Tonight's Anzacs: A Concert of Commemoration marks a first for New Zealand war poetry.

It is the first large-scale musical setting of our war poetry and will be performed by three choirs: Holy Trinity Cathedral's own choristers, the Graduate Choir NZ and the Cathedral Choristers together with three young soloists, instrumental ensemble and organ.
Michael Stoddart and Terence Maskell share conducting duties for music by local composers such as Chris Artley and David Hamilton alongside choral pieces by Faure, Parry and John Ireland.

But the major offering is Anzacs: A Generation Lost in Legend by Janet Jennings, receiving its New Zealand premiere after two performances in Australia last year, with the support of the World War I Centenary Project.

This substantial score reflects its composer's love of writing for the voice and adding music to words that communicate deeply with her.


"I've always been a singer myself," she says, pointing to her years in the Holy Trinity Cathedral choir, when her husband, the late Anthony Jennings, was its music director. "I'm sure my first utterance as a baby was singing and then it became compulsive."

Jennings' texts come from a variety of sources, including New Zealand war poet Mike Subritzky, whose verses have earned the 67-year-old the nickname of the Kiwi Kipling.
She admires Subritzky's words for their "stark authenticity" but there's another, century-old authenticity in Stretcher-bearer! by Donald Lea, a man who survived the Great War fighting with the Otago Infantry Regiment.

Jennings says the words, discovered in an autograph book of the time and written by a man who was gassed in the trenches, were ones around which she ended up casting the whole work.

Maskell outlines the melting pot of this ambitious score, from stirring marching tunes to "sturdy vocal unisons that let rip into full-blown six-part harmony". There's also the blend of solo violin and whirring bull-roarer in the atmospheric opening pages and two rousing hymn tunes.

For Jennings, these are "jolly good hymns", which share the same structural function as those in Britten's Saint Nicolas but, she says, not in musical terms. It's here she talks of looking through the telescope of time, using historical hindsight to find ironies behind the tragedy; a tragedy that, a century on, is still being played out on the various stages of our troubled world.

Meanwhile, the new New Zealand Youth Choir for 2017-2019 has been launched. Its first concerts are tomorrow and Monday in Kapiti and Featherston with a performance on Anzac Day at the 10am National Memorial Service and twice at Te Papa in the afternoon. All concerts are conducted by David Squire.

What: Anzacs: A Concert of Commemoration
Where and when: Holy Trinity Cathedral, tonight at 7.30pm