If you want to make it as a musician in New Zealand, you've got to be versatile - which explains why Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper has appeared in the Auckland Arts Festival with the band Kittens of the Internet and, this week, as a member of string quartet, The Black Quartet.

Founded by Bridgman-Cooper and Jess Hindin, The Black Quartet bring a contemporary touch to classical ensemble music and has played with everyone from Kanye West through to our own Six60 and Ladyhawke.

Named for the colour of the clothes classical musicians favour, the musicians have featured in TV commercials and on shows like The X-Factor, performed at outdoor festivals and played alongside orchestras like the Auckland Philharmonia.

The group's versatility comes into play again in its Auckland Arts Festival show, The Black Quartet with Special Guests, where they perform with Tiny Ruins, Lawrence Arabia and Rob Ruha. Bridgman-Cooper says they've devised some arrangements which may surprise.


"We're going to do a whole bunch of things, including an '80s hit by the band a-ha which we think sounds pretty cool," he says.

Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon's History of Rap series has also provided the quartet with inspiration. It'll play a medley of some of history's best-known classical tunes - "a kind of greatest hits" - and a subtle tribute to David Bowie.

Of being part of the arts festival, Bridgman-Cooper says it's a fantastic opportunity to experiment with some new ideas.

"It enables a group like us, who normally supports other people, to curate our own show and try some things out. That's the catalyst for wanting to be a musician or do something creative - having ideas and being able to run with them and craft them and turn them into something good. It's a bug which lasts a lifetime; that idea of being able to give something back to an audience."

What: Unstrung Heroes, Auckland Arts Festival

Where and when: Spiegeltent, New Zealand Herald Festival Garden, Aotea Square, March 10, 9.30pm

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