Of the many artistic responses marking the occasion of 125 years of women's suffrage, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's is one of the most intriguing.

A Woman's Place is a multimedia concert featuring projections from Auckland Museum's Are We There Yet? exhibition, in-person contributions from New Zealand women including poet laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh and scientist Siouxsie Wiles, and a pre-recorded message from former Prime Minister Helen Clark.

The music showcases female composers beginning with suffragist Ethel Smyth and highlighting the work of several New Zealanders, plus an appearance by singer-songwriter Hollie Fullbrook, better known as the driving force behind Tiny Ruins.

If anyone questions the necessity of a concert focusing on female composers, reflect on the fact that Salina Fisher is the only NZ woman whose work will be performed in a mainstage concert by either of our major orchestras in 2019.


Fisher, on the line from New York, where she is pursuing a Master's degree at the Manhattan School of music, chooses not to be drawn on the subject. She nevertheless notes that there are many gifted New Zealand female composers.

"I've had so many women role models," Fisher says. "I think we've all felt outnumbered at some point, even in composition classes at university, which are generally male dominated, but there are so many strong women composers doing amazing things regardless."

As well as paying tribute to established names like Jenny McLeod and Eve de Castro-Robinson, Fisher points to Flo Wilson and Briar Prastiti as composers to watch. Fisher also cites Victoria Kelly as a particular inspiration.

"Victoria was one of the reasons I thought I could be a composer," Fisher says. "I went to a movie she scored [Under the Mountain]. To know the music was not only by a New Zealander but by a woman was super-inspiring as a 14-year-old girl."

Fisher and Kelly met a few years later, when the latter mentored the younger woman for the NZSO Todd Young Composer Award, which Fisher won. The APO has programmed another of her award-winning pieces, Rainphase, for Thursday's concert.

Written while Fisher was composer-in-residence of the National Youth Orchestra, Rainphase made her, at 23, the youngest ever winner of the SOUNZ Contemporary Award, our top composition prize. She got the nod again the following year for the haunting Tōrino.

Fisher also has the seal of approval from Edo de Waart. The NZSO's music director this year conducted the world premiere of Fisher's Tupaia.

"Salina is very gifted," de Waart says. "She has the ability to be an important composer. But you can't just think it will all come by itself; you have to move on and dare to be different."


Which is perhaps why Fisher finds herself in Manhattan.

"It's super-inspiring," she says. "There's a contemporary performance programme at Master's level and everyone in that is absolutely incredible, they just perform new music for two years. I've been working with them and I've made friends, so it's interesting to be part of that community over here."

But Fisher sees her future in New Zealand, both as a composer and music educator.

"I really care about what happens in New Zealand music," she says. "That's clear to me and always has been, so it's been interesting to be in New York but I absolutely will return. I want to contribute as much as I can in many different ways in the New Zealand music scene."

Hollie Fullbrook, singer, songwriter and driving force of award-winning indie-folk group Tiny Ruins, plays a trio of songs for A Woman's Place. Photo/Ebony Lamb Photography
Hollie Fullbrook, singer, songwriter and driving force of award-winning indie-folk group Tiny Ruins, plays a trio of songs for A Woman's Place. Photo/Ebony Lamb Photography

Meanwhile, Hollie Fullbrook plays a trio of songs for A Woman's Place. Her appearance consciously and correctly cites Fullbrook in the lineage of top NZ composers, alongside people like Gillian Whitehead and Claire Cowan, whose work also appears in the concert.

Two of Fullbrook's songs will be older pieces, from her last album, Brightly Painted One, and arranged for string quartet and orchestra. She's playing a new single, too, called Olympic Girls, from the forthcoming album of the same name.

Fullbrook will perform Olympic Girls solo on Thursday but the recorded version is very different. Musically, there's a lot going on: swirling psychedelia reminiscent of Love's Forever Changes, the background jangle of highlife-style guitars, Fullbrook's voice confidently upfront.

A new direction for a new album? Fullbrook says she's been heading that way for some time.

"The new songs have been written over three or four years, so for me it feels like a gradual shift to more of a band sound."

What: A Woman's Place, the APO with special guests
Where and When: Auckland Town Hall, 7:30pm, Thursday November 29