The Auckland Chamber Orchestra is well into this year's season, and music director Peter Scholes feels this will be its most successful year.
First, there has been a two-fold increase in the number of concerts, as a Creative NZ grant enabled a series of Composer Portrait concerts. Each is devoted to one composer and "a chance to get totally immersed in the composer's world," Scholes explains. "It's more like a retrospective, but done while they are still alive."
This month, Gareth Farr was celebrated, including his Naga Baba, which Scholes describes as "symphonic but written for small forces".
He was also pleased to showcase the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's fiery timpanist, Vadim Simongauz, on the more meditative marimba in Farr's Kembang Suling.
This Sunday, the ACO will present The Music of Words, a concert complementing the literary whirlwind of the Writers and Readers Festival.
Scholes is not such a words man. "With running an orchestra, practising my clarinet, being a composer and checking out computer books, there just isn't the time," he says. But, with the help and support of Cath Newhook, "violinist, avid reader and prize-winning short-story writer", Sunday's concert is a reality.
A Lilburn classic, Landfall in Unknown Seas, opens the evening, with Raymond Hawthorne reciting the Allen Curnow poems that punctuate Lilburn's music.
"I am fascinated by the way the two interact," says Scholes. "The music creates a mood, stops and the words take over. But are these words telling us about what has just been played or are they setting up the next piece of music?"
He has fond memories of conducting the piece on camera in the 2001 television documentary, Early Days Yet, with Curnow reading his own words.
The 2005 novel Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs was a notable debut and runaway success for Aucklander Linda Olsson. Scholes reveals that Linda, the wife of ACO's tireless chairman Frank Olsson, worked with music while she was writing.
"Linda refers to one of the Brahms' Violin Sonatas in her book, and had it playing while she was working at the novel. In fact the piece provides a strong emotional backdrop to one of the characters."
On Sunday, Olsson will read from her new novel, introduced by young Amalia Hall playing solo Bach and followed by Scholes' arrangement of the slow movement from Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto.
"Linda was influenced by so much music while she was working on the new novel," Scholes adds, "including the Edgar Meyer Violin Concerto, but the Mendelssohn was the most practical piece to feature in concert."
Scholes is one of our most accomplished film composers, with credits like Memory and Desire, Fifty Ways of Saying Fabulous and the upcoming The Tattooist. His skill for writing punchy, atmospheric musical postcards comes in handy for a new project with British writer Pico Iyer.
"Seven is a work in progress," Scholes explains. So far, all his communications with Iyer have been by email. He looks over Sunday's score, clearly chuffed with the "total open and joyous tonality" of one page, and pointing out another in which "the strings have to emerge and disappear, just like a shifting light on the same scene".
Iyer is also taken with the project, as the two share their "little clues" through cyberspace. Last Saturday, Iyer was envisaging his verbal music as "a set of abstract, riddling, quasi-musical pieces, so the audience won't be taken out of the mood" - a challenge Scholes is happy to meet.