On Wednesday, the acousti' />

Take a trip 90 minutes down State Highway 1 and music-lovers can luxuriate in one of the country's finest music venues.

On Wednesday, the acoustical heaven of the Gallagher Concert Chamber in Waikato University's Academy of Performing Arts proved a blissful setting for the visiting New Purple Forbidden City Orchestra.

These top-notch Chinese musicians, drawn from the staff of Beijing's China Conservatory, delivered an astonishing preview of what the Auckland Arts Festival is bringing us tonight in the Town Hall Concert Chamber.

Sounds proved to be as exotic as the instruments that made them, from a giant Chinese zither or zheng, to the lute-like pipa. Yang Jing mesmerised with a virtuoso pipa solo. The mandolin-like rustle of strings combined with dulcimer provided an evocative backdrop for an erhu solo from Zhang Zunlian, playing an instrument almost chameleon like in its shifting moods and sonorities.

Director Liu Shun and leader Shen Cheng have created a tight ensemble that could turn on a humble jiao coin. Vast surges of sound take the breath away and sometimes the energised bustle would rival that of a Balkan dance party.

For those who associate contemporary Chinese music with a few too many trips on the Yellow River in a concerto sampan, this music is a welcome corrective. Tonight's concert is simply not to be missed.