo / Adrian Malloch

In the cultural wasteland of television, opportunities ... are being passed over. Looking back over a year of concerts, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra stands, more than ever, as an energy core for the city's musical activities. The APO's regular Town Hall series continued to spoil us with such high-calibre soloists as Natalia Lomeiko, Alina Ibragimova, David Geringas and Nikolai Demidenko, while distinguished conductors included Okko Kamu and Scottish livewire Garry Walker.

It was a hands-on year for music director Eckehard Stier and principal guest conductor Roy Goodman. Stier notched up two more magnificent Mahlers and a thrilling Shostakovich Tenth, while Goodman inspired Auckland Choral to its very best in October's Carmina Burana.

In April, Australian composer Brett Dean conducted his own The Lost Art of Letter Writing and Ross Harris' new Fourth Symphony in what must have been one of the year's most demanding and rewarding evenings.

Here is an orchestra that embraces the community, searching out chances for collegial enterprise. In May, as part of the Writers & Readers Festival, the APO had Stuart Devenie acting out six local composers' text settings, including some witty and trenchant politics from Alex Taylor and Chris Adams and zany theatrics from Robbie Ellis.

Stier masterminded a concert-hall Das Rheingold that brought musical godwits back home, most notably Paul Whelan for his first Wotan; in October, the conductor teamed up with cutting-edge choreographer Royston Maldoom for Sacre: The Dance Project.

Brilliant as the one-off Aotea presentation was, Sacre's major contribution was not seen by the public, lying as it did in the weeks of rehearsal at various city schools. Now it is paying dividends; among other youngsters whose lives have been changed by the experience, Tangaroa College student Aloalii Tapu, a stunning "Ancestor" in the production, is committing to dance studies at a tertiary level.

All this is very much in keeping with the sense of forward-planning that has forged the APO's Sistema Aotearoa initiative, brilliantly showcased this month at Manukau City's Genesis Energy Theatre.

It may have been an open-strings affair under an ebullient Joe Harrop, but the potential is limitless.

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra cannot replicate these initiatives with just one monthly visit, and many of its transgressions might be forgiven for its splendid Leningrad concert with Vasily Petrenko and Michael Houstoun.

But, in general, NZSO concerts have often been curate's eggs, starting with that dismal February programme that tried to convince us Dvorak's New World Symphony was a postcard from an exotic place.

In May, the city's first Made in New Zealand offering was a patch-together, with not all works being worthy of a place beside Lyell Cresswell's superlative new Piano Concerto. In September, Gareth Farr's Kaitiaki was a cornfed companion for Beethoven's Choral Symphony in the orchestra's Odes to Joy programme.

As the truly disastrous Grand Tour documentary seemed to suggest, our country's great orchestral waka needs more acute focusing of its efforts.

Yet, even when least expected, at Dame Kiri Te Kanawa's Gala Concert, with its out-of-sync giant video screen and the bizarre vision of Pietari Inkinen earnestly conducting Andrew Lloyd Webber, a star was born - young Kawiti Waetford tossed off Rossini's Largo al factotum with the sly bravado of a street bro.

This Vector Arena event also had the enviable bonus of being broadcast on Maori TV which, a few weeks later, screened an engaging documentary on baritone Phillip Rhodes.

In the cultural wasteland of television, opportunities to capture history and pass the torch of enlightenment are being passed over, thanks to the arrant philistinism of those in charge.

If the Michael Hill International Violin Competition deserved coverage, as many readers of this paper agreed, then so too did the APO's Sacre Project and various other events.

Every evening, television news features the inevitable 10 minutes of sports coverage, yet music, if mentioned at all, is shoddily treated, as witnessed by the appalling item on Xiang Yu, who came third in the Michael Hill event, complete with a laughable attempt at pronouncing "Prokofiev".

Bill McCarthy has managed to get two concerts by NZ Trio scheduled between the endless repeats and scruffy wannabe MTV on the Arts Channel, but why can't we see the New Zealand String Quartet and Jenny Wollerman's recent performance of Ross Harris' song cycle, The Abiding Tides?

Or, for that matter, John Chen and his smooth Saguaro Trio or Donald Nicolson and his hip back-to-Baroque trio, Level 37?

Other candidates might have been countertenor Andreas Scholl singing Handel, a coup for Indra Hughes and his Musica Sacra in April, or Pene Pati, so wonderful in Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings with the Auckland Chamber Orchestra just months before he carried off this year's McDonald's Aria Prize in Sydney.

All of these are extraordinary achievements which should be celebrated and shared, to both honour the artists and inspire those who might follow.

Radio New Zealand Concert does a valiant job, under some duress, in relaying music from around the country and beyond, but more needs to be done.

- NZ Herald

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