When the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra heads back to the Town Hall on Thursday, it will be music to the ears of its audiences, musicians and behind-the-scenes staff - but it will be extra special for one member of its team.

Despite joining the APO as its director of artistic planning in March, the Covid-19 pandemic meant Gale Mahood spent her first few weeks in the country in lockdown at home and has yet to hear the orchestra play live in a packed concert hall.

Mahood arrived in Auckland from Germany on St Patrick's Day intending to spend the next week watching the APO's contributions to worldwide celebrations marking Beethoven's 250th birthday. She says she owes the fact that she arrived in New Zealand before borders closed and lockdown started to Beethoven.

"Thank goodness for Beethoven. It's because of him I got here two days before they shut the borders."


But those performances, part of the Auckland Arts Festival, were cancelled along with everything else for the foreseeable future when public gatherings were strictly prohibited as we stayed home in lockdown.

Instead, Mahood joined 2.8 million others around the world to watch the APO online through streamed Tuesday morning coffee-break performances; Thursday evening re-plays of concerts, with new combinations of the work introduced by musicians playing from home; kids' show like The Amazing Mr Mozart; and one-off events.

Not that she could simply sit back and listen to the music. The dramatically changed circumstances meant Mahood has had to re-programme the 2020 concert year – or what might be left of it – without being able to bring in international guest conductors and soloists for the foreseeable future. She is also deciding on the 2021 concert schedule at a time when what's possible is forever shifting and changing.

That's seen her listening to a lot more local music and coming quickly up to speed with our composers and musical heritage.

"There's no such thing as a cakewalk in life and I've certainly come into a situation that will be infinitely more challenging than what I might have expected," she says. "But one of the reasons why the job was interesting to me was because it meant getting out of my 'comfort zone' and learning about new music. I wanted to explore a new culture."

Mahood says Auckland's diverse communities mean there is much culture, both locally and internationally, that can be drawn on on to reflect the region. New-look performances for July include Thursday's "Welcome Back with Houstoun" where pianist Michael Houstoun joins the APO for what can only be described as a momentous occasion with music to match.

The concert opens with renowned NZ composer John Psathas's new composition, billed as a fanfare to celebrate the achievements of our "team of five million." Houston, who is delaying his retirement until next year, will then pay Beethoven's First Piano Concerto to commemorate the composer's 250th birthday. Richard Strauss' Wind Serenade for 13 wind instruments and Dvorak's Serenade for Strings round out the return performance.

More information on what the APO has planned for the rest of 2020 is at apo.co.nz